NBA Southwest Division Preview: Spurs, Rockets Legitimate Contenders

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With the 2015-16 NBA season set to begin, NESN.com is breaking down each of the league’s six divisions. This time we’re focusing on the Southwest, where the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets lead a group loaded with talent. Teams are listed in predicted order of finish (last year’s record and result in parentheses).

1. San Antonio Spurs (55-27, T-second in division)
Key Additions: LaMarcus Aldridge (free agent), David West (free agent)
Key Departures: Tiago Splitter (trade), Cory Joseph (free agent), Marco Belinelli (free agent), Aron Baynes (free agent)

The Spurs weren’t too happy with a first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. So, they went out and signed marquee free agent LaMarcus Aldridge to catapult themselves back among the Western Conference’s elite. While key role players like Tiago Splitter, Cory Joseph and Marco Belinelli are gone, the team’s ageless core remains intact. As long as Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich are around, the Spurs are a virtual lock to win 50-plus games and earn a high playoff seed. With Aldridge now in the mix, this team could challenge the Golden State Warriors for Western supremacy.

2. Houston Rockets (56-26, first)
Key Additions: Ty Lawson (trade), Sam Dekker (draft), Marcus Thornton (free agent), Montrezl Harrell (draft)
Key Departures: Josh Smith (free agent), Pablo Prigioni (free agent)

The Rockets had one of the best records in the NBA last season despite Dwight Howard playing only half the season. If Howard can stay healthy and get his act together, this team has championship potential. Even without Howard, James Harden should ensure Houston cruises to the postseason, and there’s a chance Ty Lawson could benefit from a fresh start after a rocky departure from Denver. This team will be fun to watch in 2015-16, although Harden and Co. will need to take their game to another level if they want to knock off the Spurs and Golden State Warriors.

3. Memphis Grizzlies (55-27, T-second)
Key Additions: Brandan Wright (free agent), Matt Barnes (free agent), Jarell Martin (draft)
Key Departures: Kosta Koufos (free agent), Jon Leuer (trade)

The fact that the Grizzlies are the third-best team in a division is a testament to the Southwest’s strength. The stable nucleus of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph is back after leading Memphis to 55 wins last season, and Brandan Wright should provide some nice depth up front. The Grizzlies also boast one of the best defenses in the league, which they’ll rely on to slow down high-flying offenses like Houston and Golden State. Memphis gave the eventual NBA champion Warriors a run for their money in the playoffs last season, and they should be right back in the thick of things come spring time.

4. New Orleans Pelicans (45-27, fifth)
Key Additions: Kendrick Perkins (free agent), Alonzo Gee (free agent)
Key Departures: Jimmer Fredette (free agent)

This division easily could put four teams in the playoffs. Anthony Davis has developed into a legitimate NBA superstar, and if he stays healthy, he has the ability to carry the Pelicans into the postseason all by himself. Unfortunately for New Orleans, he might have to. Tyreke Evans is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a knee injury, and Omer Asik, Norris Cole, Quincy Pondexter and Alexis Ajinca all are dealing with various ailments that could keep them out on opening night. This team has potential if it can stay healthy, but that’s a big “if.”

5. Dallas Mavericks (50-32, fourth)
Key Additions: Wesley Matthews (free agent), Deron Williams (free agent), JaVale McGee (free agent), Zaza Pachulia (trade)
Key Departures: Rajon Rondo (free agent), Tyson Chandler (free agent), Monta Ellis (free agent), Al-Farouq Aminu (free agent)

Remember when the Mavericks almost signed DeAndre Jordan? That would have been nice. Instead, Dallas got an aging Deron Williams and a banged-up Wesley Matthews and lost Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis to free agency. The stable tandem of head coach Rick Carlisle and star player Dirk Nowitzki will help this team win games this season, especially if Matthews and Chandler Parsons can get healthy. But there’s little room for error in this division, and if the injury bug bites at all, the Mavs could find themselves outside the playoff picture.

Other division previews: Northwest Division | Pacific Division | Southeast Division | Central Division Atlantic Division

Thumbnail photo via Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports Images

Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (R) talks to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (L) during the first half at AT&T Center.

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