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NBA Preview: Houston Runs The Southwest Division

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 18: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks to move on Jimmy Butler #23 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during Game Two of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs at Toyota Center on April 18, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

KSLSports.com continues its coverage of the beginning of the 2018-19 NBA season with a division-by-division look at the league. Next up is the Southwest division, which will have a different look in San Antonio, Houston as well as Memphis and Dallas. Here are the teams in the order of their projected finish:

Houston Rockets

Last season: 65-17, 1st in Southwest Division, Lost in Conference Finals

Key additions: Carmelo Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams, James Ennis III, Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight

Draft picks: De’Anthony Melton (2nd round, 46th overall, USC)

Key losses: Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

It was clear that point guard Chris Paul could join forces and be productive with James Harden, leading the Rockets to the best record in the NBA in 2017-18. The Rockets inked Paul to a new four-year $160 million contract in the first hour of free agency on July 1st.

James Harden returns as the reigning Most Valuable Player from last season, he averaged 30.4 points and 8.8 assists per game. Paul scored 18.6 points and 7.9 assists per game in 2017-18 to compliment Harden as one of the league’s most dangerous backcourts.

Losing forward Trevor Ariza in free agency will be a big hit for the Rockets defense. He is considered of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Houston signed Carmelo Anthony, who is pedestrian, at best on defense. Anthony does bring his experience as a go-to-scorer but has had his scoring production decline from 22.4 points per game in 2016-17 with the New York Knicks to 16.2 last season in Oklahoma City.

The Rockets should be excited about the addition of forward Marquese Chriss as the 21-year old is close to a breakout season. The University of Washington product might have needed a change in scenery after spending his first two seasons in Phoenix. Chriss has averaged 8.5 points per game in his career thus far.

Prediction: 63 wins, lose in Conference Finals

New Orleans Pelicans

Last season: 48-34, 2nd in Southwest Division, reached Conference Semifinals

Key additions: Jahlil Okafor, Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton

Draft picks: Tony Carr – (2nd round, 51st overall, Penn State)

Key losses: DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo

The Pelicans stunned the NBA world as they swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs last season as a six-seed. They did that without DeMarcus Cousins, who suffered a torn Achilles. New Orleans doesn’t have Cousins on their roster anymore and the spotlight is solely shined on Anthony Davis. He averaged a career best 28.1 points per game. He finished third in the MVP voting.

Jrue Holiday will move back to his more natural position, point guard following the departure of Rajon Rondo. Like Davis, Holiday had his highest scoring average of his career in 2017-18 with 19 points per game. New Orleans brought in Elfrid Payton in free agency, who will be able to give the Pelicans quality minutes backing up Holiday.

Forward Julius Randle will be able to help carry the load in the frontcourt alongside Davis. Entering his fifth season in the NBA, the 23-year old Randle had a career year last season with 16.1 points per game. He doesn’t fill the void of DeMarcus Cousins, but will be a good addition to compliment Davis.

New Orleans is taking a chance on a player that is starting to be considered a bust after being selected as the third overall pick in 2015, that’s Jahlil Okafor. He played 26 games for the Brooklyn Nets last season and had a 6.4 points and 3 rebounds per game average. Okafor is in desperation mode to try and salvage his career.

Prediction: 41 wins, First Round exit

San Antonio Spurs

Last season: 47-35, 3rd in Southwest Division, lost in first round of playoffs

Key additions: DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, Dante Cunningham, Marco Belinelli and Quincy Pondexter

Draft picks: Lonnie Walker (1st round, 18th overall, Miami) and Chimezie Metu (2nd round, 49th overall, USC)

Key losses: Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kyle Anderson

The Spurs have overhauled almost their entire roster, starting with franchise cornerstone Kawhi Leonard, who requested to be traded during the offseason and is now with the Toronto Raptors.

Guard Manu Ginobili decided to retire and Tony Parker chose the Charlotte Hornets over the Spurs.

In return for Leonard, the Spurs acquired guard DeMar DeRozan. He brings his athleticism and scoring ability to San Antonio after averaging 23 points per game last season in Toronto. Joining him is former Utes center Jakob Poeltl, who hopes to take the next step in his development under Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. The Austrian doubled his scoring average from his rookie year to sophomore season with 6.9 points per game.

On October 7, the Spurs took a big blow as starting point guard Dejounte Murray suffered a torn ACL in their preseason contest against the Houston Rockets. Rookie guard Lonnie Walker IV tore his meniscus in their preseason game against Detroit two days before Murray injured his knee. Walker is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. The rookie from Miami averaged 11.5 points per game with the Hurricane last season.

Popovich will be tested as he tries to bring all of the pieces on the team together to push for their 22 consecutive playoff appearance.

Prediction: 40 wins, miss playoffs

Memphis Grizzlies

Last season: 22-60, last in Southwest Division, missed postseason

Key additions: Kyle Anderson, Omri Casspi, Garrett Temple and Shelvin Mack

Draft picks: Jaren Jackson Jr. (1st round, 4th overall, Michigan State) and Jevon Carter (2nd round, 32nd overall, West Virginia)

Key losses: Tyreke Evans, Jarell Martin and Ben McLemore

The biggest addition to the Grizzlies this season would be having Mike Conley healthy for the season. He missed 70 games last season with an Achilles injury. The Grizzlies missed some great production from Conley’s absence, in 2016-17 he averaged 20.5 points and 6.3 assists per game.

Big man Marc Gasol tried to fill the void, averaging 17.2 points and 8.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. The addition of rookie forward Jaren Jackson Jr. will be beneficial to the Grizzlies and Gasol in particular. His length and his ability to stretch the floor and shoot from the perimeter will bode well for the future in Memphis. Jackson’s defensive presence will have the most immediate impact in the frontcourt, using his 7’4 wingspan will be vital to lift the Grizzlies defense, he averaged 3 blocks per game in college.

Memphis was able to sign forward Kyle Anderson and pry him away from San Antonio. He will help bolster the defense on the perimeter with Conley. Had his best season in his career in 2017-18, averaging 8 points per game as opposed to just 3.4 in 2016-17.

Prediction: 34 wins, miss playoffs

Dallas Mavericks

Last season: 24-58, 4th in Southwest Division, missed postseason

Key additions: DeAndre Jordan

Draft picks: Luka Doncic (1st round, 3rd overall, Slovenia (Traded from Atlanta)) and Jalen Brunson (2nd round, 33rd overall, Villanova)

Key losses: Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry

At first glance, it looks like Dirk Nowitzki is going to pass the torch to Luka Doncic. Nowitzki is 40 years old and is nearing the end of his career, either this season or next season will likely be his last. Doncic has the potential to be a superstar in the NBA. The 19-year old’s ability to rebound and push the ball in transition, get his teammates involved as a dynamic playmaker.

The second time is the charm for the Mavericks in landing athletic big man DeAndre Jordan. He bailed out of signing with Dallas in 2015 and elected to re-join the Los Angeles Clippers. Jordan decided to go to Dallas in 2018 and will give them a huge lift in the front court and will be relied on to protect the paint. Scoring 12 points and pulling down 15.2 rebounds per game last season, he will be asked to join Nowitzki as a leader in the locker room.

Dallas will look to Harrison Barnes to continue to improve, entering his third season in Dallas, fans hope that Barnes can be a 20 points per game scorer that the franchise needs.

Prediction: 30 wins, miss playoffs

Atlantic Division Preview

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