Photo taken by Katie Haugland - original photo uploaded to Flickr.
We did it. We finally made it. Basketball fans can finally rejoice around the world as the NBA season is underway tonight. The Western Conference is stacked with powerhouse teams now more than ever which will lead to great inter-division competition. The Southwest Division is no exception to that competition. With the state of Texas hosting players such as James Harden, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dennis Smith, Jr. there's no limit to the amount of entertainment that can be witnessed deep in the heart of Texas. Look to the right of Texas and you'll see a class of versatile big men who can do it all. Players like Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Marc Gasol all have the possibility to drop a triple double on any given night. With two teams poised to have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and three teams looking to fight for a playoff spot, the Southwest Division will bring energy, heart, and excitement to every game on the hardwood. Here's how I see it playing out.
1) San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are probably the least exciting dynasty that has existed in the NBA, maybe even in all of sports. But damn, these guys can play. With Gregg Popavich still at the helm and a superstar in Kawhi Leonard, this team looks to have itself another 50-win season. The addition of Rudy Gay and veteran champion in Tony Parker, they will improve on a bench that was already world class last season. If LaMarcus Aldridge can shake of a shaky post season and return to his former self, this team will once again fly under the radar to a Southwest Division title.
2) Houston Rockets
Chris Paul is back in the Southwest for the first time since his days in New Orleans (2005-2011), and Houston couldn't be happier. The combination of Chris Paul and James Harden in a Mike D'Antoni offense is something that every defense should be scared of facing. With three-point weapons everyone around them and an emerging center in Clint Capela, the Rockets look to make it to the Conference Finals and give the Warriors a run for their money. But with the Spurs and Thunder also looking for a birth in the Conference Finals, the road won't be easy.
3) New Orleans Pelicans
One of many playoff bubble teams coming into this season, New Orleans is surrounded by Beignets and questions marks. The front court tandem of Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins will have their first full season together and it's uncertain how it will turn out. There is already speculation that if things don't go well, Demarcus could be traded before the deadline this season. However, there is tremendous upside. New Orleans has yet to seen established success since drafting Anthony Davis, and this may be their last shot to prove to him that this franchise can bring together a winning team. Keeping Demarcus Cousins and making the playoffs seems to be 50/50 for the Pelicans. If they hope to keep star Anthony Davis on the roster for years to come, it'll have to be a necessity.
4) Memphis Grizzlies
They core of the Memphis Grizzlies is starting to deteriorate. This offseason we saw the Grizzlies lose Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to Western Conference opponents, Marc Gasol is still nursing a injured left foot, and Chandler Parsons has proved to be the worst max contract the Grizzlies have ever offered someone. With Mike Conley still leading the team as one of the leagues most underrated players, you can expect Grizzlies fans to still have something to cheer about during the 82 games of the regular season, but don't expect this team to play past that. In a Western Conference with stardom around every corner, this team doesn't look to have the pieces needed to compete for a playoff spot.
5) Dallas Mavericks
The reign of the Dallas Mavericks is years behind us now and the team for the first time under Mark Cuban is looking to utilize the draft. With rookie Dennis Smith, Jr. now as the cornerstone future of the franchise the Mavericks can finally look to life without Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk is entering his 20th season with still another year on his contract. With Dirk's time in the league coming to end within a year or two and Smith, Jr. fighting for a Rookie of the Year award by using his 48-inch vertical to woo fans, the Mavericks may have one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA with a 30-win mark.