October 5, 2013; Ontario, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (30) moves the ball up court against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Citizens Business Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Western Conference Power Rankings: Week 1

Throughout the 2013-2014 NBA season, co-editor Chris Manning will be ranking the 15 Western Conference teams on a week-by-week basis every Sunday. After each team’s ranking, Manning will give a brief description of why he chose the team at that specific spot and will provide the week’s previous ranking (PG) and the MVP for each team on that specific week.

The NBA season finally kicks off in just a few days and in the Western Conference, I’m expecting a wildly entertaining race to the finish. In fact, the team I am picking to ultimately make it out of the West (the Golden State Warriors) is sixth in my first rankings. I could truly see any of the Top-6 make it out and even the teams below that upper tier are going to be wildly exciting. So, without further adieu, let’s pick the top teams in the West.

1. San Antonio Spurs – 2012-13 Record: 58-24

As good as San Antonio was last year, there some questions about his squad. Was Kwahi Leonard’s amazing Finals performance his one shining moment or a sign of what’s to come? What does Manu Ginobli have left in the tank after a bad Finals show? For now, I’ll give them the respect they deserve and put them in the top spot they earned. But when it comes down to it, I’m taking the field against the Spurs.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder – 2012-13 Record: 60-22

The Thunder worry me and that hasn’t changed at all in the lead up to the season. They still have Kevin Durant (the league’s second best player) but Russell Westbrook won’t be back for a few more weeks. Also, so much is riding on unproven or shot role players. Can Jeremy Lamb even prove to be marginally effective? Does Kendrick Perkins have anything left in the tank? Will rookie Steven Adams be able to provide quality minutes? Once again, I think the Thunder fall short come the playoffs, making next summer oh so interesting.

3. Los Angeles Clippers – 2012-13 Record: 56-26

I love this team, even if I have some serious questions. After Chris Paul, I don’t know if they have another top-flight talent. So much is riding on role players and, if they struggle, expect a quick trade. Here’s my wild idea for said trade: Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and picks/cash for Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. But – no matter what – the Clippers will be the best team in Los Angeles this year. That’s a fact.

4. Memphis Grizzlies – 2012-2013 Record: 56-26

Here comes Grit & Grind once again, but with more on the line. Zach Randolph is nearing that point where he’s plateaus and then starts losing skill and that could make him a trade chip. But with a core of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, I like this team to make the playoffs once again.

5. Houston Rockets – 2012-2013 Record: 45-37

Houston is the wild card out West. The James Harden-Dwight Howard duo has all the makings to be special, and the surrounding players (Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, etc) should compliment their top talent nicely. Plus, they have a nice trade chip in Omer Asik to work with. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if the Rockets make a serious run this season.

6. Golden State Warriors – 2012-2013 Record: 47-35

I absolutely love this team. My pick to come out of the West, they are going to be better this year than last year – provided Stephan Curry and Andrew Bogut can stay healthy, they are going to be stacked inside and out. The trio of Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Igoudala (plus Harrison Barnes coming off the bench) has me excited and confident in this team. So, once again for emphasis, I predict that the Golden State Warriors will represent the Western Conference in the 2014 NBA Finals.

7.  New Orleans Pelicans – 2012-2013 Record: 27-55

New Orleans is interesting. They absolutely improved, but questions still remain. But on the bright side, I’m expecting big things out of Anthony Davis in his second season. I think he’ll make the All-Star game and make those Tim Duncan comparisons come to life. Time will tell if Jrue Holiday was a better option than Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first round pick (RIP BLOCK PARTY), but at the very least, there will be improvement.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves – 2012-2013  Record– 31-51

Our very own Trevor Magnotti has talked me in to this team. The trio of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic is solid and I think the role players are good enough to sneak into the playoffs. But if Love makes it clear that he’s not going to stick around, maybe the T-Wolves do something crazy and tank for next year. I can’t to see how this team plays out.

9. Portland Trail Blazers – 2012-2013 Record – 33-49

Portland has some nice pieces – namely Damien Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge – but I can’t see them being a real threat out West this year. Aldridge, if the Trail Blazers tank, could have his name once again show up in trade rumors. The biggest storyline on this team is Lillard. This year will be huge in establishing what his ceiling is. That’s a question that will dictate the Blazers plans as they continue to build.

10. Denver Nuggets – 57-25 – 2012-2013 Record: 57-25

I’m not sure how the Nuggets are actually going to end up. They are absolutely going to take a step back next season, but their outstanding home court advantage means they could still sneak into the bottom of the playoffs. I’ll say they don’t, but there are still solid storylines to follow. My top three are: Can Brian Shaw hang as a head coach, will JaVale McGee mature and will Ty Lawson keep improving?

11.  Dallas Mavericks – 2012-2013 Record – 41-41

Ultimately, I think Dallas got it all wrong. They paid money for Monta Ellis and others when it really could have solid away their veteran assets and started the rebuilding process. And with a starting lineup with a median age of 32.8, this team will be old and average. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

12. Los Angeles Lakers – 2012-2013 Record – 45-37

Oddly enough, even though they’ll be horrible, I can’t wait to watch this Laker’s team. I’m 100 percent game to see Kobe Bryant attempt to come back from his Achilles injury and attempt, alongside Nick Young, to shoot the Lakers into the 8th seed. Also, I think there’s a very good chance Pau Gasol gets traded at some point. All in all, this should be a interesting year in LA.

13. Utah Jazz – 2012-2013 Record – 43-39

While the Jazz are looking at another bad season and a likely coaching change, there are some positives. They have four nice young players in Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and rookie Trey Burke. And in a likely loaded 2014 lottery, a year where those players can grow and still lose isn’t the worst thing in the world.

14. Sacramento Kings – 2012-2013 – 28-54

Sacramento has some interesting young talent – namely DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore – but this franchise is going to be stuck in mediocrity for a long time. Their collective pieces just don’t add up in a way that is functional and I expect another year of frustration in California’s State Capital. The most interesting part of this team, without questions, is Cousins and his frustrating lack on consistency. If he can have a monster year, then maybe next year thing will be looking up for the Kings.

15. Phoenix Suns – 2012-2013 Record – 25-57

Phoenix did a great job of tanking this offseason. They got their point guard of the future – Eric Bledsoe – while also getting worse in trading away Martin Gortat to the Wizards. This team, without a doubt in my mind, is going to be horrible this season. The growing pains will be there, and while I’m sure it’ll be hard for the Suns fans to stay into their team, there is a light in the end of the tunnel.


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