NBA Southwest Division preview

Posted Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Star-Telegram staff writer Dwain Price predicts the order of finish in the Southwest Division this season:

1 Houston Rockets: This team is poised to win an NBA title — this season. The off-season free agency acquisition of Dwight Howard provided the Rockets with the game’s most dominant center. Package Howard with guards James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley and Aaron Brooks, and forwards Chandler Parsons and Omri Casspi, and the Rockets are loaded from top to bottom. They also have Omer Asik, who averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds as the Rockets’ starting center last season. The Rockets are even toying with the idea of starting Asik (at center) and Howard (at power forward) together. The new Twin Towers? Either way, the Rockets will be a tough out in the playoffs.

2 San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs were a mere 28 seconds away from winning their fifth world title in June, when they held a five-point lead in Game 6 against the Miami Heat. But the Spurs lost that game, and then dropped the decisive Game 7. Led by the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs have the balance of their rotation players back. The main newcomer is shooting guard Marco Belinelli, who averaged 9.6 points last season with Chicago. The big question for the Spurs is whether they’ll be able to get another MVP-type season out of Duncan, who turns 38 in April and would have been the 2013 NBA Finals MVP had the Spurs had won the series.

3 Dallas Mavericks: With nine new players, the Mavericks are squarely back in the playoff picture. The big question is whether they can catch lightning in a bottle like they did in 2011 and win the title. The off-season acquisitions of point guard Jose Calderon, shooting guard Monta Ellis and center Samuel Dalembert improved those three positions and, some say, immediately upgraded the team’s basketball IQ. Not many players protect the ball better than Calderon, Ellis is cat-quick and has terrific passing skills, and Dalembert has some solid defensive skills. Mix those with veterans Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, and the Mavericks are happy campers again.

4 Memphis Grizzlies: It takes a whole lot of guts to not give your head coach a new contract after he just led your team to a franchise-record 56 wins. And after your franchise won two playoff series in the same season for the first time and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time. That’s what the Grizzlies thought of Lionel Hollins, who was replaced by assistant David Joerger in a cost-saving move by new owner Robert J. Pera. The defensive-minded Grizzlies still have Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley Jr. and Tony Allen. It’ll be interesting to see if Joerger can take Hollins’ (former) team to where Hollins couldn’t take it — to the NBA Finals.

5 New Orleans Pelicans: After losing Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers in a trade two years ago, coach Monty Williams is steadily rebuilding the Pelicans into a respectable franchise. In the off-season the Pelicans added some firepower to their roster when they acquired Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Anthony Morrow. Combine that stellar trio with Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Jason Smith, Austin Rivers and Al-Farouq Aminu, and the Pelicans have slowly put together a squad capable of challenging anyone; especially with the fierce way Williams coaches. Williams also doesn’t get enough credit for being adept at making in-game adjustments.

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