NBA Southwest Division Preview
The NBA's Southwest Division is powerful. It features the league's current champion San Antonio Spurs, the 67-win Dallas Mavericks, the almost-there Houston Rockets, the back-home-again New Orleans Hornets, and the under-the-radar Memphis Grizzlies. All these teams are worth watching.
BEST SOUTHWEST DIVISION PLAYERS
Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Yao Ming, Chris Paul, Tracy McGrady, Tony Parker, Josh Howard, Manu Ginobili, Shane Battier, Jason Terry, David West, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Peja Stojakovic, Jerry Stackhouse, Tyson Chandler, Steve Francis.
INSIDEHOOPS.COM'S ALL-SOUTHWEST TEAMS
Players may be used slightly of of position (within reason) to make the best possible teams:
ALL-SOUTHWEST FIRST TEAM: PG: Chris Paul, SG: Tracy McGrady, SF: Dirk Nowitzki, PF: Pau Gasol, C: Tim Duncan
ALL-SOUTHWEST SECOND TEAM: PG: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, SF: Josh Howard, PF: David West, C: Yao Ming
ALL-SOUTHWEST THIRD TEAM: PG: Jason Terry, SG: Mike Miller, SF: Shane Battier, PF: Darko Milicic, C: Tyson Chandler
SOUTHWEST TEAM ONE-LINERS
Dallas Mavericks: Despite last season's shocking first-round exit to Warriors, Dallas is a title contender.
Houston Rockets: A terrific off-season brought international star Luis Scola plus guard depth on board.
Memphis Grizzlies: Pau Gasol must hope his young teammates quickly learn to play like proven vets.
New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul must hope that David West stays healthy and Peja Stojakovic is still a flame-thrower.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs championship core remains together. Will Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry's old age finally slow them down?
THE SOUTHWEST TEAMS TO WATCH
The Spurs are champions and the Mavericks have the ability to be. The Rockets, meanwhile, are always predicted to go out in the playoffs early, and live up to those expectations. Time for a change. The addition of Luis Scola at power forward could make a difference. They also added Steve Francis, who just a few years ago was a star, even if he was really a shooting guard in a point guard's body. Toss super role player Shane Battier into the mix and the Rockets have potential to move up to a higher level. Key to watch is how the team moves into a Rick Adelman motion offense similar to what the Kings used in their fun Peja/Webber/Vlade days. The backcourt is crowded, with Rafer Alston (who may continue to start), scoring guard Mike James, and another scoring guard Luther Head, plus unorthodox yet talented Bonzi Wells on board as a swingman. Watch them ... The Grizzlies have a nice youth movement going. Watch Mike Conley, Rudy Gay and Darko Milicic alongside Mike Miller and Pau Gasol. Is there too much unproven, raw talent alongside Gasol to compete? ... New Orleans point guard Chris Paul tries hard to carry the Hornets as everyone around him gets injured. But one-man teams can't do it alone. Underrated David West is a solid foundation. Tyson Chandler has improved. If Peja Stojakovic can still rip the net like crazy the Hornets could have some sting.
MORE SOUTHWEST DIVISION STORYLINES
Should the Mavericks stick with their tiny backcourt of Jason Terry and Devin Harris? Or will Jerry Stackhouse become the starting two-guard? ... Will the Mavericks grow stronger thanks to last season's playoff nightmare? ... Will Dirk Nowitzki win another MVP award anytime soon? ... What will Mark Cuban, InsideHoops.com's favorite owner, get angry at the league about next? ... Will Rafer Alston be the Rockets starting point guard, at first? Will he be traded? ... Can Steve Francis be "Franchise" again? And if so, does Franchise realize that Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are the franchise and he needs to be a true point guard? ... Luis Scola is an overseas star. How will that translate into the NBA? ... Who is older, Dikembe Mutombo or Greg Oden? InsideHoops.com editor Jeff Lenchiner says they're both 57... Is Mike Conley ready to make an instant impact? ... Who will be better, say, in two years, Mike Miller or Rudy Gay? ... Will Darko Milicic emerge as a star in Memphis? ... Pau Gasol is happy that Juan Carlos Navarro is on board, but what if the Grizzlies keep losing? ... Are we done talking about Stromile Swift's potential, yet? ... Will Morris Peterson fit nicely on the Hornets at shooting guard? ... Is Peja Stojakovic going to be good again?
PREDICTED ORDER OF SOUTHWEST DIVISION FINISH
Dallas Mavericks: The key Mavs are back, and there aren't any age issues.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs pace themselves to be playoff-ready.
Houston Rockets: Should finish fairly close behind the Spurs and Mavs.
New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets will have to fight and claw to reach the postseason.
Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies will be better than last year, but that isn't saying much.