The 2011-12 NBA season is right around the corner. With the shorted preparation time we've had to rush our season previews and predictions and we expect there will be some player movement early in the season or right before things tip off on Christmas Day.
We've shared our predictions for the Pacific Division with the Lakers and Clippers battling it out for the top spot. Now we move to the Southwest Division where the defending NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks aren't even a lock to finish on top of their own division.
The defending NBA champs are back. Unfortunately, hey are one year older without Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea who left the team in free agency. In their place, the Mavs added Lamar Odom,Vince Carter and Delonte West and should be able to get more from youngsters Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois who were both injured much of last season.
The schedule won't be kind to the aging Carter, Kidd and Marion but this team still has Dirk Nowizki and will find ways to win more than their share of games.
Prediction: 40-26, 1st place Southwest Division
The Grizzlies surprised a lot of people last season but that won't happen again. They locked up Marc Gasol to play next to Zach Randolph and will have a healthy Rudy Gay to start the season. The Grizzlies didn't add much to the roster that went to a Game 7 against the Thunder in the second round of the playoffs, but they really didn't need to. This team is well-balanced with good depth.
The Grizz could miss Shane Battier's leadership and Darrell Arthur's toughness (Arthur appears to be done for the season due to injury) but otherwise, Memphis looks poised to continue their progress. They could easily end up winning the division but we'll put them slightly behind the Mavs as a sign of respect for our elders.
Prediction: 39-27, 2nd place Southwest Division
The Spurs are still hanging around but with Tim Duncan on his last knee will need to get a lot more from Tiago Splitter in his second year in the NBA. The trio of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson is back and should provide plenty of scoring with a fair amount of depth on the wings and back court with the likes of James Anderson, Gary Neal and rookie Kawhi Leonard.
The biggest questions for the Spurs remain front court depth and how this aging team will deal with the brutal schedule. There's no reason to think, however, that they will drop out of playoff contention.
Prediction: 37-29, 3rd place, Southwest Division
The Rockets are the team that got hurt the most when the NBA killed the proposed Chris Paul trade to the Lakers. They would have upgraded to Pau Gasol but instead are once again left with their roster filled with talented players but no superstar. With all these pieces, it would be shocking if the Rockets don't make some more moves.
Barring some other deal(s), new coach Kevin McHale will be faced with trying to win in a very deep division without the benefit of star power. Their best players remain Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, and Chase Budinger.
Prediction: 30-36, 4th place Southwest Division
The Hornets finally moved Chris Paul and are left with the least attractive roster in the Western Conference. They are led by Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Chris Kaman which isn't exactly a murders row of top NBA talent. They did bring back Carl Landry and still have Emeka Okafor on the front line but with Jarrett Jack as the only point guard on the roster, the Horents look to be in big trouble this season.
Prediction: 15-51, 5th place Southwest Division