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Don’t worry about: Charlotte
The Salt Lake Tribune’s division-by-division NBA picks:
1. New York
1. San Antonio
5. New Orleans
1. Oklahoma City
1. L.A. Lakers
2. L.A. Clippers
3. Golden State
In a nutshell: The only question about the division race is whether Miami will clinch it by Christmas. Ex-Celtic Ray Allen is 37, but he remains one of the game’s most clutch outside shooters. He should get plenty of open looks, too, playing alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. … The Heat might be the Southeast’s only playoff team, depending on whether rebuilt Atlanta stays competitive or John Wall can lead Washington forward after years of mediocrity. … Orlando traded Dwight Howard and didn’t get nearly enough in return, leaving first-year coach Jacque Vaughn with a seemingly impossible task.
Best team: L.A. Lakers
Best player: Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Best acquisition: Steve Nash, Lakers
Sleeper: Golden State
Don’t worry about: Phoenix
In a nutshell: After two straight playoff failures, the Lakers re-tooled magnificently by adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Along with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, they have the best starting lineup in the league. Is L.A. young enough? Deep enough? If so, the Lakers could win the franchise’s 17th championship. … The Clippers might be a top-five team in the NBA. Too bad they are the second-best team playing at Staples Center. … Golden State’s ability to step up in the West depends on Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry returning from serious injuries and staying healthy.
Best team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Best player: Kevin Durant, Thunder
Best acquisition: Andre Iguodala, Nuggets
Don’t worry about: Portland
In a nutshell: The Thunder traded reigning Sixth Man winner James Harden when he wouldn’t sign a long-term deal for what they were offering. The deal gives Oklahoma City a new look but won’t alter the division’s power structure. … Denver has moved on nicely since its own blockbuster trade (Carmelo Anthony). The Nuggets can now play newcomer Andre Iguodala against opponents like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, which could impact their ability to close key games … Minnesota starts the season without injured Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, which might hurt its chances in the race for a playoff berth.
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