Dec. 30, 2011; Milwaukee, USA; Washington Wizards head coach Flip Saunders watches the action as his team plays the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center. The Bucks defeated the Wizards 102-81. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves Place in the West: Conference Outlook

Offseason predictions are usually an exercise of hype, considering only the most recent information: the results of last season, the adjustments made during free agency, the draft and any trades that have gone down during this period of flux, and reassess them anew through that lens. It would be difficult to consider them based on facts or historical evidence because the “experts” at the four letter have the Wolves pegged for 40 wins and somehow still making the playoffs as an 8 seed.

That the “experts” are ranking the Western Conference doesn’t seem to have factored in to their projections. No team in the West has qualified for the postseason with a losing record since the Wolves made it as an 8 seed with a .500 record in the ’99 lockout season. Golden State missed the playoffs in ’09 with 48 wins. Houston was an 8 last year with 45. Just by playing against all the teams tanking out East and the obvious two tanking in their own conference the 8th seed would manage 20-24 wins.

The dubiousness is limited, as the top 5 include OKC, the Clippers, San Antonio, Houston and Memphis. Many point to injuries as being what wiped Minnesota out of Playoff contention last year and surely, injuries will play a part in one of these 5 teams’ fate. The limited frontcourt depth Los Angeles has behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan places either a lot of faith in Byron Mullens’ ability as a stretch-4 or a lot of faith in Ryan Hollins in general. Other concerns would be: the Spurs age, Memphis new coaching regime, and the sanity of Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook.

Last year’s relatively healthy Golden State roster (32 games played by Andrew Bogut, 2 by Brandon Rush) won the hearts of many and is predicted to finish with the 6th seed (finishing only a game behind Memphis). Obviously, Stephen Curry would be the biggest injury concern that would predicate Warrior success, but Bogut’s injuries mean minutes for Marresse Speights and Jermaine O’Neal this year. Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, both free agent beneficiaries of Mark Jackson’s 7-man rotation should be missed — I don’t care how great Andre Iguodala looks as a lead defender or in the open court, Jack’s departure hurts Curry’s opportunities to score.

Then we have Iggy’s old team, the Denver Nuggets. Kosta Koufus is in Memphis backing up Marc Gasol and the JaVale McGee experiment is about to get big-time minutes. J.J. Hickson is also in the fold. How this helps Denver play smarter — oh, yeah, George Karl is gone, as well. Whatever.

New Orleans and Portland make more sense than Dallas and Denver, but if injuries wreak 1/3 the havoc on the West they did on the Wolves, look out!

Tags: Dallas Mavericks Denver Nuggets Golden State Warriors Houston Rockets Los Angeles Clippers Los Angeles Lakers Minnesota Timberwolves Nba Offseason Offseason Predictions Oklahoma City Thunder

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