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NBA Western Conference preview 2013-14

Doc Rivers will be coaching the LA Clippers this season.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Doc Rivers will be coaching the LA Clippers this season.

Gary Washburn examines what to expect from each team, with squads listed in predicted order of finish:

NORTHWEST DIVISION

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

Last season: 60-22, lost in conference semifinal. Coach: Scott Brooks.

Starting five: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins.

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Outlook: The Thunder will be without Westbrook for the first month and there are doubts as to whether they have enough to reach the Finals again, as they did in 2011-12. It all will depend on whether Oklahoma City has another scorer to complement Durant. Former Boston College guard Reggie Jackson is a candidate, along with Jeremy Lamb. The Thunder won’t have it easy in the West this season.

2. Denver Nuggets

Last season: 57-25, lost in first round. Coach: Brian Shaw.

Starting five: Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, JJ Hickson, JaVale McGee.

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Outlook: Shaw finally gets the chance to lead his own team and the Nuggets will play hard, play defense, and play an up-tempo style. The problem, as usual, is there is no go-to guy/superstar on this roster. The Nuggets have a bunch of good-but-not-great players. Lawson will have to take the next step this season, and McGee has to continue to mature. Denver likely will be a tough out every night but probably be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

Last season: 31-51, missed playoffs. Coach: Rick Adelman.

Starting five: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Dante Cunningham, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic.

Outlook: The Timberwolves could be a playoff team this year after adding Martin for scoring and removing general manager David Kahn, who kept stockpiling players at the same position. Love is completely healthy after a couple of injury plagued years, Pekovic is a mammoth center with a mean streak, and Rubio has a chance to be special. The Timberwolves have to learn how to win, however, which is never easy in the NBA.

4. Portland Trail Blazers

Last season: 33-49, missed playoffs. Coach: Terry Stotts.

Starting five: Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez.

Outlook: Portland is slowly getting better, bringing in former lottery pick Thomas Robinson, drafting C.J. McCollum, and then trading for Lopez, but it is still far short of being a factor in the West. Aldridge has to become a more dominant player after denying he wanted to be traded in the offseason. Lillard has to continue his rapid development, and Portland has to learn to win on the road.

5. Utah Jazz

Last season: 43-39, missed playoffs. Coach: Tyrone Corbin.

Starting five: Jamaal Tinsley, Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors.

Outlook: The Jazz are stuck between developing and trying to win. They allowed Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to leave via free agency to give Favors and Kanter the chance to start. But Trey Burke will be out the first month of the season after finger surgery and he was supposed to start at point guard. So the Jazz will be scrambling, likely headed for another trip to the lottery.

PACIFIC DIVISION

1. Los Angeles Clippers

Last season: 56-26, lost in first round. Coach: Doc Rivers.

Starting five: Chris Paul, JJ Redick, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan.

Outlook: This is the team Rivers left the Celtics for, and so far the coach is taking this “owning the city” thing very seriously. There will be no more excuses for the Clippers. Paul signed a long-term extension, Griffin has improved, and Redick gives the Clippers the long-range shooting they have sought for years. Jamal Crawford again will be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. The Clippers have depth, but can they win a long playoff series against an elite team?

2. Golden State Warriors

Last season: 47-35, lost in conference semifinals. Coach: Mark Jackson.

Starting five: Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, Andrew Bogut.

Outlook: The expectations are high in the Bay Area after last season, and the Warriors went out and signed Iguodala to improve their defensive intensity. Golden State will be tough to guard with Curry and Klay Thompson draining 3-pointers. The key is whether Bogut and Lee stay healthy and give the Warriors some type of interior defensive presence.

3. Los Angeles Lakers

Last season: 45-37, lost in first round. Coach: Mike D’Antoni.

Starting five: Steve Nash, Nick Young, Shawne Williams, Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman.

Outlook: The Lakers are going to play out the string with a bunch of fill-ins and bank on signing a premium free agent next summer, especially with Kobe Bryant expected to miss the first month or two this year. The Lakers are capable of making the playoffs if Kaman blends well with Gasol and Young tames his offensive wildness. But they are looking at nothing more than a first-round elimination — until next year.

4. Sacramento Kings

Last season: 28-54, missed playoffs. Coach: Mike Malone.

Starting five: Greivis Vasquez, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins.

Outlook: The Kings again are starting over with the defense-minded Malone and with Cousins signed to a long-term contract extension. Vasquez can be erratic, but he is a legitimate point guard. The Kings still have to figure out if Jimmer Fredette is an NBA player and if Isaiah Thomas is more than just a scorer off the bench for a bad team.

5. Phoenix Suns

Last season: 25-57, missed playoffs. Coach: Jeff Hornacek.

Starting five: Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Marcus Morris, Markeiff Morris, Emeka Okafor.

Outlook: Former Celtics executive Ryan McDonough will completely rebuild the Suns through the draft and free agency, so this will be a transition year in Arizona. Bledsoe should be a gem, getting his first chance to start after backing up Chris Paul the past few years. The Morris twins need to show that they are cornerstones, or they could end up part of the overhaul as well.

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

1. San Antonio Spurs

Last season: 58-24, lost in NBA Finals. Coach: Gregg Popovich.

Starting five: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter.

Outlook: Can the Spurs really recover from their Game 6 collapse against the Miami Heat enough to make yet another run? That breakdown has to be in their heads as another season approaches, especially with Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Parker not getting any younger. Leonard will be the key to the Spurs’ success. If he continues to play the way he did in the Finals, the Spurs could be even better than last season, which could mean one more run.

2. Houston Rockets

Last season: 45-37, lost in first round. Coach: Kevin McHale.

Starting five: Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik, Dwight Howard.

Outlook: The Rockets finally got their man in Howard and will pair him with Lin, Harden, and Parsons for a fast-paced, exciting offense. The question in Houston is whether Lin can compete with the league’s best point guards. Asik has hinted that he wants to be traded, unsure he can share the paint with Howard. The bench isn’t exactly formidable, meaning Harden, Howard, and the crew will have to produce even more without much support.

3. Memphis Grizzlies

Last season: 56-26, lost in conference finals. Coach: Dave Joerger.

Starting five: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol.

Outlook: It’s basically the same team that was swept by the Spurs last season, and management is hoping a new coach with fresh ideas and a more up-tempo style will result in better success. Prince will get a full season with the club and Mike Miller was added for 3-point shooting. The Grizzlies have proven tough enough inside but they need a pure scorer. They are hoping to do it by committee again. It probably will produce the same results.

4. Dallas Mavericks

Last season: 41-41, missed playoffs. Coach: Rick Carlisle.

Starting five: Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Samuel Dalembert.

Outlook: The Mavericks are again stuck, unable to lure a major free agent to join Nowitzki but having to try to compete because his prime years are running out. So they signed Calderon, Ellis, and Dalembert, players who are considered adequate but not winners. So once again, the Mavericks will be competitive but hardly good enough to win the West. Something eventually will have to change.

5. New Orleans Pelicans

Last season: 27-55, missed playoffs. Coach: Monty Williams.

Starting five: Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith, Anthony Davis.

Outlook: The Pelicans will be interesting because they are filled with young talent. They shipped Nerlens Noel to Philadelphia for Holiday and then acquired Tyreke Evans for depth. The problem is the Pelicans are so loaded at shooting guard that someone is going to have to hit the bench. There will be some tough decisions for Williams, with players such as Evans, Austin Rivers, and Anthony Morrow looking for playing time.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe
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