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The Mavericks will be challenged by Western Conference teams on the bubble

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In part 2 of our Western Conference preview, we take a look at Dallas' most significant competition for a spot in this year's playoffs.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday we looked at where the Mavericks stand after free agency and the challenges they may face from some of the West's rebuilding teams.

But what about the teams that, like Dallas, aren't guaranteed a top spot but have a good shot at the playoffs? With the exception of the Thunder, these teams haven't made major leaps in either direction. Although they've made changes this summer (some, like the Mavs, look quite different), those changes aren't likely to help these teams contend for a title, nor will they keep them out of the playoffs.

Portland Trail Blazers

Notable additions: Evan TurnerFestus Ezeli

Last year: 44-38 (5th seed)

ESPN Projections: 46-36 (4th seed)

What to expect this year

The Blazers are one of the biggest question marks of this season. Like the Mavericks, they over-performed relative to most expectations last year. Also like the Mavericks, they didn't sign any big names over the off-season and it's not clear how big an impact players like Turner and Ezeli will have on the team. But unlike Dallas, Portland is one of the youngest teams in the NBA and will likely benefit from the continued development of its players.

If the Blazers live up to last year's promise, they could be looking at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but with most teams in the West's competitive middle tier making small upgrades and counting on better health, they could just as easily find themselves back somewhere between the fifth and eighth seeds.

The Mavericks played Portland three times last season, and two of the games went to overtime.

Additional reading: Jesus Gomez at SB Nation and Zach Lowe at ESPN on the Blazers' uncertain future

Utah Jazz

Notable additions: George Hill, Boris DiawJoe Johnson

Last year: 40-42 (9th place)

ESPN Projections: 45-37 (5th seed)

What to expect this year

Last year, the Jazz were a promising young squad that, despite playoff hopes, endured a tough closing schedule and some unfortunate injuries that left them just out of contention. But Utah had a good offseason, bringing in veterans that should help the team take a leap forward this season.

George Hill's experience in particular will offer an upgrade at point guard for a team that, while stocked with talented big men, struggled in the back court outside of Gordon Hayward. Although Hill isn't on anyone's best-of list, he does almost everything very well and had two excellent seasons in Indiana.

Dallas won two of its three games against Utah last season, but the influx of veterans, combined with the development of the younger members of the team, could be enough to erase Dallas's edge this year.

Additional reading: SLC Dunk on how the new veterans will fit in

Memphis Grizzlies

Notable additions: Chandler Parsons, head coach Dave Fizdale

Last year: 42-40 (7th seed)

ESPN Projections: 43-39 (7th seed)

What to expect this year

No other playoff team lost as many person-minutes to injury as the Grizzlies (league-wide, they were bested only by the Pelicans in this unfortunate category). Despite free-agency rumors surrounding Mike Conley, the Grizzlies essentially kept their team intact, with the notable addition of Chandler Parsons.

With so many aging players, particularly Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, ESPN is pessimistic about the potential for improvement even without the devastating injuries that plagued the team last year, but if the team can stave off the decline of its veteran big men, it has the potential to make a much deeper run this season.

The Mavericks got the best of the depleted Grizzlies three out of four games last season, but will likely face a very different team this year. With the Mavericks making some defense-oriented additions over the summer, Dallas vs. Memphis could be one of the slowest, least flashy match-ups of the year and one that may prove tough for the Mavericks.

Additional reading: Grizzly Bear Blues reacts to the ESPN rankings

Houston Rockets

Notable additions: Ryan AndersonEric Gordon, Pablo Prigioni, Nene, head coach Mike D'Antoni

Notable departures: Dwight HowardTerrence JonesJosh SmithJason Terry

Last year: 41-41 (8th seed)

ESPN Projections: 41-41 (8th seed)

What to expect this year

Last year, the Rockets at times seemed to be less than the sum of their parts, with talented players appearing totally uninterested in doing basketball things on a basketball court. To shake things up, the Rockets got rid of Dwight Howard and brought in Mike D'Antoni, the architect of the fast-paced, three-point-heavy seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns offense of the aughts. The additions of shooters Anderson and Gordon seem to confirm that D'Antoni's strategy in Houston will be similar.

With these additions and the loss of Howard and Terrence Jones (replaced by an aging Nene), the Rockets will be smaller, faster, and more inclined to gun from deep, but the team may pay a price on the other end. Dallas and Houston split their four games in 2015-16, and with Dallas upgrading defensively and potentially struggling with playmaking, the Rockets will continue to be an interesting foil.

Additional reading: How James Harden fits with Mike D'Antoni

Oklahoma City Thunder

Notable additions: Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova

Notable departures: Kevin DurantSerge Ibaka

Last year: 55-27 (3rd seed)

ESPN Projections: 44-38 (6th seed)

What to expect this year

Although a spurned Russell Westbrook is certainly not to be underestimated, the Thunder haven't acquired anyone who'll come close to filling the void left by Durant. They traded Serge Ibaka as part of a deal with the Magic to acquire Oladipo and Ilyasova in order to bring in new young talent, but the Thunder are no longer positioned to contend in the West.

The Durant-led Thunder swept the Mavericks in the regular season and won their first-round match-up against Dallas 5-1. The Mavs will almost certainly be more competitive against OKC this year.

Additional reading: Limited Upside on Russell Westbrook's contract