Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com takes an early look at the Western Conference for the 2013-14 season, concluding that the Minnesota Timberwolves will beat out the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves (2012-13 finish: 12th)
The biggest improvement the Timberwolves can make will be better health. After losing more games to injury than any team in the past four years, Minnesota should be at full strength. Rick Adelman also has more shooting at his disposal with the addition of Kevin Martin, though the defense could be weakened.
Assuming the Timberwolves lock up center Nikola Pekovic, a restricted free agent, they'll be at the top of the race to go from the lottery to the playoffs.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (2012-13 finish: 11th)
The Blazers are right on Minnesota's heels after a solid offseason that saw GM Neil Olshey rebuild their bench on the cheap. Only second-year center Meyers Leonard figures to remain in the rotation from last year's historically bad second unit, while Robin Lopez slides in for J.J. Hickson to solidify the starting five.
If rookie C.J. McCollum contributes immediately and Thomas Robinson plays like he did in Las Vegas Summer League -- where he was a terror on the glass -- Portland will return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
Portland has made two straight lottery trips after appearing in the postseason three straight years from 2009 to 2011.
The Blazers' 2014 first-round pick is top-12 protected, otherwise it conveys to the Charlotte Bobcats.
PS Thanks to TheOmen who got there first in the FanShots.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter