NBA divisional preview

Published: Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 5NBA
Last Modified: Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 - 12:09 am

PACIFIC DIVISION

TEAM TO BEAT

• L.A. Lakers: The newest NBA super-team has four starters who have been All-Stars in the past two seasons.

CENTER OF ATTENTION

• Dwight Howard, L.A. Lakers: The latest in a long line of high-profile Laker centers, Howard can dominate without scoring.

PLAYER TO WATCH

• Steve Nash, L.A. Lakers: While there's a lot of attention on Howard, the leadership of Nash could determine if the Lakers win a championship.

ROOKIE TO WATCH

• Harrison Barnes, Golden State: Some said his game was better suited for the NBA after he was considered an underachiever at North Carolina.

COACH ON HOT SEAT

• Vinny Del Negro, L.A. Clippers: The pressure will be on to not allow the Lakers to run the city and division.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

TEAM TO BEAT

• Oklahoma City: The squad takes a step up every season. So does that mean winning a championship is next? Anything less will be a disappointing season.

CENTER OF ATTENTION

• Al Jefferson, Utah: A big body whose ability to score helped the Jazz surprise the NBA and make the playoffs last season.

PLAYER TO WATCH

• James Harden, Oklahoma City: The NBA's best sixth man is eligible for a contract extension. If he doesn't get one, could he play himself into a max deal on another team?

ROOKIE TO WATCH

• Damian Lillard, Portland: He looks to be more than just a summer league star. The Blazers have finally found their floor general.

COACH ON HOT SEAT

• Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City: He's not going to lose his job, but Brooks will find every move scrutinized leading a championship-or-bust team.

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

TEAM TO BEAT

• San Antonio: At some point this team will be too old to compete, right? There's just no telling when that will be.

CENTER OF ATTENTION

• Marc Gasol, Memphis: Emerged last season to become an All-Star, thanks in part to improved physical conditioning.

PLAYER TO WATCH

• O.J. Mayo, Dallas: With Dirk Nowitzki ailing, Mayo gets the chance to prove he can be a go-to player every game.

ROOKIE TO WATCH

• Anthony Davis, New Orleans: The top pick in this year's draft brings defense as one of his top attributes. That's rare.

COACH ON HOT SEAT

• Lionel Hollins, Memphis: Can Memphis take the next step and overtake the Spurs and win the division? The Grizzlies are talented enough to do it.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

TEAM TO BEAT

• Boston: As long as Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett are on the team, the Celtics will compete.

CENTER OF ATTENTION

• Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia: On a team where he'll be the focus, Bynum should solidify his standing as an elite big man.

PLAYER TO WATCH

• Carmelo Anthony, New York: A seventh seed in the playoffs won't be good enough this season. If that happens, Anthony will likely be blamed.

ROOKIE TO WATCH

• Jared Sullinger, Boston: Injury concerns led to the lottery-caliber power forward falling to the bottom half of the draft's first round. Still, he could help Boston immediately.

COACH ON HOT SEAT

• Avery Johnson, Brooklyn: New arena, new All-Star guard (Joe Johnson) and an owner who wants to win now means Johnson better be on his game.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

TEAM TO BEAT

• Miami: The reigning NBA champions, led by LeBron James, should have no problem in the Southeast.

CENTER OF ATTENTION

• Al Horford, Atlanta: A healthy Horford is eager to return to form after playing in only 11 games last season.

PLAYER TO WATCH

• Josh Smith, Atlanta: If any player has the talent to give the Heat problems, it's Smith, who can impact the game at both ends of the floor.

ROOKIE TO WATCH

• Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte: Did a Michael Jordan-run team get it right with a draft choice?

COACH ON HOT SEAT

• Larry Drew, Atlanta: Should the Hawks underachieve again this season, the blame won't be placed on the players.

CENTRAL DIVISION

TEAM TO BEAT

• Chicago: The Bulls proved last season they could win games in the regular season despite injuries. Still, they'll take Derrick Rose back ASAP.

CENTER OF ATTENTION

• Roy Hibbert, Indiana: A first-time All-Star last season, he is looking to become a dominant force consistently on offense if he gets the ball.

PLAYER TO WATCH

• Kirk Hinrich, Chicago: He was brought in to play for Rose while he recovers from a knee injury, Hinrich has to overcome a groin strain and produce.

ROOKIE TO WATCH

• Andre Drummond, Detroit: His talent wasn't questioned, but his maturity and effort were in one season at Connecticut.

COACH ON HOT SEAT

• Scott Skiles, Milwaukee: With two starting guards who could be playing for contracts (Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis), Skiles will have to manage egos and games.

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