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Predicted finish: 1. Oklahoma City; 2. Portland; 3. Denver; 4. Minnesota; 5. Utah
Best player: Kevin Durant, Thunder
Big question: Who wins the scramble for second?
At a glance: Russell Westbrook and Durant give Oklahoma City the best 1-2 punch in the league. Led by Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha, the supporting cast makes the Thunder a top-four team in the deep, deep West. Portland could emerge from the pack and be OKC’s primary threat in the division. LaMarcus Aldridge finally has a tough-guy next to him (Robin Lopez) and Damian Lillard gives the Blazers the unstoppable point guard every playoff team needs.
Predicted finish: 1. San Antonio; 2. Houston; 3. Memphis; 4. New Orleans; 5. Dallas.
Best player: Tony Parker, Spurs
Big question: This is the NBA’s deepest division, right?
At a glance: Three conference final-caliber teams reside in the Southwest. San Antonio must stay ahead of Father Time, of course, and Houston hopes Dwight Howard’s unhappy year in L.A. is behind him. Meanwhile, Memphis looks as capable as last season, when the Grizzlies won 56 games and reached the West finals. Until age has undeniably gotten the best of them, however, it’s difficult to pick against Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs.
Predicted finish: 1. L.A. Clippers; 2. Golden State; 3. L.A. Lakers; 4. Sacramento; 5 Phoenix
Best player: Chris Paul, Clippers
Big question: Will the Lakers make the playoffs?
At a glance: It’s tough to imagine the Clippers owning Los Angeles, but that’s the likely scenario this season. While the Lakers can only hope Kobe Bryant returns from Achilles surgery and gets them into the playoffs, the Clippers are legitimate title contenders. New coach Doc Rivers knows what it takes to win championships and Chris Paul is, well, Chris Paul. The Clippers’ outside shooting was inconsistent last season, but J.J. Redick and Byron Mullens will help solve the problem.
1. LeBron James (Heat), 2-1
He is the best player on the best team, which always translates into MVP candidacy. James has won the award four times in the last five years. He can become the first player since Larry Bird (1984-86) and the second since Wilt Chamberlain (1966-68) to win it three straight times.Next Page >
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