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Monday October 19, 2009 4:52 pm

2009-2010 NBA Northwest Division Preview




Posted by Phil Partington Categories: Athletes, Editorial, NBA

Greg OdenThere are plenty of reasons for NBA fans to be interested in the Northwest Division with several captivating stories to pique their interest. For starters, will the Utah Jazz go with Carlos Boozer as its starting power forward, or will it opt for up-and-comer Paul Millsap, thereby making Boozer expendable? Will Chauncey Billups be able to continue the great leadership role he exhibited with the Denver Nuggets last season? Will Greg Oden make strides to becoming a top flight NBA center? Will Al Jefferson and Kevin Love be able to coexist in Minnesota? Will Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder be able to become a true point guard?

Predicted order of finish

1. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers finished in a tie with the Nuggets for the top spot in the Northwest Division last season. Consider that Oden looks healthier and more confident, and that the Blazers added veteran point guard, Andre Miller, and it’s not far-fetched to consider the Blazers the favorite to win the division. Brandon Roy continues to be an underrated, young star in the league, and the Blazers have incredible depth, not to mention an exceptional coach. Portland won 54 games last year. The sky is the limit this season.

2. Denver Nuggets
Trading Allen Iverson for Billups last season proved to be a stroke of genius. Billups led the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals last season, and rejuvenated the team. Nene Hilario hopes to have another rare healthy season, as does Kenyon Martin, while Coach George Karl will need every ounce of energy from the Nuggets’ thin bench. That means Chris Andersen, Renaldo Blackman, and Arron Afflalo will be important this year. Blackman will have to pick up the slack with Linas Kleiza gone. Despite a talent-laden Western Conference, making the playoffs shouldn’t be too difficult for this squad, provided they stay healthy.

3. Utah Jazz
During a long stretch of missed games due to injury last season, Millsap showed why the Jazz could do without Boozer. Now, Coach Jerry Sloan isn’t certain whom to start. Of course, if Boozer’s healthy, he’s the obvious choice. He is, after all, a former All-Star, who’s still in his prime. Another possibility is that Sloan plays Boozer at center some of the time, pairing him alongside Millsap at the four spot. One thing is certain, though, as long as the Jazz have Deron Williams running the show at point guard, they should be competitive. The Jazz should fight for the eighth seed in the West.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City struggled in its first season in a new city. The team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics had a roller-coaster year as its slew of young talent developed. With another year under his belt, Kevin Durant showed why NBA critics across the league are touting him as a future superstar. He’ll join teammates Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, and rookie James Harden to try to improve on the 23-win season of last year. That shouldn’t be too hard. The Thunder might be a ways away from becoming a playoff team, but they’re on track.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves
Al Jefferson is everything to this team. This offseason, he was asked to focus more on defense. That means one can expect more rebounds and blocks per night. That being said, with sidekick, Kevin Love, out for six weeks, he may be asked to shoulder more of the load than previously expected. The Wolves didn’t have much to work with before trading Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Washington Wizards. Without them, it’s tough to say who will emerge to alleviate some of Jefferson’s burden. Rookie Jonny Flynn is expected to do some damage, with great athleticism, as well as the ability to score in bunches from the point guard position. If he can’t hold the flag, Ramon Sessions will be ready to take over at the one spot. Otherwise, look for Ryan Gomes, or perhaps Wayne Ellington, to flourish with more playing time.

While the Northwest Division doesn’t have any true contender teams (at least not on paper), it should provide for great entertainment with several young teams on the rise.

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