With the NBA regular season now fully in the review, we now move to the playoffs as 16 teams vie for the chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.
Yesterday, I wrote a piece previewing the Eastern conference, and now I will switch to the Western Conference.
The biggest takeaway from the West is that there is a more significant gap between the top seed and the rest of the conference. For context, the gap between the first and sixth seed in the east was only six games compared to the West, where the gap is 16 games.
Leading the way are the Phoenix Suns, who amassed 64 wins this season. The Suns came into this season after making the NBA Finals last season but losing to the Milwaukee Bucks. The disappointment of failing to win it all did not hinder the team’s performance this year as they increased their win total from last season by 13 wins, led by their star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
Following behind were the Memphis Grizzlies, who had 56 wins this season. Led by a balanced attack including Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr, the Grizzlies have shown massive growth this season, from a 38 win play-in team to a top-two seed.
Morant’s health will be critical in any playoff run for the Grizzlies. He has played at an MVP level this season when he’s been on the floor.
Rounding out the West were the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and the New Orleans Pelicans.
Toughest series to predict:
A series like Golden State and Denver really intrigues me. Nuggets star Nikola Jokic is on pace to claim his second MVP in two seasons. However, that will not stop the detractors from saying that he, and his team, need to make more of an impact in the postseason.
The Warriors still maintain the core three members from their dynasty days, including Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The Warriors have a potent lineup with newer pieces such as Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole that could make a deep run in the playoffs.
However, with Jamal Murray and Micheal Porter Jr expected to be out for the entirety of the playoffs, it puts even more pressure on Jokic to perform when it matters most.
While I believe that Golden State will win this series, Curry’s foot injury is something to monitor.
Who’s on upset alert?:
I look at a team like Memphis who could be ousted early against the Timberwolves. Both teams are very young and have very little playoff success, and this is ripe for Minnesota to come in and win this series.
The Timberwolves’ three-headed attack of Anthony Edwards, Karl Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell provides a good balance of scorers. With other depth pieces like Malik Beasley and Patrick Beverley, keep a lookout for this series to at least go six games.
I’m not entirely sure if this counts as an upset, too. Still, the Jazz defeating the Mavericks would also count as an upset even though it comes with the colossal asterisk being Luka Doncic’s injury.
So, who wins the West?:
I’ll stick with the team that has played the best in the West, the Phoenix Suns. They made it to the finals last season, and they have shown no indication of slowing down this year.
With Chris Paul getting older, this is one of the best years for the Suns to strike while he is still effective and claims the trophy that has eluded him during his inevitable hall of fame career.