Los Angeles Clippers (3rd in west)
Key factor for Nets: Defend the 3-point line
If the Clippers are smart (and they are smarter now that Doc Rivers is their coach), this team will be one of the league leaders in 3-pointers made. With J.J. Reddick, Jared Dudley, Jamal Crawford, and Matt Barnes, Chris Paul now has tons of offensive weapons. Even though Blake Griffin may be the most famous player on this team, I don’t think he has too much of a role in their offense. The Nets are going to need to defend this team like they need to defend the Spurs, by staying at home on shooters.
Like the Nets, the Clippers definitely “won” the offseason, first by stealing Doc Rivers from Boston and then by adding some smaller pieces that could put this team over the top. I think it is possible that they can win the west and get to the finals, but I still think that San Antonio and OKC with a healthy Westbrook are a little bit better.
Golden State Warriors (4th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Don’t let Stephen Curry get hot.
As we saw in the playoffs last year, if teams allow Stephen Curry to get any space at all, he will burn you from deep. The Nets just need to try to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible and not let him catch it again. Of course, this team has plenty of other offensive weapons like David Lee and Harrison Barnes, but defending Curry will at least hold the Warriors to 2-pointers.
Health will be the deciding factor for Golden State this year. If they stay healthy, I believe they will finish in the top 4 in the west. However, Curry, Andrew Bogut, and David Lee have all had injury problems in the past.
Los Angeles Lakers (11th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Drive into the paint for easy baskets.
The Lakers defense is going to be really bad this year. Not that Kobe was playing such great defense last year, but with him out, the Lakers really don’t have a single feared defensive player on their roster. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Paul Pierce should be able to drive right past Laker defenders for easy points in the paint. The Nets face the Lakers once in November and once in February, so we will likely only get to see Kobe once this year.
After the Lakers lost Dwight Howard, the kind of panicked and put together a pretty random scrapping of free agents, none of whom really seem to fit well together on paper. If I were running the Lakers, I would have just tanked this year like the Sixers are tanking to be able to draft the next great Laker in next year’s draft. Instead, this team will probably be on the verge of the playoffs for most of the season, but I can’t see them beating out the talented young teams ahead of them. Kobe will not be pleased.
Sacramento Kings (13th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Throw lots of defensive schemes at DeMarcus Cousins.
This is now 100% DeMarcus Cousins’s team and the organization has invested a lot of money in him. He is definitely one of the most talented centers in the league, but has yet to be a part of anything resembling a winning team. Other than Cousins, the Kings don’t have very much talent in the front court, so the Nets will need to focus their defensive efforts on stopping him. This will mean double teams and different players guarding him, from Brook Lopez to Andrei Kirilenko. If they stop him, they should stop the Kings.
Sacramento’s problem now is that the backcourt is too crowded and the front court is too shallow. Also, players’ roles have yet to be defined. We still really don’t know who will start in the 2 guard spots between Isaiah Thomas, Grevis Vasquez, Marcus Thornton, and Ben McLemore. If the Kings can clear that up soon, they have enough talent to finish better than 13th.
Phoenix Suns (15th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Don’t let Gerald Green put you on the next highlight reel.
Nets fans know that Gerald Green is capable of creating some highlights. With a team as weak as this one, Green should be able to receive some serious playing time a year after he got very little in Indiana. This could be his best NBA season yet.
The Suns are just really bad. Although their starting backcourt is OK with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, their front court is depressing, especially after trading away Marcin Gortat for pretty much nothing. Phoenix fans are just waiting until May for the draft lottery.