The Northwest Division finds itself in unfamiliar territory as the strongest division in the Western Conference and arguably, the entire NBA (case can be made for the Atlantic Division as well). With perennial Western Conference contenders, Oklahoma City and up and comers like Minnesota, Denver and Portland, the Northwest could easily produce 3 playoff teams in 2012.
Let’s start with the crème de la crème, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although Smooth J, Russ Russ, Poppa Perk and Business Tats himself, K Smoove will be spending much time in Club Bosh for their off court antics, today we’re going to focus on their on court mojo. Last year saw a disappointing end to their season as they lost to Darth Vader and the Evil Empire in the Finals in 5. I honestly believe they blew their collective load coming back from the 0-2 hole they dug themselves in the Western Conference Finals to the Spurs and had nothing left by the time they got to Miami. This year sees the return of Eric Maynor off of his 2011 season ending knee injury. Maynor is an underrated contributor on this stacked OKC team as he handles the point on the second team, plays great defense and doesn't turn the ball over. This will free up Smooth J to move back to his native position at shooting guard where he can put all his focus on scoring instead of facilitating. You know what you have on the first team with OKC. You have the best scorer in the league, K Smoove, his little brother Russ Russ and their dad, Poppa Perk. K Smoove will lead the league in scoring for the fourth straight year (he’ll average 33.75 this year), Russ Russ will be the quickest point guard in the league while taking 30 shots per game, being completely out of control 92% of the time and averaging 25 ppg and Poppa Perk will average 1.7 mean mugs per game. Throw in a dash of Serge Ibaka impersonating Mutombo and the Thunder will find themselves back in Miami in June. The Thunder will finish the season 62-20, win the Northwest Division and have the number 1 seed in the West.
Next, let’s move to my surprise team of the 2012 season, the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota is by far the “lightest” team in the league with 9 Tom Cruises on their depth chart. That being said, Kevin Love is a superstar. Period. He might look like and play like an unathletic, out of shape Larry Bird, but being compared to Larry Bird in any circumstance has to be taken as a compliment. I highly doubt Love can put down Budweisers like Bird, but when you average 25 and 25, you get a pass on your drinking prowess. Following the common theme for the Northwest, Minnesota will see the return of Ricky Rubio around December off of his season ending knee injury. Rubio has some of the best vision in the league and when healthy is the best true point guard the Northwest has to offer. Other notable additions in the offseason were Brandon Roy, that guy from Rocky IV and Chase Budinger. As long as Roy’s knees stay healthy and Budinger doesn’t try to dunk, I’m impressed with the Wolves offseason haul. Minnesota is going to finish 2nd in the Northwest with a 46-36 record, good enough for the 6 seed in the West.
The best part about the 2012 Denver Nuggets is their new alternate uniforms. I can’t stand Andre Iguodola. Dude somehow has tricked the entire league and NBA fan base into thinking he is elite because he can defend. He averages 12 POINTS PER GAME. HE CAN’T SHOOT A JUMP SHOT! HE CAN’T SHOOT FREE THROWS! I’ll admit, having him on the court to defend the other team’s best guard or small forward is nice, but he provides NOTHING on the offensive end. That all being said, Denver went out and traded for him in the offseason with the hope that he could provide ANY defense to a team that literally plays none. With the emergence of Kenneth Faried and the late season acquisition of Javale McGee, this team has the potential to change their identity from 2011 and actual hold teams under 109 ppg. If they can do that and with a healthy Wilson Chandler for the whole year, the Nuggets finish 43-39 and MAY steal the 8 spot for the playoffs.
The 4th place team in the Northwest this year will be the Portland Trailblazers. This squad pales in comparison to the great Portland Jailbreakers teams of the 90s led by ‘Sheed and Stoud. Last season, on the back of LeMarcus Aldridge, who averages less rebounds a game than my parents’ cat, the Blazers lost in the first round of the 2011 playoffs to Dirk and the Gang. With rookie Damian Lillard out of Weber St. starting at point for the Blazers, expect it to be a long, ugly year. Their biggest offseason move was resigning Nicolas Batum for $15 million more than what he was worth. Their hand was forced by the offer sheet given to him by the Timberwolves, but the dude is French. The Blazers should know not to let the French throw around ultimatums. The Blazers finish 39-43, fire Terry Stotts and in a surprising and exciting twist, hire Rasheed Wallace to be player/coach for the 2013 season.
The Utah Jazz also play in the Northwest Division. They have delusions of grandeur for 2012. They finish 1-81 because of the liquor laws in Salt Lake City.