Today: Southwest Division
Friday: Central Division
Saturday: Northwest Division
Sunday: Atlantic Division
Monday: Southeast Division
Tuesday: Pacific Division
Story to watch: The deepest division for talent also has the most subplots -- the Rockets hoping the trade for Ron Artest and the signing of Brent Barry will finally at least get them out of the first round, the Mavericks trying to reclaim their former standing as title contender, the Spurs remaining a factor. But the case of the Hornets and their New Orleans home remains intriguing at a level few can match in the league, let alone the Southwest. The team won 56 games last season in its coming-out party. The city didn't start to notice until midseason, then rushed the bandwagon. If the fans disappear again, questions about the future of the NBA in the Big Easy will return.
Player to watch: Yao Ming. Not Artest. Not Chris Paul. Not Jason Kidd, though Kidd working to clear his good name will be good theater as well. Yao. He has played 55, 48 and 57 games the last three seasons. His health is a tipping point for the Rockets.
Coach to watch: Rick Carlisle. Even if the Mavericks don't get mentioned as a title contender anymore, everyone will be watching. Dallas is a spotlight organization and Dallas has star quality with Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Kidd, so the arrival of a new coach is a big deal. If the Mavs push back and turn back into serious threats, it's a very big deal.
Newcomer to watch: Ronald William Artest Jr. Not sure where he was before, but his acquisition has generated new energy for the Rockets and any team that loses in the first round every season can benefit from new energy. Maybe creative tension will be a good thing there. In addition, he'll be in a great mood for a while, wanting to play well for Rick Adelman, wanting to have a great season just before becoming a free agent, wanting to show he'd really like to stay in Houston. Or go. Or stay. Or go.
Rookie to watch: O.J. Mayo. The Grizzlies are so sure he has a limitless future that they traded fellow lottery pick Kevin Love and the well-regarded Mike Miller to the Timberwolves on draft night to get Mayo. He will be exciting. He will be, um, aggressive looking for his shot. If he's also really good, Memphis will climb.
By the numbers: The Spurs won championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007, and now it's about 2009. They've got to be getting a lot of action in Vegas from numerologists. ... Rick Adelman's Rockets finished second in the league in shooting defense and may improve on the 43.3 percent with Artest in the fold, Luis Scola past rookie growing pains, and perhaps, a full season of Yao. ... The Southwest had four 50-win teams. No other division had more than two and three managed only one. ... Paul led the league in assists last season at age 22.
Predicted order of finish (with 2007-08 record):
- New Orleans Hornets (56-26)
- Houston Rockets (55-27)
- San Antonio Spurs (56-26)
- Dallas Mavericks (51-31)
- Memphis Grizzlies (22-60)