Southwest preview: Spurs still jingle
The Southwest could easily evolve into the most competitive division in the league. Or just as easily, it could turn out to be totally dominated by the Spurs, with the Hornets and Mavs in limbo and the Rockets and Grizzlies struggling to avoid falling into the NBA's underworld.
Strengths: The point-making of Dirk Nowitzki, enhanced by his increased willingness to post up and attack the rim.
Jason Terry's pull-up jumpers going right, as well as his awesome spot-shooting.
downlevel descriptionThis video requires the Adobe Flash Player. Download a free version of the player.
If Jason Kidd can no longer adequately defend fleet-footed point guards, he can still contain most shooting guards. And, despite losing a step, J-Kidd retains his unselfishness, his remarkable court vision and his newfound ability to drain treys.
Shawn Marion's versatility and athleticism.
The baseline quickness of Josh Howard.
J.J. Barea's sparkplug energy off the bench.
Even though he's not supremely talented, Drew Gooden gets the most out of his limited abilities.
Don't underestimate the roughhouse, albeit part-time, defense of Erick Dampier.
Newcomer Matt Carroll's immaculate set-shooting.
Weaknesses: Since Dampier is always in foul trouble, there's an embarrassing lack of depth behind him.
Since Barea is too small to consistently get his shot off, there's no creative scorer off the bench.
A suspect defense, particularly since Marion appears to already be worn out at age 31. Indeed, Quintin Ross is the only dependable defender.
The inability of Marion to pass the ball with any consistent degree of precision.
The team has been historically poor in clutch situations — namely Nowitzki, Terry and Howard.
Prognosis: Since they're incapable of overcoming San Antonio, the L.A. Lakers, Portland or Denver in a playoff series, the Mavs are doomed to an early exit.
Strengths: Shane Battier's defense, spot-shooting and quiet leadership.
The amazing quickness and streaky long-range shooting of Aaron Brooks.
Although he's always been an effective blue-collar worker in the low post, Luis Scola's mid-range shooting has also become a deadly weapon.
Trevor Ariza's overall quickness and sniping defense.
Carl Landry's developing game from baseline to baseline.
Even though Chuck Hayes is only 6-foot-6, he plays extra-large interior defense.
Kyle Lowry is a top-notch insurance policy if Brooks can't make the grade.
The resourcefulness of Rick Adelman.
Weaknesses: Brooks is the only guard/wing who can create his own shots.
The difficulty Brooks will have while learning to be a distributor instead of a finisher.
A bench that lacks reliable scorers.
Without Yao Ming and Ron Artest, Houston's roster is incredibly thin and will remain so until Tracy McGrady returns.
Because their half-court offense is so limited, the Rockets are forced to play an up-tempo game, which means that they'll be on the receiving end of many blowouts.
A paucity of scorers and defenders.
Prognosis: It will take a miracle for Houston to qualify for the playoffs.
Strengths: Allen Iverson can score in bunches.
O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay are budding stars and constitute a dynamic 1-2 scoring punch.
Marc Gasol won't be bullied in the paint.
Zach Randolph is excellent with the ball in his hands.
Mike Conley is vastly underrated.
There'll be lots of playing time for the two heralded rookies — Sam Young and DeMarre Carroll — to learn the pro game.
Weaknesses: Hasheem Thabeet is a stiff and will continue to be one for the foreseeable future.
The veteran bigs are slow and defenseless. Everybody else is just plain defenseless.
Every ill-advised shot that A.I. unleashes is one less shot available for Mayo and Gay.
Prognosis: Some small steps in the right direction, but making the playoffs is still years away.
New Orleans Hornets
Strengths: Chris Paul's blinding speed and stellar use of high screen-and-rolls.