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NBA team profiles for 2015/16 season: Northwest Division

| 26.10.2015
CORAL ENHANCED ACCAS

Daniel Coyle, American Sports Correspondent | October 26, 2015

2015/16 Northwest Division NBA team profiles

Oklahoma City is expected to return to their familiar spot atop the Northwest Division standings after a year in the wilderness and out of playoff contention.

Portland Trail Blazers won 51 games, but suffered yet another playoff failure before seeing their core depart this summer by trade and free agency.

Denver Nuggets welcome phenom Emmanuel Mudiay, and a young Utah Jazz squad should continue their steady improvement, while the last-place Minnesota Timberwolves have plenty to play for, following the recent death of coach Flip Saunders.

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • NBA Championship futures betting odds: 7/1
  • Northwest Division futures betting odds: 1/33
  • 2014/15 record: 45-37

Nuggets Thunder Basketball

The Thunder unexpectedly missed the playoffs last season, ending a run of four straight Northwest Division titles. Injuries played a key role, with 2014 MVP Kevin Durant missing 55 games, while point guard Russell Westbrook missed 15 contests. Without their two biggest stars, the Thunder won just four of their first 16 games, and sealed their own fate with a dismal 4-7 run to end the regular season.

With Durant and Westbrook back to start the season, and joined by big man Enes Kanter, the Thunder once again sit among the NBA championship favourites. Durant, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, trails only LeBron James in MVP betting, with 4/1 odds, while Westbrook remains in the mix at 10/1.

As Portland rebuild after winning the division last season, the door is open for OKC to once again dominate the Northwest and make a deep playoff run, if they can stay healthy.

Utah Jazz

  • NBA Championship futures betting odds: 100/1
  • Northwest Division futures betting odds: 12/1
  • 2014/15 record: 38-44

Nuggets Jazz Basketball

The youthful Jazz showed signs of taking the next step last season, after surging out of the All Star Break to post a 19-10 record down the stretch, sixth best among NBA clubs. They have been on a patient rebuild over the past five years, making the playoffs just once during that stretch, and are now reaping the rewards.

Utah’s top five is among the youngest in the NBA, with guard Gordon Hayward the most senior member at just 25 years old. The team hopes Rudy Gobert and Tibor Pleiss step in as big men after dealing Enes Kanter, but will miss 2014 first-round pick Dante Exum, who suffered a major knee injury over the summer.

They should continue to show steady improvement, but remain a playoff longshot.

Portland Trail Blazers

  • NBA Championship futures betting odds: 50/1
  • Northwest Division futures betting odds: 33/1
  • 2014/15 record: 51-31

Trail Blazers Clippers Basketball

The Trail Blazers tallied over 50 wins for the second straight season, earning their first division crown since 1999. But it was another speedy playoff exit for the Blazers, who meekly fell in five games to Memphis, marking their seventh first-round loss in their last eight playoff appearances.

A victim of their own recent success, Portland was forced into a rebuild this summer, parting ways with four of their five starters, most notably, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who departed for San Antonio. Point guard Damian Lillard is expected to lead a young corps that now includes 14 players under the age of 25.

While the rebuild will eventually bear fruit, it could be a long season for hoops fans in Rip City.

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • NBA Championship futures betting odds: 200/1
  • Northwest Division futures betting odds: 80/1
  • 2014/15 record: 16-66

Bucks Timberwolves Basketball

The Timberwolves finished last in the NBA last season with just 16 wins, marking their 10th straight losing campaign. Minnesota posted a first-half 15-game losing streak and tallied just three wins in their final 26 games. But talented Canadian Andrew Wiggins earned rookie-of-the-year honours.

With this year’s first-overall draft pick, they selected forward Karl-Anthony Towns. The 19 year-old seven-footer is a strong 5/1 bet to succeed teammate Wiggins as this year’s top rookie. Alongside reigning Slam Dunk champ, 20 year-old Zach LaVine, Minnesota now owns a young core that could be a formidable force for years to come.

However, the club starts the season with heavy hearts following the death in late October of coach and team president Flip Saunders, who was diagnosed with cancer in August. Saunders is replaced by former NBA coach-of-the-year Sam Mitchell.

Denver Nuggets

  • NBA Championship futures betting odds: 200/1
  • Northwest Division futures betting odds: 100/1
  • 2014/15 record: 30-52

Nuggets Thunder Basketball

The Nuggets enjoyed a relatively strong first half, recording an 18-20 record through 38 games, good for second place in the underachieving Northwest Division. But things quickly unravelled as the team won just two of their next 21, including 10 losses by double digits. As the losses mounted, so did locker room discord, with players openly defying coach Brian Shaw.

Shaw is gone, replaced by Michael Malone, while Ty Lawson, the club’s best, but most disruptive player, was shipped to Houston by trade. The Nuggets may have hit gold with top pick Emmanuel Mudiay, who is a 7/2 betting favourite to be named the NBA’s top rookie after playing pro in China last season.

Second year center Jusuf Nurkic is also expected to play a big role, once he recovers from a pre-season injury, but the Nuggets lack scoring punch, and will feel the loss of Lawson at point guard.

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Daniel Coyle