Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Pacific Division

Atlantic: Celtics | Nets | Knicks | 76ers | Raptors | Division Preview 1 and 2
Central: Bulls | Cavaliers | Pistons | Pacers | Bucks | Division Preview
Southeast: Hawks | Bobcats | Heat | Magic | Wizards | Division Preview
Pacific: Warriors | Clippers | Lakers | Suns | Kings | Division Preview
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Vishal Kolar: This season is going to be Chris Paul’s coming out party as the undeniable best floor general in the league. Doc Rivers will transform Chris Paul into a legit MVP contender by making sure the parts around him are ready to perform, namely Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Both big men will come in more disciplined and aggressive on the defense end, which only improves the Clippers’ ability to get out in transition. On top of that, Paul has Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick waiting on the wings to knock down an open three-point shot. The Clippers could make a run for the best record in the West, which will make Paul a top contender for the league MVP.

MAB: Look nowhere else; Chris Paul has been the clear division leader for two years running. After an early playoff exit delivered by the Memphis Grizzlies, CP3 will have his best season since his rookie year under the tutelage of Doc Rivers.

Steven Covella: The Clippers were hyperactive this offseason, going as far as to execute a rare trade for a top-five head coach in Doc Rivers, but even that pales in comparison to the re-signing of Chris Paul. While he took exception to suggestions that he forced out Vinny Del Negro, Paul clearly had an indirect hand in his coach’s dismissal. Los Angeles made the move for Rivers in order to coax its star into staying put and for good reason – he’s the best point guard in the game. Regardless of their head coach, the Clippers would have taken a step out of contention without Paul; with him, they’re on the short list of teams with a truly realistic shot at a championship.


Kolar: David Lee had a spectacular 2012-13 season, averaging 18.5 points and and 11.2 rebounds per game, as well as being selected to the NBA All-Star western squad. Lee’s injury caused him to miss a portion of the postseason and play limited minutes, which ended up as a blessing in disguise due to the emergence of Harrison Barnes. I expect Lee’s minutes to be cut next year to make room for Barnes when the Dubs want to work the perimeter on offense and go small ball. I just can’t trust him to pile up the same numbers again.

MAB: Los Angeles Lakers newcomer Wesley Johnson once wore the “he could turn into something” moniker amongst the NBA’s young crop of guards, but after a dismal stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the career 7.7 PPG swingman is one season away from contributing his 32 percent from three overseas. Johnson most likely has his fingers crossed in the hopes that Kobe Bryant isn’t ready by the season opener, which many reports suggest he will be. Johnson will be playing behind Kobe, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young and Xavier Henry – and there’s virtually no chance he’ll outperform any of them. Knowing Mike D’Antoni’s reputation for quickly putting his players in the dog house versus Johnson showing his ineffectiveness to thrive in an up-tempo offense, he might ride the pine all the way into league obscurity.

Covella: If I’m sticking strictly to the question, Kobe Bryant is the most likely player to experience a performance dip. He’s 35 years old, coming off of a debilitating, uncommon injury as well as one of the most strenuous seasons of his career. But that’s no fun. The darkhorse choice for this distinction is Jamal Crawford. He’ll be 34 in March and his best days are behind him. Compounding matters, Los Angeles brought in a number of wing players, including J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley – both excellent role players – this summer.


Kolar: Harrison Barnes played a crucial role in the Warrior’s 2013 playoff campaign, averaging 16 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 12 games of action. He showed the ability to play defense and score in pressure situations, which was his one pitfall at UNC. I expect Barnes to be the frontrunner for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award and lead the Warriors’ second unit with his ability to create his own shot and dish the ball to open teammates.

MAB: He’s a complicated man, and no one understands him but his… coach? He’s no John Shaft, but yes I’m giving my vote to the league’s most promising team burden, DeMarcus Cousins. After posting career highs in points and rebounds, Cousins is poised to finally have the season we’ve all been expecting that’ll don him the game’s best center. In addition to a maturity upgrade from Mike Malone, Cousins will finally break 50 percent in shooting, and will be held to a greater degree of accountability on both ends of the floor.

Covella: After a quiet regular season, Harrison Barnes exploded in the playoffs. With the offseason addition of Andre Iguodala, Barnes will either become Golden State’s sixth man or start in an exciting small ball lineup. Either way, he proved in the playoffs that he can be an impact player in the league and his newfound comfort will translate into a notable second season.


Kolar: The Los Angeles Clippers ran away with the division last year finishing with a 56-26 record, which was nine games better than any other team in the division. With the addition of Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, the Clippers will dominate this division and be on cruise control leading up to the 2014 postseason.

MAB: The Los Angeles Clippers aren’t letting go of the Pacific Division crown easy. Insert Doc Rivers to the mix and they’re poised to steal the Western Conference throne. The Clips were top ten in points, assists and opponent points-per-game in addition to averaging 10 steals per 100 possessions. Doc Rivers and Alvin Gentry will bolster their defensive rotations, instill some defensive common sense in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and most likely raise their number 18 position in league-wide rebounding to a top ten ranking. With the shooters they’ve added in Redick and Dudley, this team is positioned to make a deep run.

Covella: The Warriors are the sexy pick here, but the Clippers were the better team last season and made some great acquisitions this summer, so recent history will repeat itself.


Kolar: The Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings will complete for this title throughout the season, but DeMarcus Cousins and the addition of Ben MCLemore should keep the Kings out of last place in the Pacific. The Suns cannot rely on Alex Len to lead their team and push them into playoff contention. They are without veteran leadership and should continue to struggle for a few more years until some of their younger stars mature.

MAB: Phoenix Suns are looking like Ikea assembly instructions – confusing, no piece has a clear role; they cause more frustration than enjoyment and will eventually fall apart. They’ll be trying to find their way through a fog of stiff Western Conference competition with a first-year head coach in Jeff Hornacek. Don’t expect much out of this talented, but unorganized squad.

Covella: Adding role players to a team can push it over the top if they’re brought in to surround a core of star talent. Phoenix acquired a few role players since the end of the season, with Eric Bledsoe being its biggest get; but with no real talent to complement those additions, the Suns are a mediocre squad at best without a chance of finishing better than last place in the conference.


Kolar: Well, I haven’t mentioned the Lakers once in this preview, which is either a blessing or a travesty depending on which team you support. The Lakers are not the worst team in this division, but they do not have the talent and depth to compete with the Clippers or the Warriors, so they will be stuck in the middle unless Kobe and Nash return to their 2005 forms. This is the Clippers’ year to win the West and possibly dethrone the Miami Heat, so all of the focus in the Pacific Division will be on Doc Rivers and his championship-ready squad.

MAB: With health on their side for the majority of the season, the Clippers will defend their Pacific Division title and go on to battle the San Antonio Spurs for the Western Conference throne. They’ll beat the Spurs and fall to the Heat in the NBA Finals.

Covella: Stephen Curry shot 600 threes – an ungodly amount – last season. It’s hard to imagine him repeating such prolific numbers, but if he plays like he did in the second half of last season he’ll make his first All-Star Game appearance. The Clippers are still thin upfront, so much of their success, particularly in the postseason, will hinge on DeAndre Jordan’s reliability on defense and at the free throw line. Sacramento goes as DeMarcus Cousins does. The Lakers are crazy if they think they are legitimate contenders for the playoffs.

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