NBA Restart Preview and Predictions: Western Conference
Source: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
In these unprecedented times nothing is guaranteed, but thanks to Commissioner Adam Silver and the head office of the NBA we are heading towards the guarantee of crowning the 2019-2020 NBA Champions. With this restart format taking place within the confines of the Disney World NBA Bubble, we will see the top 22 teams in the league play out eight games to determine the playoff seeding which will then start the traditional NBA playoff tree format.
While this is already an intriguing and exciting concept on its own, Adam Silvers wish has finally come true in the way of a play-in game between the eighth and ninth seeded teams in either conference (as long as they are within four games of one another). This will be a do or die affair, bringing a fresh sense of urgency and drama to the playoffs and possibly a glimpse into the future seasons of the NBA playoffs.
Before any of this action ensues, the regular season must wrap itself up, with each team's remaining eight games. Yesterday we looked at the East, so let's wrap it up with the West today.
1) Los Angeles Lakers: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (56-15) (7-1)
The Los Angeles Lakers are the odds on favourite to capture their 17th NBA title this postseason, and for good reason. The dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis has been nothing short of spectacular this season with both jockeying for MVP and DPOY honours respectively.
Not only have the stars of the Lakers shone bright all year long but their supporting cast has been spectacular as well. Big men Javale McGee and Dwight Howard have held it down in the paint all year long, with spectacular playmaking and shooting from guard Rajon Rondo and Danny Green. Even with the season ending injury to Rondo the Lakers were able to add proven veterans and lethal shooters from beyond the arch in “Philly Cheese” Dion Waiters, and former NBA Champion J.R. Smith.
The only real nagging issue for the Lakers this season has been how to utilize power forward, Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma is having a poor season with career lows in points, rebounds, and field goal percentage. The young forward has shown glimpses of star potential in the past and Kuzma could serve as an X-factor going forward in their championship campaign. The Lakers are poised for a powerful ending to a near flawless season but the Western Conference is absolutely loaded with talented competition.
2) Los Angeles Clippers: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (51-21) (7-1)
Speaking of talented competition, enter the Los Angeles Clippers. LA's other basketball team made the ultimate win now moves in the offseason by acquiring the reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, as well as trading away their entire foreseeable future for all-star, Paul George. While Leonard and George have had solid individual seasons, the Clippers have not had the production some originally thought they may from their other rotational players.
While still putting up solid numbers, three-time, Sixth man of the year Lou Williams was not his regular bucket getting self this year. With his streaky offensive play, coupled with his inability to produce on the defensive side of the ball the Clippers have been desperate in finding ways to win big games. Motrezzl Harrell has been a great player throughout the season with Patrick Beverley providing a huge boost on the defensive end but still the Clippers don't seem to have that connection needed to become a championship team.
Throughout the year there have been countless unforced errors due to lack of chemistry, mixed in with the inevitable butting heads of the large personalities on the team, it has not produced the on-court product fans were hoping for. While chemistry has been an issue this season the Clippers still have tremendous upside and are easily still in title contention, if this roster can band together and play as a fluid unit, they could be the team to beat in the West.
3) Denver Nuggets: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (47-26) (4-4)
The young and promising Denver Nuggets continued their winning ways this season after keeping the majority of their roster from last year. They added an absolute steal in Bol Bol from the second round of the NBA Draft, as well as finally rolling out former tenth overall pick Michael Porter Jr into their lineup. The Nuggets have been led by arguably the best centre in basketball currently in Nikola Jokic, as well as stellar play from point guard Jamal Murray.
The Nuggets play an excellent brand of basketball by moving the rock well in half court sets, a great transition game, as well as a fine tuned defence orchestrated by Mike Malone. The Nuggets are a premier team in the west this year, but despite their record, are still not legitimate title contenders at this point. The team's youth and inexperience will be costly down the road of the playoffs as well as still needing to find the missing piece to transform their team from good to great.
The Nuggets will be a formidable opponent regardless of the matchup, but not a team that will strike fear in their opponents hearts come tip off.
4) Utah Jazz: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (45-27) (4-4)
The Utah Jazz find themselves are in an unusual predicament this postseason. The Jazz were starting to find their game and racking up wins as a result (7-3 in their last 10 games played), but things took a nosedive for the worst after the absolutely idiotic actions of Rudy Gobert, this resulted in himself and several of his Jazz teammates including all-star Donovan Mitchell contracting COVID-19.
While Mitchell and Gobert have stated they have cleared the air and patched things up, this can’t be something the locker room will simply just forget about. While jeopardization of the team's chemistry and trust is an issue, the Jazz still have one of the more talented rosters in the NBA this season. With Gobert and Mitchell both receiving all-star nods this season, as well as great production from Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson the Jazz have the potential to make a run at the NBA finals.
The deciding factor on their success however may rest on the shoulders of their big offseason acquisition in Mike Conley. Conley has been having a difficult season, putting up some of his worst statlines in the past decade after moving on from his long-time home in Memphis. Conley has the potential to run the Jazz offence at an Elite level while also producing well in Quin Snyder's defence centric system. If Conley can produce in the manner he was expected to while also holding the Jazz locker room together this team could send shockwaves throughout the NBA this postseason.
5) Oklahoma City Thunder: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (44-24) (4-4)
Everyone loves an underdog and no team better exemplifies that sentiment quite like the new-look OKC Thunder. After moving on from the Russell Westbrook era and shipping out Paul George to LA, the Thunder were looked at as a potential bottom feeder of the NBA, but a certain “point god” had something to show to those critics.
A revitalized Chris Paul shocked the NBA world and produced one of his most efficient seasons since his days on the Clippers. While CP3 may have been the heart and soul of this year's Thunder squad he wasn't left without any weapons. Big man Steven Adams continued his usual dominance on the glass, while assets Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danillo Galinari surprised many and played well above expectations.
This situation caps off with front runner for the sixth man of the year award, Dennis Schroder playing the best basketball of his career off the bench but in a major role in the OKC game plan.
With all these positives, the Thunder are plagued with lack of depth beyond their front 6 in the rotation, they will need to have their reserves play above their pay grade if they want to make a deep run in this year's playoffs. The Thunder have a lovable and fun team to watch this season and will put up a strong fight to advance deep into the postseason but unfortunately this is unlikely. The Thunder are no pushover by any means but are on the outside looking in as far as elite teams in the Western Conference are concerned.
6) Houston Rockets: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (44-28) (4-4)
On to the team that took small ball a little too literal this season. After sending big man Clint Capela to Atlanta, the Rockets moved six foot-five PJ Tucker to the centre position and haven't looked back. While Tucker has been serviceable as the Rockets “big man” it has left them susceptible to an onslaught of post ups and mismatches on both sides of the court. However, the Rockets realized that three points are worth more than two and have doubled down on the mantra.
The Rockets shoot a league leading 44.2 three-point shots per game and hit at a mediocre 34.8% clip, not ideal for the high volume of shots taken beyond the arch. The Rockets have also had difficulty finding ways to utilize both of their former MVPs on the roster in Russell Westbrook and James Harden at the same time. More often than not one of the two takes the reins for the night while the other sits back and tries to pad their assists and rebound totals.
But while trying not to sound overly critical of Houston and Darryl Morey's choices in personnel this season, the Rockets are lucky to be in the position they are currently in. This game plan is nothing short of moronic and can not possibly be a strategy that can win an NBA Championship. Look for a quick exit from the Rockets this postseason.
7) Dallas Mavericks: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (45-30) (5-3)
Another extremely fun, young, and talented team is this year's Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs have been led by breakout phenom Luka Doncic, as he continues to cut up NBA defences with ease and is backed by a seven foot-three Kristaps Porzingis who has done great in his 2nd option role.
The Mavs are an extremely well coached and disciplined team thanks to long time coach Rick Carlisle. This shows on the court as the team full of young players compete at a high professional level with few mistakes. While the Mavericks are a strong team that never give up on the scoreboard, they still don't have the overall talent level of some of the top tier teams in the West. Great shooting from Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway it will only get them so far.
The second unit of the Mavericks has over-performed this season and is likely set for a decrease in production throughout the final games of the year. Dallas is capable of hanging with any team in the league this year when fully healthy and will have a real shot at a deep run in the playoffs this year, but more importantly are showing signs of becoming a new contender in years to come.
8) New Orleans Pelicans: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (34-38) (6-2)
With one of the easiest schedules for seeding games it looks as if the NBA execs will get their wish and have Zion WIlliamson in the NBA Playoffs. In fairness to the Pelicans, they played one of the strongest strength of schedules in the league this season and still managed to hang in the playoff bubble with several injuries up and down their roster.
The Pelicans now fully healthy are deadly in all aspects of the game with lethal shooting, tremendous defence, and hard nosed downhill drives to the cup on a nightly basis. This young team has a lot to prove as expectations have been high ever since landing Zion in the draft lottery last year but they seem to be living up to the hype.
The Pels will be in a good situation to skyrocket up the standings in these last few desperate games with the weight of keeping JJ Redick's ridiculous playoff streak alive, as well as gaining valuable playoff experience for their young core.
9) Memphis Grizzlies: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (34-39) (2-6)
Unfortunately for Ja Morant and his Grizzlies, they may be in for a tough time during the regular season. With the loss of Justise Winslow to injury, the depth of the Grizz has depleted completely. Memphis has a tough schedule ahead of them with several hot teams vying for their coveted eighth seed in the uber competitive West.
All signs are pointing towards a downward trend of Memphis, but not all hope is lost. With the lead in games they currently have they have a great chance in being within 4 games of the eighth seed if they do indeed drop to ninth in the standings and if my predictions are correct we could get a Morant VS Zion play-in game which would have every NBA fan salivating over the potential showdown of two of the league's most promising stars.
The Grizzlies had a shockingly impressive season and if they can continue their "all gas, no brakes" style of play, the Grizzlies could find themselves back in the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
10) Sacramento Kings: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (31-41) (3-5)
A team many were big on coming into the season has been somewhat disappointing thus far. After it appeared that a young core of De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley, and Buddy Hield would be an exciting and tough team to beat in the seasons to come, has not been the case. With Bagley not able to stay healthy and Luke Walton's poor coaching decisions and management all season long the Kings have not been able to live up to the expectations set.
The Kings are still a talented team with no obvious holes in their roster but it is the execution that is not where it needs to be if they want to make a push for the playoffs with the remaining few games. The Kings are set up well to succeed in the future but this season looks like a wrap for Sac-Town.
11) Portland Trail Blazers: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (31-43) (2-6)
This was a shocker. After putting up a great fight in the Western Conference finals last season it appeared that Portland was coming of age as a title contender in the NBA, oh how we were so wrong. Portland struggled out of the gate this year and the struggles continued as the season progressed. A mix of CJ McCollum being exposed as a poor second option on a contending team, to having the laziest player in the association, Hassan Whiteside attempt to fill the shoes of the “Bosnian Beast” Jusuf Nurkic. This spelled disaster for the Trail Blazers.
Damian Lillard continued to solidify himself as one of the games best point guards, but even with Dame Dolla dominating on his own, it failed to translate into victories. With the disappointment of this season the Trailblazers will have to do some soul searching this offseason in regards to what their next steps will be moving forward as the trade rumours surrounding their top players have been circulating all year long, could we be seeing the last of Lillard in a Trail Blazer uniform or will we be greeted with one last kick at the can for an NBA title run for the Trail Blazers?
Truly an unpredictable team that controls their own destiny but it will take a dominant showing from the entire team if they have any hope of making the playoffs.
12) San Antonio Spurs: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (29-42) (2-6)
Sadly, the once great San Antonio Spurs look to be missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997. The nearly 23-year long streak will be snapped as star big man LaMarcus Aldridge will miss the remainder of the season due to injury, leaving the last true practitioner of the midrange, DeMar DeRozan, to fend for himself.
The Spurs have lots of blossoming potential on their roster with players such as Lonnie Walker and Dejounte Murray, but they are not ready to produce at a rate that can get them into the playoffs this season. With a lack of three-point ability, and no go-to post scorer the Spurs will be an incredibly easy team to game plan for as they are left fairly one dimensional.
While the GOAT Gregg Popovich will surely have some tricks up his sleeve to steal a few wins in the seeding games, it will not be enough to elevate his team to the playoffs. While it won't be the same without the Spurs black and white in the NBA playoffs just remember, don’t cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
13) Phoenix Suns: Total Projected Record/Seeding Games Record (28-45) (2-6)
While they may be a fun team to watch, the Suns are definitely not a good team. With promising signs for the future, the Suns have put together a great young core between Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. The Suns still lack a definitive identity however. They don't do any one thing overly well, nor do they do anything outwardly bad.
Phoenix is a perfectly average team that has some explosive players within its roster, and they even signed Cameron Payne, isn't that neat! All jokes aside, the Suns are a promising team but just have too many weaknesses and not enough strengths to compete for a playoff spot this season. This trend is not built to last so don't get too used to seeing the Suns missing out on the playoffs for the foreseeable future.