We are just two weeks away from the start of the 2013-14 NBA season. It’s time to step up the preview coverage as preseason action and training camps help to build a clearer picture of how the upcoming season is likely to play out. Most expect this to be something of a down year in the Central division. The Los Angeles Lakers look like a team in some serious trouble, while both the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings will both be pretty weak. This division already looks like a very clear two-horse race between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors.
Los Angeles Clippers
The returning division champions enter the 2013-14 campaign knowing that they need to build upon last season’s success. With the mess that the Lakers are in, the Clippers will be the undisputed cream of Los Angeles basketball, at least for one season. Last season’s young, exciting team fell in the first round against a grittier and more battle-tested Memphis opponent. The main change this offseason? The introduction of a head coach in Doc Rivers who is considered to be a master of motivation. Rivers will need to find a way to generate a little more compete, battle and efficiency out of his big tandem on the front court in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. He hopes that duo can form an LA-based ‘big three’ along with star point guard Chris Paul, but we will have to wait and see on that one. The real test of this roster will come in the playoffs, but even without improvement, the additions of Antwan Jamison, Darren Collison and Jared Dudley should ensure that the Clippers hold off the Warriors for the division title.
Golden State Warriors
What can Mark Jackson’s team do as an encore after they burst back into the playoffs and won their opening round series against the favored Denver Nuggets. They return this season with all of their young talent intact and an even more loaded roster. Even in an extremely loaded Western conference, there are some much deserved suggestions that the Warriors might just be a dark horse pick to make it to the NBA finals. The core is on the back court with dynamic shooting duo Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. They will fire it from the back court and ensure that Golden State is one of the best offensive teams in the NBA once again. Andrew Bogut is probably the key to the front court. He needs to be the sort of presence that he showed at the end of last season at both ends of the court. If Bogut fills in well at center, then David Lee and Andre Iguodala form a very strong supporting cast on the front line. Throw in some useful depth in Draymond Green, Jermaine Neal, Festus Ezeli, Toney Douglas and of course a potential sixth man of the year candidate in Harrison Barnes.
Los Angeles Lakers
This team will probably miss the playoffs. Kobe Bryant’s eventual return combined with the presence of Pau Gasol and Steve Nash will ensure that they finish in the #10-11 range. Nash is already experiencing some injury struggles through the preseason, how well Bryant will be able to return remains to be seen and there’s just not a feeling that this roster has the offensive weapons or defensive ability to compete in the NBA. Are the Lakers really posting up a front court with Chris Kaman and Nick Young in starting positions? There’s just too much on Bryant and that Achilles in 2013-14, even for the Lakers to just make the playoffs.
The battle for Wiggins could be contained within the Pacific division. It’s pretty hard to decide who to place last out of the Kings and Suns. Sacramento might just get the edge because of a possible strong link up between new point guard Greivis Vasquez and DeMarcus Cousins. The signs very strongly point towards Cousins becoming something of a dud after he was picked 5th overall in 2010. Latest high draft pick Ben McLemore should see plenty of minutes and enjoy plenty of opportunities with the basketball.
The back court of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe might actually form a pretty solid tandem both this season and moving forward. The problem for Phoenix is that it really isn’t clear who is going to score the basketball and the defensive side of the game isn’t exactly perfect either. This is clearly a tanking year for the Suns and they might just hope they finish dead last.