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Talented teams set to battle it out in the West

The NBA’s Western Conference might not contain the drama that the East has, but it is nonetheless a very deep conference that could leave more than a few solid teams on the outside looking in come playoff time. I apologize in advance to fans of the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans: three teams that could certainly make the playoffs if they competed in the Eastern Conference, but will instead be watching at home from April to June.

Tim Duncan looks to win his sixth championship with San Antonio.
Tim Duncan looks to win his sixth championship with San Antonio.

1 seed: San Antonio Spurs- No surprise here. The Spurs return the bulk of last season’s championship team, which included veteran stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, as well as NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills and Danny Green. San Antonio has the perfect combination of veteran All-Stars and young talent, which separates it from the rest of the league. And don’t forget future-Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich. This team is perfectly built for a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
2 seed: Los Angeles Clippers- With the Donald Sterling scandal behind them, the Clippers are ready to get over the hump this season. The team’s 57 wins would have been good enough to win the East last year, but the Clippers found themselves behind the Spurs and Thunder in the more daunting Western Conference. Although they have recently fallen short in the playoffs, the Clips have the makings of a championship team, led by All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, as well as DeAndre Jordan, last season’s rebounding leader. Coached by the accomplished Doc Rivers, L.A. has the talent to knock off the Spurs.
3 seed: Oklahoma City Thunder- After 60 wins and a trip to the NBA Finals two years ago, the Thunder took a small step back last season after falling to San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals. OKC might take another step backwards with four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant out until at least the end of November with a stress fracture in his right foot. The Thunder should be fine, though, with the free-shooting Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka leading the way while Durant recovers. When the scoring leader returns, OKC will be a tough team to beat down the stretch.
4 seed: Houston Rockets- The Rockets made a big splash during the 2013 offseason by acquiring All-Star center Dwight Howard to accompany the talented James Harden. The result was a 54-win season, albeit one that ended in heartbreak, after Portland’s Damian Lillard hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer in the playoffs to send the Rockets home for the season. Houston still has the talent to compete for an NBA title, but will have to fend off many other powerful teams in the West to break through.
5 seed: Portland Trail Blazers- The Blazers were somewhat of a surprise last season, winning 54 games in an intimidating conference. Their magical season came to a halt against the unstoppable Spurs in the second round of the playoffs, after their thrilling six-game victory over the Rockets in the first round. Led by Lillard, veteran LaMarcus Alridge and Robin Lopez, the Blazers should be very competitive once again, but will need to get past some talented teams to reach the NBA Finals.
6 seed: Golden State Warriors- Under new coach Steve Kerr, who replaced the fired Mark Jackson, the Warriors look forward to an exciting new era. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson represent the best three-point combo in the NBA, and David Lee is an excellent double-double threat. Golden State is another team that would be talented enough to finish in the top-3 in the East, but will fill one of the last playoffs spots in the West.
7 seed: Dallas Mavericks- The Mavericks are that pesky veteran team that just won’t go away. Led by 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed last year and nearly beat the Spurs in the first round, taking the eventual NBA champions to a do-or-die seventh game before falling short. Dallas hasn’t been the same since upsetting the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals, but the Mavs should find themselves in the playoffs again, with the always-reliable Nowitzki and newcomer Chandler Parsons leading the way.
8 seed: Memphis Grizzlies- Since acquiring Zach Randolph in 2009, the Grizzlies have been a perennial playoff team in the West, and should sneak in once again this season. Memphis took Oklahoma City to the brink of elimination in the first round last season, before coming up short in Game 7. The Grizzlies could give some of the top teams fits once again, behind Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.

NBA Finals: Cavaliers over Spurs (6 games)…
The Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs will meet in the 2014-15 NBA Finals, in a rematch of the 2006-07 Finals, won by San Antonio. The defending champions are more than capable of making another run at the title. Despite the ages of Duncan, Parker and Ginobli, I believe this is a legendary roster under one of the best coaches of our era, Gregg Popovich.
On the other hand, we are all “Witnesses” of one of the greatest players of all time in LeBron James. This would be LeBron’s fourth Finals matchup against the Spurs. Coming home from Miami will make him an even better competitor than he ever was before.
With a supporting cast of Irving, Love, Varejou, Waiters and Shawn Marion, a championship is almost expected for Cleveland. This team has more talent than any other team in the NBA in my opinion. Therefore, I believe it will be a 4-2 final in favor of the Cavs. King James will retake his throne on top of the NBA in the 2014-2015 season.
-Marco Fantaroni

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Talented teams set to battle it out in the West