Oklahoma City Thunder (2nd in west)
Key factor for Nets: Limit either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.
The Nets don’t play the Thunder until January, so chances are Russell Westbrook will be back by then. Durant and Westbrook are two of the best offensive players in the NBA so defensively, the Nets need to stop one of them. In the playoffs last year when the Thunder only had Durant, Memphis was able to focus on him and the rest of the team fell apart. Another thing to note is that the Nets blew out the Thunder in OKC last year.
If Westbrook is back by Christmas and resembles the player we knew before his injury, the Thunder will finish in the top 3 in the western conference. Even though a lot of people are questioning the Thunder’s trade of James Harden, Westbrook and Durant are good enough to win a whole lot of regular season games. However, Durant might be thinking about leaving town when his contract expires, and Brooklyn could be in his future (???).
Minnesota Timberwolves (7th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Don’t allow Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love to feel comfortable on offense.
If Love and Rubio are finally healthy this year, this is definitely a playoff team in the west. Love is so tough to guard because he is a great shooter (he won the 3-point contest 2 years ago) and is also a great rebounder. The Nets should try to force him outside to prevent offensive rebounds.
Rubio and Love have rarely been healthy at the same time, but if they can be this year, this team is going to win a lot of games. Remember, they haven’t made the playoffs since Kevin Garnett played for them. They should be desperate to make the playoffs this year especially because of Kevin Love’s free agency coming up in a few years and the last thing they want is to lose him.
Portland Trail Blazers (9th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Shooters, get open and knock down your shots.
I think Portland will be pretty good offensively this year, but defensively, they could be a mess. With all the weapons the Nets have on offense, they should be able to allow their shooters like Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to get open in the corners and on the wings. Even though the Blazers have improved their bench, Damian Lillard still isn’t a great defender and they don’t have a ball stopper.
I like most of the moves that Portland made this offseason, but in the loaded western conference, I can’t see them quite getting back into the playoffs, even if they win 44 or 45 games. Lillard had a great rookie season and should improve more and Mo Williams is a usable backup point guard, but they still have a lot of questions at the center position. LaMarcus Aldridge may begin getting frustrated with this franchise and he may end up being traded before the end of the year.
Denver Nuggets (10th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Make lots of substitutions and don’t get tired at altitude.
No matter who is on Denver’s roster, playing a game in Denver will always be tough because of the altitude. Luckily for the rest of the NBA this season though, the Nuggets have their worst roster since drafting Carmelo Anthony in 2003. Defensively, they are a mess with 6’4 Randy Foye starting at shooting guard and J.J. Hickson expecting to receive plenty of playing time. The Nets should try to post up Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez in this game because they will probably either score or be fouled by Foye or JaVale McGee, who still has a low basketball IQ.
I still don’t understand why the Nuggets fired George Karl, and they will definitely miss him. With Karl, the Nuggets overachieved nearly every year and his players liked playing for him. Now, they have a worse roster and a rookie coach. In the loaded west, I can’t see Denver over .500 this year.
Utah Jazz (14th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Don’t allow offensive rebounds to Utah’s young bigs.
The Jazz are finally starting to see results at their end of the Deron Williams trade with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter finally starting after the departure of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Although both players (who could have been Nets) still have a lot of potential, neither has made a difference in Utah to this point. However, the Nets will likely struggle against young, athletic big men this year, and that is what Utah has. Even though I don’t think the Jazz will be good at all this year, the Nets have to be careful when they go to Utah due to the players, but also due to the altitude and fans, who don’t especially like Deron Williams anymore.
I thought that Trey Burke had a chance to win rookie of the year until his injury in the preseason. That will really hurt this team. They barely have an NBA-caliber point guard on their roster now and the shooting guards aren’t much better: Alec Burks is the likely starter. This team probably won’t win 30 games.