The NBA's Northwest Division features the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are expected to be one of three teams in serious contention for the NBA title, and four other teams who are graded outside of 65-1 to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy. At first glance, it doesn't seem like a very competitive division.
While the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves are finding their bearings, the Thunder should be able to cruise to another Northwest Division crown with some mild resistance from the Denver Nuggets.
Here's what to expect from each team in the Northwest this season:
Oklahoma City Thunder
After a trip to the NBA Finals last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have proven they are the class of not only the Northwest Division but also the Western Conference. The goals are sky-high heading into the 2012-13 season, and success will only be measured by a championship ring.
Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden form the best backcourt in the NBA, but with the Los Angeles Lakers beefing up their front lines, the Thunder will need Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka to continue their stellar play down low.
Nobody is in Oklahoma City's area code in the Northwest, but whether the Thunder win the West will depend on their young athleticism outweighing the Lakers' experience.
Having a look back, Nuggets fans might say that their team won in the Carmelo Anthony trade. While the New York Knicks have toiled with Melo, the Nuggets have been very competitive.
Last season, they lacked All-Star power, but that need might have been addressed with the surprise acquisition of Andre Iguodala. If the Nuggets could just get JaVale McGee to play to his full potential, this team could be one of the four best squads in the West.
Ty Lawson, Danilo Galinari, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried are the core of this team, and if Iguodala fits in, this could be a dangerous playoff foe.
The Timberwolves aren't getting much respect on the betting lines, but they could be a dark horse in the West. Many people seem to forget that before injuries took their toll last March, the T-Wolves were 21-19 and on the rise.
The health of point guard Ricky Rubio is critical. If he's back to form, he and Kevin Love give Minnesota an All-Star foundation to work with. Center Nikola Pekovic came on strong late last season, while the additions of Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy should offer a decent supporting cast.
This team is still rebuilding, and a playoff berth would be considered a successful season.
The Jazz are a conundrum of sorts. On paper they are loaded with talent. Al Jefferson is an All-Star, and Paul Millsap is not far off. Derrick Favors, Marvin Williams and Gordon Hayward are all former high first-round picks that have plenty of potential.
The problem with potential is that it doesn't always turn out as projected. Odds are that the Jazz have one of the strongest frontcourts in the NBA — again — but don't have enough in the backcourt to truly compete. With all due respect to Mo Williams and Jamaal Tinsley, both have been unreliable at the point guard position in the past. Shooting guard and small forward could also be concerns if Hayward and Williams stumble, and Randy Foye and DeMarre Carroll aren't considered reliable depth.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers were expected to be playoff contenders last season, but the entire foundation collapsed. They fired head coach Nate McMillan and had one of their worst seasons in franchise history.
Now the team is bare, and the idea is to build around All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and first-round picks Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard. The supporting cast, including Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, is decent, but this roster lacks primetime star power.
They are again destined for the basement in the Northwest Division.
Photo via Facebook/Oklahoma City Thunder
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