NBA: Predicting The Western Conference Playoff Teams
Opening night of the NBA kicks off on October 25th, and fans couldn’t be more ready. This is going to be a memorable year for the league.
The NBA season is right around the corner, and fans are gearing up for what could be the most balanced league we’ve seen in years. With recent offseason moves, teams in the Eastern and Western Conference could have complete turnarounds.
The biggest move was obviously Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors. This move will potentially elevate Golden State to an even bigger powerhouse in the league. Other notable moves included Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah signing with the New York Knicks, Dwyane Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls, and Chandler Parsons signed a new deal with the Memphis Grizzlies.
These and other moves helped balance the NBA. For years we’ve seen teams struggle to win 20 games and move up from the bottom of their respective division. The Philadelphia 76ers looked as if they were due to turn a page and make some noise in the East. However, Ben Simmons is projected to miss around three months due to a broken bone in his right foot. The 76ers will be improved from previous years. However, they won’t have enough for a playoff appearance.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been lingering near the bottom of the Western Conference for the last three seasons. This year, they will display a new identity under a new head coach. The focus will be on D’Angelo Russell who was played well in preseason thus far. The Lakers could very well make some noise and challenge for that final playoff spot.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are a dark horse this season. First, they have one of the greatest defensive coaches in the league right now in Tom Thibodeau. They also have a very athletic team with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine.
The West will be a tight race, the same as it has been in years past. However, the favorites for postseason play still remain the same. Here is my prediction of the Western Conference Playoff standings for 2017.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a solid core of young talent. Now, they have a new head coach who has been a proven leader for the Celtics with Doc Rivers and the Bulls as a head coach. Coach Tom Thibodeau will implement a defensive strategy to this team. He’ll also utilize point guard Ricky Rubio the same way he tried to with Derrick Rose.
The key with Minnesota will be health. Rubio has to stay healthy. While Zach LaVine is capable of running the point, Rubio will be a magician with the ball in the lane. Minnesota could have one of the strongest pick-and-roll games in the NBA. Rubio spacing the floor, connecting with either Towns or an outside shooter, will give defenses fits.
The struggle for Minnesota will be close games, it was also a problem for them last season. This team will have to keep their cool in late game situations. They also will have to determine who takes the last shot. Is it Towns, Wiggins, or LaVine? This is a question the Wolves will have to answer in order to make a trip to the playoffs this season.
7. Houston Rockets
With James Harden running the point guard position, the absence of a low post big man won’t be noticed. The Houston Rockets are going to be the NBA’s equivalent to an And 1 team. Honestly, I can’t imagine this team; as it’s constructed, being higher in the West than seventh.
While Harden must have the ball in his hands to create his own shot. The Rockets won’t have much ball movement as a unit. Newly appointed coach Mike D’Antoni usually has a point guard who excels at the pick-and-roll running the show.
Harden isn’t going to average Steve Nash numbers this season. For one, he has no elite big man to pass the ball to. He does, however, have Eric Gordon alongside him. It’s unclear if Gordon will start or come off the bench; however, Gordon and Harden could be a solid backcourt if they can play together.
If the Rockets can incorporate Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, and Nene into the offense, while allowing Harden to get his shots, this team could be formidable this season.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies limped into the playoffs last season after a tornado of injuries. This season, should they remain healthy, the Memphis Grizzlies will challenge in the West and possibly make a run for the NBA Finals.
The Grizzlies re-signed Mike Conley and added Chandler Parsons. This added some much-needed offense and retained a pure point guard to this team. They will also be bringing Zach Randolph off the bench as a sixth man.
Defensively this team is still scary good. They’ll have the ability to slow the pace down to a crawl. They can wear down the offense night in and night out. Memphis also has a new head coach in David Fizdale, it was his call to bring Randolph off the bench.
It’s likely they’ll start JaMychal Green early this season, as he has started already this preseason. Memphis will have key players that can score. Again, the biggest issue will be health. Last season, they were as high as fourth place in the West before injuries took their toll.
Still, I would hate to play a team that requires so much physical and mental strength in the first round. Memphis will be a problem next season for multiple teams.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
Baby Dame will still be dropping dimes everywhere. He just won’t be handling the ball as much. Damian Lillard has a better squad this year than in years past. People still marvel at this team for making the playoffs without LaMarcus Aldridge. The addition of Evan Turner this offseason will help spread the floor for this young team.
One thing the Trail Blazers weren’t able to do is sign a legit big man. Picking up Festus Ezeli was a smart call. However, Ezeli has yet to show he can play at an All-Star level. Although, Mason Plumlee had a decent season las year. He shot over 50% from the floor and averaged just under 10 points a game. He also racked up 7 boards and averaged 25 minutes a game.
While the Blazers will be solid in the paint, C.J. McCollum, Turner, and Allen Crabbe will help carry the offensive load for the Trail Blazers this season. There’s no reason the Trail Blazers can’t be among the top five of field goal percentage this season.
However, it will be up to Lillard to attack the paint more. He should be able to accomplish this playing off the ball. If Lillard can attack the paint and kick out to the open shooter, Portland could dethrone the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Northwest Division Crown.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder had a rough offseason. However, they’ve dubbed it a new era in OKC. The chants of O-K-C will still run wild at Chesapeake Energy Arena this season. Russell Westbrook will get his shot at being the clear-cut leader for this team. However, the Thunder have some questions they must answer.
One big issue is the perimeter defense. Last season they ranked 8th in the league allowing 34.2% success from three. However, within those numbers, the Thunder still have some defensive woes. Last season they ranked 15th in scoring defense, allowing teams to score102.9 points per game. They are set in the paint with Steven Adams. Also, the Thunder have added some depth and key pieces to their lineup.
The addition of Victor Oladipo is a saving grace now that Kevin Durant is a member of the Golden State Warriors. Enes Kanter will likely see more minutes and production this season as well. The Thunder could be the biggest dark horse in the entire league.
If this team can gel under head coach Billy Donovan’s interesting system, and keep Russell Westbrook composed, they can make a run in the playoffs and likely meet Golden State in the postseason.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are slowly aging in this league. Collectively they have so much talent and are built to win an NBA Championship. Chris Paul and company will have arguably the deepest bench in the NBA.
The Clippers were relatively quiet during the offseason. They did sign Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton and Brice Johnson. They also retained Jordan Crawford, Austin Rivers, and Wesley Johnson.
The Clippers are always in the chase for an NBA Finals appearance. However, they can’t seem to ever get over the hump. Some blame the leadership of Chris Paul. Every year the talk of his inability to reach the Western Conference Finals surfaces.
Last season Paul averaged 19.1 points, 10 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. By those numbers, Paul is doing his part for the Clippers. It will be up to the new additions off the bench to help contribute consistently if the Clippers are to make a run.
However, this past season the Clippers had a slew of injuries going into the postseason, including Paul. The Clippers will rely on staying healthy throughout a harsh NBA season to be able to compete in the playoffs.
One key element will be Blake Griffin. If he can continue being the dominant force that he is, he’ll lead the Clippers to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in his and Paul’s career.
2. San Antonio Spurs
The new-look Spurs still have some of the same players we are used to. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili make up the familiar Spurs players we all know. With the addition of Pau Gasol and David Lee, the Spurs have a slight edge on the rest of the NBA.
Anytime you’re discussing San Antonio, you never have to worry about team chemistry or players not getting along. Those types of issues almost never arise within that franchise. Head Coach Greg Popovich has that team focused and poised at all times.
So what’s stopping San Antonio from winning another NBA title? For the last couple season’s it’s been the age. Offensively, they scored 103.5 points per game. The bread and butter for the Spurs always consist of defense. They ranked 1st last season, giving up 92 points a game. The Spurs are mostly considered the oldest team in NBA and some consider them boring. However, the experience they display always makes them a favorite in the league.
The Spurs will likely start the season dominant as they usually do. They’ll maintain the number 2 position in the Western Conference. Once the playoffs being, they’ll have to keep up with the rest of the West or we could see another upset like we did last season.
1. Golden State Warriors
This should come as no surprise to anyone. The Warriors are going to destroy teams during the regular season. Last season they lost nine games, this season they could go undefeated. Yes, this team will be a living breathing NBA2k team.
However, as we saw last year, the Warriors ran into trouble during the playoffs. The size and physical play of the Oklahoma City Thunder gave this team massive fits. Then in the NBA Finals, they awoke LeBron James who dominated on both sides of the ball.
Nevertheless, the Warriors averaged 114 points per game last season. They simply out-shot teams on a nightly basis. If you made a mistake offensively, this team would make you pay for it.
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That was before Kevin Durant joined this team. Now, you have a starting five that could arguably start for the Western Conference All-Star team. The Warriors had to let go of some key pieces to afford Durant, Harrison Barnes was one of the key players that found himself on the outside following the Durant signing.
Durant’s numbers remained steady last season, he averaged just over 28 points per game. However, he played just 35 minutes a game. Naturally, if the Warriors blow teams out of the water, Durant’s minutes could be closer to 30 per game.
Still, the Warriors look scary in the preseason. This team is going to put on a show game in and game out this season. The focus for the remaining eight teams will be is there a hole in this death star of a team that can be exploited?
The honorable mentions include the New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Utah Jazz. While these teams will be decent teams, they simply won’t have enough wins down the stretch to make it to the postseason.
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