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News » NBA by division: Northwest

NBA by division: Northwest

NBA by division: Northwest The Denver Nuggets finally got out of the first round of the playoffs and made it all the way to the Western Conference finals last season. The Detroit Pistons, meanwhile, had a losing record and failed to make it to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in seven seasons last spring. How are those two facts related? Easy.

Chauncey Billups has now been the starting point guard on teams that have been to the conference finals ? or further ? seven straight years, six times with Detroit and last year with Denver. The Pistons got much worse after Billups was traded, while the Nuggets got much better after he arrived. Coincidence? Hardly. Billups is a winner and a leader and he makes others around him better. Having Billups around once again combined with last year's success still doesn't make Denver an overwhelming favorite to win the Northwest Division this time around, however. The Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz will do battle with the Nuggets all season long in this top-heavy division. Here is a team-by-team look in predicted order of finish: PORTLAND Trail Blazers Last season: 54-28, lost to Houston in the first round of the playoffs Top player: G Brandon Roy (22.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.7 rpg) Supporting cast: F LaMarcus Aldridge (18.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg), PG Andre Miller (16.3 ppg, 6.5 apg, 4.5 rpg), C Greg Oden (8.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg) Bottom line: Ex-Ute great Andre Miller is a quiet guy. He's not flashy, doesn't dunk the Basketball or hang out with teammates off the court. It will take him some time to mesh with the Trail Blazers. But while Miller may have gotten off on the wrong foot in Portland after signing as a free agent, in the end, his veteran leadership and play will be a major asset to one of the NBA's most talented young teams. Roy and Aldridge will continue to be the focal points of the Blazers' offense, while Oden will took to improve on his decent, but-not- spectacular rookie season. Blazers coach Nate MacMillan has a deep team that could win 55-plus games this season. DENVER Nuggets Last season: 54-28, lost to Lakers in the Western Conference finals Top player: F Carmelo Anthony (22.8, 6.8 rpg, 3.4 apg) Supporting cast: PG Chauncey Billups (17.7 ppg, 6.4 apg), G J.R. Smith (15.2 ppg, 2.0 spg), F Kenyon Marton (11.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg), C Nene (14.6, 7.8 rpg) Bottom line: Denver made very few off-season changes ? which may be a good thing. It's the old "if it ain't broken, why fix it" cliche. Anthony and Billups are true All-Stars while the rest of the team members know their roles. In a division where the top three teams are close in talent level, it may come down to who has all their players on the floor the most.To that end, the Nuggets will be off to a bad start since Smith has been suspended by the league for the first seven games due to a reckless driving conviction in New Jersey. UTAH Jazz Last season: 48-34, lost to the Lakers in the first round Top player: PG Deron Williams (19.4 ppg, 10.7 apg) Supporting cast: F Carlos Boozer (16.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg), C Mehmet Okur (17.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Andrei Kirilenko (11.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg), G Ronnie Brewer (13.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg), F Paul Millsap (13.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg) Bottom line: Boozer is still around after plenty of trade talk during the offseason, but it's still a mystery whether he will last the season. The Jazz failed to win the division title for the first time in three years thanks in large part to many injuries to key players last season. That injury bug continued during this preseason, although as long as Williams is healthy the Jazz will always have a decent shot of winning a given game. Barring something unforeseen, expect the Jazz to get back to the 50-win area and battle the Blazers and Nuggets down to the wire for the division crown. OKLAHOMA CITY Thunder Last season: 23-59, missed playoffs Top player: G/F Kevin Durant (25.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg) Supporting cast: G Russell Westbrook (15.3 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.9 rpg), F Jeff Green (16.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg), C Nenad Krstic (9.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.1 bpg) Bottom line: The team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics is paced by third-year man Durant, who is a scoring machine and who could challenge for the NBA's scoring title this year. Westbrook and Green are also outstanding young players, but this team lacks the depth and experience to compete with the top three teams in the division. Thirty wins may not sound like a big deal, but it would mark a nice improvement for this young club. MINNESOTA Timberwolves Last season: 24-58, missed playoffs Top player: C Al Jefferson (23.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg. 1.7 bpg) Supporting cast: F Ryan Gomes (13.3, 4.8 rpg), F Kevin Love (11.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg), G Jonny Flynn (rookie) Bottom line: Former Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis takes over this rebuilding project. In Jefferson, Rambis has a quality big man and Love has a good all-around game, but overall this is one of the least talented teams in the league. The T-Wolves surprisingly picked two point guards in the draft ? which turned out to be a good thing since Ricky Rubio chose to stay in Spain.It does add some pressure on Flynn, however, to show that Minnesota got the right point guard to sign. Twenty to 25 wins is about all that can be expected out of this group. Preseason All-Northwest Team F ? Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets F ? Kevin Durrant, Thunder C ? Al Jefferson, Timberwolves G ? Deron Williams, Jazz G ? Brandon Roy, Trail Blazers e-mail:

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Added: October 29, 2009


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