Pretty much every preview of the Northwest will mention that it’s the toughest division in the NBA. Three excellent teams are slugging it out for first place in the Northwest among the Portland Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets, and Utah Jazz. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in rebuilding mode after breaking up their team and trading away Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
The Portland Trailblazers knocked out the Denver Nuggets during an exciting seven-game series in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Nuggets wore out the Blazers so by the time Portland faced Golden State Warriors in the Western Finals, they were out of gas.
Those two teams have developed a rivalry over the last couple of seasons, which has been fun to watch develop. The Blazers have the best back court in the NBA with CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. The Nuggets have one of the best big men in the league with Nikola Jokic and a budding superstar with Jamal Murray.
2019 NORTHWEST DIVISION ODDS:
Utah Jazz 6/5
Denver Nuggets 6/5
Portland Blazers 7/2
Minnesota Timberwolves 30/1
Oklahoma City Thunder 100/1
It seems like the Utah Jazz made the biggest strides in the offseason. The Jazz acquired All-Star Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies. Conley is there to help mentor their next superstars Donovan Mitchell.
The rebuilding OKC Thunder are looking so bad right now that even the bottom feeders of the Northwest, the Minnesota Timberwolves, are expected to win more games (25 to 22).
High on the Nuggets
Denver is not an easy place to play hoops as a visitor. The Nuggets boasted the best home record in the NBA with a 34-7 clip at Pepsi Arena in downtown Denver.
Denver won 54 games last season and locked up the #2 seed. The Nuggets were eliminated from the playoffs by the Portland Blazers in seven games in the Western Semifinals. It was a hard-fought series and Nikola Jokic (20.0 ppg, 10.8 rebounds, 7.2 assists) literally carried the Nuggets on his back.
The streaky Jamal Murray (18.2 ppg) had his ups and downs. But when Murray is on, he’s one of the most exciting players in the NBA. He gets the crowd fired up in Denver.
Vets Gary Harris (12.9 ppg) and Paul Millsap (12.6 ppg,7.2 rebounds) return. Willie Barton (11.5 ppg) should be back to his old form after struggling with a bum knee all last season.
The Nugs added Jermani Grant (13.6 ppg) from the Thunder to provide a little scoring punch off the bench. Denver has a deep bench with Monte Morris (10.4 ppg), Malik Beasley (11.4 ppg), and Mason Plumlee (7.8 ppg).
Oh, do not forget Denver’s secret weapon… Michael Porter, Jr. If the kid can stay healthy, he has to potential to shine. But that’s a big if. Luckily the Nuggets do not have to worry about his development for now.
Projection: Denver 54-28
Old Man Mike and Donovan’s Jazz Review
The Jazz won 50 games last season and locked up the #5 seed, but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Houston Rockets.
Donovan Mitchell (23.8 ppg) keeps getting better. But he needed help in the playoffs. Grizzled veteran Mike Conley should add much-needed leadership that the team lacked in last year’s postseason. Rudy Gobert (15.9 ppg, 12.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocks) is one of the top defenders in the league and elite rim defenders of all time. He’s the focal point of Quinn Snyder’s stifling defense, which seems utterly rare these days in the Western Conference.
The Jazz also added sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic. He’ll be coming off the bench to provide instant offense. Jeff Green, Dante Exum, Ed Davis, and Emmanuel Mudiay round out the Jazz’s solid bench. During the 2019 NBA Draft, the Jazz selected Miye Oni from Yale.
If you read a lot of NBA previews, it seems as though the Jazz are a favorite pick to win the Northwest.
Projection: Utah 50-32
CJ and Damien Blaze On
Portland won 53 games last season and secured the #3 seed in the playoffs. They advanced to the Western Conference Finals, but were swept by the Golden State Warriors.
Damien Lillard got paid and rightfully so. He’d be on a pedestal if he played on the East Coast or in Southern California. Lillard (25.8 ppg) and CJ McCollum (21.0 ppg) have been the best backcourt in basketball the last few seasons. After their run in the Western Conference playoffs, everyone is well aware of Portland’s dynamic duo.
The Blazers acquired Hassan Whiteside (12.3 ppg, 11.3 rebounds) and Kent Bazemore in trades. They added Hassan Whiteside to play center while Jusuf Nurkic recovers from a gruesome leg injury. Swingman Kent Bazemore (11.6 ppg) expects to provide a spark off the bench.
Portland drafted Nassir Little from North Carolina. Last year’s top draft pick Anfernee Simmons did not play much last season. Maybe he’ll crack Terry Stotts’ line up this season?
Projection: Portland 53-29
Karl Anthony-Towns (24.4 ppg, 14.4 rebounds) came into his own once Jimmy Butler bounced. It’s like when a brutish older brother finally leaves for college and the middle brother in high school becomes the man of the house.
Andrew Wiggins (18.7 ppg) is irked that the NBA excluded him from their Top 100 players list. He’ll be playing with a chip under his shoulder. The exclusion should finally light a fire under his ass, which Jimmy Butler tried to do to no avail. Minnesota drafted guard Jarrett Culver from Texas Tech, who did a great job defensively in last year’s March Madness Final Four.
If the Thunder were not in full-blown tanking mode and seeking a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Wolves would be the worst team in the Northwest.
Projection: Minnesota 27-55
CP3 Banished to OKC
It is weird to write a NBA Northwest Preview without mentioning Oklahoma City as a potential division crown contender. Poor Chris Paul. All he did was speak the truth. That Harden was a ball hog in the playoffs and you need a team effort to beat a great squad like the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets failed to beat the Warriors once again in the playoffs. Last year they thought the Harden, CP3, and Melo power trio would put them over the top. Melo washed out in less than ten games. CP3 and Harden had a spat in the playoffs that both downplayed, but we all knew it was the beginning of the end for CP3.
The Rockets traded CP3 to OKC for Russell Westbrook. OKC has been unable to find a home for CP3. Maybe they’ll find one later this season, but for now it’s CP3 and a bunch of kids and castoffs. It’s sort of like when Jon Snow self-banished himself to Night’s Watch in the first season of Game of Thrones.
OKC won 49 games last year and advanced to the playoffs with the 7 seed. Without Paul George and Russell Westbrook, they might lose up to 60 games this season. CP3 does not have much help aside from Steve Adams, Danilo Galinari, Shai Gilgerous-Alexander, and dunk champ Hamidou Diallo.
Projection: OKC 22-60
If you enjoyed the Northwest preview, check out more NBA divisional previews.