Trail Blazers look good, but dark horses loom in the West

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Feb 25, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) looks to pass the ball in mid air during the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN has released their forecast for the 2014-15 Western Conference standings, ranking the Portland Trail Blazers fourth, with a projected record of 51-31. While this record (three fewer wins than last season) is by no means unattainable, fourth place does seem a bit high considering the tight nature of the conference and the likelihood of improvement from teams that battled injury last season. Regardless, ESPN’s rankings are listed as follows:

 

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (58-24)
2. San Antonio Spurs (57-25)
3. Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)
4. Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)
5. Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
6. Memphis Grizzlies (49-33)
7. Golden State Warriors (49-33)
8. Houston Rockets (49-33)
9. Phoenix Suns (45-37)
10. New Orleans Pelicans (39-43)
11. Denver Nuggets (38-44)
12. Los Angeles Lakers (30-52)
13. Sacramento Kings (29-53)
14. Utah Jazz (26-56)
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (26-56)

 

These predictions are far from bold, as all eight of last season’s playoff teams survive for another go in a marginally scrambled order. They make sense—and that’s fine—but let’s take a moment to examine something a bit more interesting: teams that have potential to surpass expectation. Starting with…

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