Thursday , Sep , 20 , 2012 Matt Formica

Austin Rivers says Hornets division is the “toughest”

Austin Rivers went on ESPN’s First Take this morning and one of the things he said was that the New Orleans Hornets are in the toughest conference in the NBA.

Hoopsvibe’s very quick call:  He may be right.

I’m an Austin Rivers fan.  He was a great player at Duke and I think he will prosper in the NBA.  But I really like Rivers because every time I hear him speak, he’s articulate, he’s humble and he’s knowledgeable about the game.  And being the son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers, one can imagine the kid definitely knows what he’s talking about.

On ESPN’s First Take this morning, after Skip Bayless commented that he thought New Orleans had enough talent to become a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Rivers acknowledged that they will definitely go through some growing pains but ultimately have a shot at the playoffs.  He said, “We’re in the toughest conference I think in my opinion in the NBA.”  He continued, “As a young team filled with a whole bunch of talent, we’re going to have to go through some speedbumps … but I will tell you this, though; we have a good chance of building up to get to the playoffs.”

So can the Hornets make the playoffs with a young, talented team in the toughest division of the western conference, after finishing last in that conference last season?  Let’s take a quick look at the other teams in the Southwest Division of the NBA’s Western Conference.

The San Antonio Spurs, 50-16 record last season

The Spurs are definitely the best team in the division.  Led by veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli, the Spurs have not missed the playoffs in the last 15 seasons since Duncan was drafted in 1997.  Moreover, they hold the NBA record for most consecutive 50+ win seasons with 13.  And in case that wasn’t enough, their head coach, Gregg Popovich, won the NBA’s coach of the year award this past year, has won 4 championships with the team and is arguably the best coach in the league right now.

The Memphis Grizzlies, 41-25 record last season

The Grizzlies are one of the up and coming teams in the NBA, having made the playoffs for the last two years in a row.  (They also knocked the #1 ranked Spurs out of the playoffs as an eighth seed in 2011).  They have a great coach in Lionel Hollins and solid players players in Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.  The Grizzlies are not a team to take lightly.

The Dallas Mavericks, 36-30 record last season

The Mavericks are always competitive.  They hired Rick Carlisle as head coach in 2008 and ended up beating the Miami Heat 4 games to 2 in 2011 to win the NBA Finals.  Their team is led by All-Star seven-footer, Dirk Nowitzki, and complimented by players like Elton Brand, Delonte West and OJ Mayo.

The Houston Rockets, 34-32 record last season

The Rockets have been pretty uprooted this offseason, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  While they lost Kyle Lowry, they signed Jeremy Lin and drafted star prospects Terrance Jones (Kentucky) and Jeremy Lam (UConn).  They may go through a little bit of a rebuilding phase, but they’re coached by Hall-of-Famer, Kevin McHale, who knows the game and could turn them into a decent squad in a tough division.

The New Orleans Hornets, 21-45 record last season

New Orleans struggled last season.  They were the only team in the division to not finish with a winning record.  Having said that, they were also trying to clean up the mess that was created after Chris Paul was traded to the Clippers.  This coming season, however, they have a lot to be hopeful for.  They drafted two of the best college players in this year’s draft in Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis.  (Davis was the #1 pick overall).  Also, they have one of the premier up-and-coming coaches in the league in Monty Williams.  So don’t sleep on them just yet. 

It will be interesting to see if Rivers and Davis can help turn the Hornets into a contender in what Rivers says is the “toughest conference” in the NBA.  One piece of interesting info:  The southwest division was the only division where only one team finished the season with a losing record.

So what do you think?  Is the Southwest Division the toughest?

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Image source:  AP Images