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The Pacific division is one generally dominated by the Los Angeles Lakers. But lately the story has changed, as the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors have become the teams to beat. Watch out for the Phoenix Suns as well, while the Kings look to build around DeMarcus Cousins.

The real story of the Pacific may be the return of Kobe Bryant. The Lakers’ legend looks to make his triumphant return, after missing the majority of the 2013-14 NBA season.

1st Place – Los Angeles Clippers

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Last Season: 57-25

2014-15 Projection: 55-27

Key Additions: Spencer Hawes (CLE),

Key Losses: Darren Collison (SAC), Jared Dudley (MIL)

The Clippers will win the division again, even with the Warriors winning more games and the Clippers winning less games than they did in 2013-14 respectively. 57 wins is  a hard mark to hit, even with the NBA’s third best player on your roster, which is why I have the Clippers slated to snag 55-wins in 2014-15.

Chris Paul is still one of the league’s elite players, and Blake Griffin will continue to get better, as he puts in a bid to become a top five NBA talent. He has the skill and we’ve watched his work ethic pay dividends since he joined the league back in 2009. LAC also boasts a core that stayed mostly in-tact since last season. DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Reddick and Matt Barnes are still in-tow, as Paul and Blake look to lead this team to a high seed, and more importantly, an NBA Championship. (Andy Flint)

2nd Place – Golden State Warriors

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Last Season: 51-31

2014-15 Projection: 50-32

Key Additions: Steve Kerr (head coach), Brandon Rush, Shaun Livingston, and Leandro Barbosa

Key Losses: Mark Jackson (head coach)

The Golden State Warriors’ biggest offseason move was letting go of head coach Mark Jackson and hiring Steve Kerr to replace him. Jackson reportedly had issues with the front office which ultimately caused management to fire him and go in a different direction. Perhaps the biggest thing to look for in this Warriors team is what adjustments Steve Kerr makes and how the team responds to him. If the team plays well and buys into Kerr’s philosophy, the hiring will look like the right move. If the team struggles and doesn’t respond to him, then people will start to question the decision to let go of Jackson.

In addition to a coaching change, the Warriors also were involved in the Kevin Love drama this summer. For a while, they were entertaining the idea of letting go of Klay Thompson to get Kevin Love before ultimately not getting involved in the Kevin Love trade at all. The Warriors and Thompson now are trying to work out a deal on a contract extension and at the moment, they are said to be millions of dollars away per year from reaching an agreement. If Thompson and the Warriors can’t agree on an extension soon, the Warriors’ relationship with Thompson could be strained which obviously could have a negative impact on the team. However, I do expect the Warriors to smooth things over with Thompson and find a way to pay him what he wants.

As for how the Warriors perform on the court this season, I don’t see any reason to think they’ll do any  better than last season. The only thing that could make them better is if they can stay more healthy than last season. Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, and Andre Iguodala all have had injury problems. If those guys stay healthy, then the Warriors will do a lot better. Especially since they don’t have much of a bench and Steve Kerr is new to coaching. Health will be key to this team’s success.

I already mentioned that the bench is suspect, but they did add some guys who could make their bench better. These guys are Brandon Rush, Shaun Livingston, and Leandro Barbosa. If those guys play well, that will really make things easier on their starting lineup. Especially Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson who are relied upon to score the bulk of the points.

In conclusion, this Warriors team is very good. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are the best backcourt in the NBA and their 3-point abilities will make them a dangerous team come playoff time. However, they didn’t make any big splashes in the offseason outside of their head coach, and I don’t think Steve Kerr will make so big of a difference that this team vaults into the NBA Finals. Teams like the Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers I still  think are better teams, but the Warriors will once again find themselves in the playoffs ready to prove us wrong. (Ben Parker)

3rd Place – Phoenix Suns

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Last Season: 48-34

2014-15 Projection: 51-31

Key Additions: Isaiah Thomas (SAC)

Key Losses: Channing Frye (ORL)

The Suns were the biggest surprise in the NBA last season after finishing 27 wins above their pre-season Vegas prediction. The team sports a deep backcourt, and Isaiah Thomas has the potential to be the Sixth Man of the Year.

They also added T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis to an already young team. The Phoenix Suns will be better than last year (assuming they can stay healthy,) but that might not be enough for a playoff birth in the loaded Western Conference. More than likely, 50 wins will put them in, but Dallas and Memphis (last season’s 7th and 8th seeds) should be better too.

As impossible as it sounds, the 7, 8 and 9 seeds in the West should be even better than they were last season. Even with three more wins, the Suns are going to have to battle to make the Playoffs. (Mark Pace)

4th Place – Los Angeles Lakers

NBA: FEB 07 Lakers at Celtics

Last Season: 27-55

2014-15 Projection: 47-35

Key Additions: Julius Randle (Rookie), Carlos Boozer (CHI), Ed Davis (MEM), Jeremy Lin (HOU). Ronnie Price (ORL)

Key Losses: Steve Blake (POR), Pau Gasol (CHI), Chris Kamen (POR)

I’m going out on a ledge and giving the Lakers a major spike in wins (20) for this season, and it’s for a few reasons.

A) Kobe Bryant is back and looks hungry. I don’t think he’ll average 27 points per game this season, but Kobe averaging 20+ (which he will) is FAR superior to Kobe sitting on the bench with an injury.

B) Sure, they lost Gasol and Steve Blake, but they reloaded. Look at the names mentioned above. Julius Randle and Carlos Boozer will combine to do as much, if not more, than Pau Gasol did for the Lakers last season. Bank on that. Ed Davis is also a capable big man, with youth and size. And then you have Jeremy Lin and Ronnie Price. I’m high on Lin with the Lakers, because he’s going to give Nash quality minutes to rest, while not needing to bring the ball up on every possession, which if you’ve ever watched Kobe play, is a necessity.

Overall, I feel like these guys will miss the playoffs, but give it a heck of a go late in the year. Hopefully Nash and Kobe both stay healthy, but I won’t hold my breath. (Andy Flint)

5th Place – Sacramento Kings

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Last Season: 28-54

2014-15 Projection: 37-45

Key Additions: Darren Collison (LAC), Ramon Sessions (CHA), Nik Stauskas

Key Losses: Marcus Thornton (BOS), Isaiah Thomas (PHX)

I don’t expect a ton out of the Kings, despite them having the best center in the NBA. You ever notice that Sacramento has DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and a bunch of dudes who may give you production, or may go out and drop two points? The word unreliable comes to mind. They have a logjam of young shooting guards, who can’t possibly all receive a productive amount of minutes. They have two backup point guards, and four backup power forwards, without a true starter in sight. Tell me how this team is supposed to win.

If Sacramento is smart, they use the fact that Rudy Gay seemed rejuvenated late last season, and package that with either McLemore, or Stauskas, and look to land another difference-maker to pair with Cousins. I like Ray McCallum and I believe they should give him a legitimate shot at starting point guard. What do they have to lose?

The Kings do have some nice young pieces to roll with Boogie, they just need to figure out which guys to go with, moving forward. (Andy Flint)

 

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