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NBA season preview: Oklahoma City Thunder’s championship window looking cloudy

Posted by on 01/07/2018

Pacific division preview: Lakers sinking without a traceSouthWest division preview: A tough bunch of fiveSouthEast division preview: Charlotte can provide sting in the taleCentral division preview: Bulls have edge over CavaliersAtlantic division preview: A lot trash, not much treasure in Atlantic

Oklahoma City will again dominate the NorthWest division even with MVP Kevin Durant missing at least the first month of the season with a broken foot.

Now is the time for Russell Westbrook to shine. Expect big numbers from the Thunder guard in the first few weeks but his team will struggle to duplicate last season’s consistent winning record until Durant returns.

Portland surprised many by making the second round of the playoffs last season and with Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge continuing to build their combination, plus the addition of some handy role players, the Blazers cannot be discounted from doing the same, perhaps better, in 2014-15.

Denver have a talented roster but seemed to have little cohesion and are likely to slide back another notch, while Minnesota and Utah are rebuilding and will gladly fall into the NBA lottery again. Dante Exum will start from the bench as the Jazz ease the teenage Australian Boomers guard into the rigours of NBA play. He’s a long-term project.

Here’s how the NorthWest teams are shaping up …

Denver (Last season: 36-46)

Gains: Arron Afflalo (Magic), Jerrelle Benimon (rookie), Alonzo Gee (Cavaliers), Erick Green (rookie), Gary Harris (rookie), Jusuf Nurkic (rookie), Marcus Williams.

Losses: Aaron Brooks (Bulls), Evan Fournier (Magic), Anthony Randolph, Jan Vesely.

A very good fantasy team with a lot of talented players but point guard Ty Lawson has not been able to build a combination with many of the key players like JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari due to their injury problems. If they don’t click this season, expect the Nuggets to be active in trades to reshape their roster.

Prediction: Will have a good home record but struggle to compete in the loaded west.

Minnesota (40-42)

Gains: Anthony Bennett (Cavaliers), Kyrylo Fesenko, Zach LaVine (rookie), Glenn Robinson III (rookie), Andrew Wiggins (rookie), Mo Williams (Trail Blazers), Thaddeus Young (76ers).

Losses: Dante Cunningham, Othyus Jeffers, Kevin Love (Cavaliers), Luc Mbah a Moute (76ers), Alexey Shved (76ers).

Love don’t live here anymore. Kevin Love is now a Cavalier but at least the Timberwolves got a decent return for their star forward with this year’s multi-talented No.1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins, last year’s multi-lambasted Anthony Bennett and Philadelphia forward Thaddeus Young. Point guard Ricky Rubio needs to live up to the hype he’s managed to generate without a hell of a lot of justification over the past couple of years.

Prediction: Not many wins but this young team of athletes will be fun to watch.

Oklahoma City (59-23)

Gains: Mitch McGary (rookie), Anthony Morrow (Pelicans), Sebastian Telfair, Lance Thomas.

Losses: Caron Butler (Pistons), Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha (Hawks), Hasheem Thabeet (Pistons).

They’ve got a sniff of the Indianas about them. They’ve been close to the title a couple of times the last few years but have come up short. Pay the luxury tax. Give Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook some better support than Serge Ibaka. Use your amnesty provision on non-shooting centre Kendrick Perkins. The Thunder’s big three are still young but a championship window can close pretty quickly and if Durant or Westbrook don’t think this small-market team can go all the way in the next year or two, there will be many bigger franchises throwing mountains of money there way very soon.

Prediction: Durant’s injury could mean they won’t be a top seed in the west, which could lead to another playoff fade-out without home-court advantage in the big games.

Portland (54-28)

Gains: Steve Blake (Warriors), Diante Garrett (Jazz), Chris Kaman (Lakers), Darius Morris

Losses: Earl Watson, Mo Williams (Timberwolves).

It’s hard to believe a team that made the second round after beating Houston 3-1 despite giving up home-court advantage, kept all its good players and added a few key veterans has been tipped to slide in the standings. The Blazers clearly haven’t earned everyone’s respect but they have two legitimate stars in Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge and if they are not given due attention, they could very well make a big noise in the western conference playoffs.

Prediction: Will be written off again, will prove their critics wrong again.

Utah (25-57)

Gains: Trevor Booker (Wizards), Jack Cooley (rookie), Dante Exum (rookie), Carrick Felix (Cavaliers), Rodney Hood (rookie), Dahntay Jones, Toure Murry (Knicks), Steve Novak (Pistons), Brock Motum (rookie).

Losses: Diante Garrett (Trail Blazers), Richard Jefferson (Mavericks), John Lucas III, Erik Murphy (Celtics), Brandon Rush (Warriors), Malcolm Thomas, Marvin Williams (Hornets).

They have the nucleus of a very good young side and will be in an enviable position in a couple of years time as they add more draft picks to the point where they can trade away players for complementary veterans or perhaps even a high-profile free agent (although Salt Lake City is a tough sell when you’re approaching stars’ agents). Dante Exum will develop, everyone – including the player himself – needs to be patient.

Prediction: Will rival the Lakers for the worst record in the west.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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