Who do you consider to be most likely to win the Western Conference this year? Teams like the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs probably come to mind. Other teams that are high in the rankings might be afterthoughts, but could they possibly be in contention this year? I’ll take a look at all of the playoff teams in the Western Conference, and determine whether they are contenders for the title, or if they are pretenders and have a few more years before they are ready.

 

Golden State Warriors- Contenders

I think it’s pretty safe to say the Warriors are contenders. They have an NBA-best record of 52-12, and although they are experiencing some turbulence right now, it can all be expected to go away over time. Most likely, the only reason the team is slowing down is because of the injury to the best player on the team, Kevin Durant. Kevin was one of four All-Stars on the team, and he was in contention of winning the MVP award given to the best player in the NBA each and every year. On February 28, Zaza Pachulia was pushed into his leg, and he was declared to be out a minimum of four weeks. When Durant comes back, hopefully before the postseason, the Warriors should have no problem returning to form as one of the top three teams in the NBA.

San Antonio Spurs- Contenders

This is another easy call. The Spurs have won nine straight games, most in the NBA. They have made the playoffs every year since 1997, and they show no sign of slowing down. I didn’t expect them to be as good with the loss of Tim Duncan, and with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili both aging fast, but with what I consider to be the best coach in the NBA, the Spurs will forever be a powerhouse. With the Warriors not playing as well, I could potentially see Kawhi Leonard helping the Spurs to take the first seed in the Western Conference.

Houston Rockets- Contenders

It seems like a trend is developing, but since the Western Conference is so much better than the Eastern Conference, it makes sense that the top teams would be contenders. Although the Rockets are not the greatest team on the defensive side of the ball, they might not need to be to make it to the Finals. This team has offensive power in boatloads. They have point guard James Harden, considered as one of the top five players in the NBA. Recently, they traded for Louis Williams, three-point specialist, at the trade deadline. They have Eric Gordon, averaging 17 points per game and shooting 38 percent from three-point range, as the sixth man of the team. This man could legitimately be a solid starting guard for almost any team in the NBA, and him coming off the bench shows how deep this team is. This team is deadly from behind the arc.

Utah Jazz- Contenders

I find it hard to label this team as a pretender, even thought the offense isn’t at an extreme level. Although I can’t see the Jazz making it past the great offensive teams such as the Rockets or the Warriors in the playoffs, with the defensive intensity that they have, Utah could probably beat any team in a 7 game series. Utah was considered to be a bottom-seeded playoff team before the season started, and they have certainly overplayed expectations. In my mind, if they pick up a solid guard in the off-season, they will most certainly be title contenders next year. This year, expect them to at least escape the first round of the playoffs, and don’t be surprised if Salt Lake City is home to a few games in the Western Conference Finals.

Los Angeles Clippers- Pretenders

This team is the biggest pretender of all of the top-seeded teams in the NBA. Yes, the Clippers have a big three. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan are all considered to be star players, and make up a starting group that is hard to stop at times. Sadly, they have just proven over the past few years that they will not be contenders for years to come. They consistently sit among the top teams in the Western Conference, and they never perform in the playoffs. It doesn’t make sense, but the Clippers are just not Finals-worthy. Chris Paul is getting older and older, and the roster is always devastated by injuries. I see a rebuild in the near future for the Clippers.

Memphis Grizzlies- Contenders

The Grizzlies one major problem is depth of the roster. Luckily, teams that have a ten or so player rotation in the regular season usually slims down to a seven or eight man rotation in the playoffs. I think Memphis has both the defense and the offensive firepower to take them to at least the Western Conference Finals. Defense is the calling card of the team; they have Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol as the two starting big men. The guard play is not overwhelming by any standards, but Mike Conley is good on both sides of the ball, and although the offense of the team lacks at times, certain games this team just goes off. With a little bit of luck, the Grizzlies could score an upset in the first round, and make some noise in the playoffs.

Oklahoma City Thunder- Pretenders

Be fair. Outside of Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City is not a good team. Victor Oladipo is not quite a star shooting guard, but he is the second best player on the Thunder. For most teams, it takes at the very least two star players to go deep into the playoffs. The recent additions of Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson do make this team a lot better, but they won’t make it out of the first round. All you have to do is look at the two games that the Thunder have played against the Golden State Warriors this year. Russell Westbrook had all the motivation in the world to play as hard as he could and beat his new rival, Kevin Durant, but in the first game, the Thunder lost by 21 points, and in the second, they lost by 16 points. I just don’t see Oklahoma City making it out of the first round.

Denver Nuggets- Pretenders

This is another easy call to make. Right now, the Nuggets are 29-35. They are the only current playoff team in the conference to have a losing record. Nikola Jokic has been playing out of his mind, averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds per game. He is genuinely a star center, and will help the Nuggets to a playoff berth. He just isn’t enough to beat a top team in the NBA. Enough said.


What do you think? Were any of my choices wrong? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.