Tuesday, September 1, 2009 Updated: September 14, 3:32 PM ET
Summer Forecast: West standings
Brandon Roy's Blazers are one of the teams in the West looking to stand in the way of Kobe's Lakers.
On Tuesday, we forecast the East, and today it's the West.
One note of explanation, as covered yesterday: The order of finish is more important in these predictions than the exact number of wins and losses. When 53 individuals vote, they will almost never all agree that one team will win as many as, let's say, 65 games, or that another team will win only 20 games, even though we know these things happen frequently. Why? Because these are extreme results that happen when pretty much everything goes right or everything goes wrong for a team. The panel collectively takes a more measured view, so the forecasts for wins and losses tend to float toward the middle.
Predicted Standings for Western Conference: 2009-10
Our forecasters say the champion Lakers will edge the Cavs for best record in the NBA and home court throughout the playoffs, which will come in handy if we get a Kobe-LeBron showdown. That's the only close race the Lakers will be in, according to our panel, which doesn't seem too worried about potential disruptions by Ron Artest.
Can Portland become the proverbial "team nobody wants to face" in the Western Conference playoffs? Or are they ready for true contender status? Expectations are large, as are the variables: Can Greg Oden find himself? How will Andre Miller's go-go style mesh with the walk-it-up Blazers? And who's the starting point guard, anyway?
The Nuggets won't sneak up on anyone this year, and perhaps they won't need to. With largely the same roster as they had in May, Denver is counting on good health and the further development of Carmelo Anthony to stay among the West's best. If these predictions hold, they might get a playoff rematch with the Lakers.
The Mavs had a topsy-turvy summer that, according to our panel, will leave them right where they were last season: 50-32, and in the middle of the pack. They brought back Jason Kidd and acquired Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden, but lost a battle of wits with Orlando for Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat. Expect the moves to keep coming.
Utah was a trendy name a year ago, but barely rates a mention now, for a couple of reasons: The team is coming off a disappointing season, and the Carlos Boozer situation is unresolved. But the Jazz still have a potent roster led by Deron Williams, and the dark-horse label seems to fit this team as well as any other in the West.
It was a disappointing season in New Orleans, relative to the high expectations they started with, but they still won 49 games and they still have Chris Paul. The Hornets are another of the West's "if everything breaks right" contenders, as they need Julian Wright, Ike Diogu and Hilton Armstrong to do more to justify being lottery picks.
The Suns were a lottery team last season, but a good one, winning 46 despite a coaching change and an eye injury to Amare Stoudemire. Now Shaq's gone, and the speed game is back, led by Steve Nash. If Amare returns to full health, the Suns will light it up again. But will that be enough for more than 8th best in the West?
The Rockets were a remarkable story last season, taking the Lakers to seven games without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Now Houston is in a transition year, as Yao appears out for the season and T-Mac's return is iffy. One thing does seem certain: The Rockets will scrap and claw and make every opponent's W well-earned.
Giddy Clippers fans might not appreciate this forecast, but keep in mind: A 33-49 record would be a 14-game leap, and L.A. has been such a disheveled franchise it's going to have to prove itself to our panel. That said, some see the Clips winning as many as 50 games, thanks in large part to the arrival of Blake Griffin.
No West bandwagon is more crowded than OKC's, with our panel seeing the team that started 1-16 a year ago making the leap to mediocrity. Given the age of Kevin Durant (20), Russell Westbrook (20), Jeff Green (23) and newcomer James Harden (20), it's not hard to see what the excitement is about. But it will be hard to see them on TV.
Golden State celebrated its crowning as Team Turmoil with another heaping helping of controversy, as putative team leader Stephen Jackson reportedly asked to be traded to a good team. The talent of such youngsters as Monta Ellis and Anthony Randolph is undeniable, but clearly our panelists just do not trust the Warriors to pull it together.
Minnesota's noisy offseason of trades, controversial draft picks, the firing of Kevin McHale, the hiring of Kurt Rambis and a failed bid to sign Ricky Rubio is likely to be followed by a quiet season on the hardwood. The immediate future is about getting Al Jefferson healthy and seeing what youngsters Kevin Love and Jonny Flynn can do.
The Kings take the honors as the NBA's worst team, both in last season's standings and this season's projections. Reasons for optimism include a return to health for Kevin Martin and the arrival of Tyreke Evans, but even that is a bit troubling, as they might end up playing the same position. Expect another long year in Sac-Town.
* - The Jazz finished slightly ahead of the Hornets in our average prediction.
Henry Abbott (ESPN.com TrueHoop senior writer), J.A. Adande (ESPN.com senior writer), Kevin Arnovitz (ESPN.com TrueHoop Network editor), Andrew Ayres (ESPN.com NBA editor), Jon Barry (ESPN NBA analyst), Bruce Bernstein (ESPN NBA Studio Production), Alfredo Berrios (ESPN Deportes editor), Dwayne Bray (ESPN Studio Production), Jordan Brenner (ESPN Insider editor), Lisa Brooks (ESPN Stats & Information), Maurice Brooks (ESPN.com NBA editor), Chris Broussard (ESPN The Magazine senior writer), Ric Bucher (ESPN The Magazine senior writer), Michael Bucklin (ESPN Interactive Games), Kevin Calabro (ESPN NBA broadcaster), Kevin Conlon (ESPN Stats & Information), Jay Corbin (ESPN The Magazine editor), Chad Ford (ESPN Insider senior writer), LZ Granderson (ESPN The Magazine senior writer), John Hollinger (ESPN Insider senior writer), Jade Hoye (ESPN Multimedia), Michael Jackson (ESPN Stats & Information), Scoop Jackson (ESPN Page 2 columnist), Avery Johnson (ESPN NBA analyst), Eric Karabell (ESPN.com senior writer), Rob King (ESPN.com editor-in-chief), Seth Landman (ESPN Fantasy basketball writer), Tim Legler (ESPN NBA analyst), Nancy Lieberman (ESPN NBA analyst), Keith Lipscomb (ESPN Fantasy basketball analyst), Patricia Lowry (ESPN NBA Event Production), Mike Lynch (ESPN Stats & Information), Eric Neel (ESPN.com senior writer), Pete Newmann (ESPN Stats & Information), Chris Palmer (ESPN The Magazine NBA writer), Greg Pike (ESPN NBA Studio Production), Chris Ramsay (ESPN.com NBA coordinator), Dr. Jack Ramsay (ESPN NBA analyst), Adam Reisinger (ESPN DB editor), Jalen Rose (ESPN NBA analyst), Bob Salmi (ESPN NBA analyst), Chris Sheridan (ESPN Insider senior writer), Marc Stein (ESPN.com NBA senior writer), Patrick Stiegman (ESPN.com VP/Executive editor), Otto Strong (ESPN The Magazine NBA editor), Mark Summer (ESPN NBA Studio Production), David Thorpe (ESPN Insider NBA analyst), Justin Verrier (ESPN.com NBA editor), Bill Walton (ESPN NBA analyst), Royce Webb (ESPN.com NBA editor), Josh Whitling (ESPN Fantasy Basketball writer), Matt Winer (ESPN NBA anchor) and Matt Wong (ESPN.com NBA editor).