Prediction Time – The NBA Western Conference
Predicting how the Denver Nuggets will finish in the NBA West may take a mathematical algorithm that includes statistical analysis of teams and players. Or maybe chemistry, or the lack thereof, will provide a better answer. Will Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the LA Clippers dominate as expected? Is one ball enough for James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the Houston Rockets? Can Lebron James accept playing second-fiddle to Anthony Davis for the LA Lakers? Welcome to the Wild West Kristaps Porzingis, Ja Morant, and Zion Williamson.
With all the moves and roster overhauls, here’s a prediction of how the Western Conference playoff seeding will end up, and which teams will be on the outside looking in.
- Denver Nuggets – This looks like a biased pick for the top spot in the West, but it’s not. Denver finished second last season to the Golden State Warriors, who lost Kevin Durant to Brooklyn and Klay Thompson to injury. The entire Nuggets roster, including Nikola Jokic, are all returning. The depth of the squad will provide opportunities to manage minutes for the starters, while adding defensive intensity that most teams lack for the long-haul.
- Los Angeles Lakers – Lebron James may have the most dominant player in the league on his team in Anthony Davis, and the addition of Danny Green cannot be understated for his three-point shooting, defense, and championship focus. The only thing that will keep the Lakers from catching the Nuggets is age. Look for this team to rest its stars periodically and give up some wins late in the season.
- Houston Rockets – The reality is that nobody can stop James Harden from scoring 50 points a game, and Russell Westbrook will figure it out and average close to a triple-double again this season. More importantly, the Rockets are built for the regular season. Teams don’t play much defense and Houston will score 130 point per game. That’ll get the team 50+ wins, third seed in the playoffs, and an early exit somewhere in the post-season.
- LA Clippers – I may have called Anthony Davis the most dominant player in the league, but Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the league. When Paul George returns this team will win close to 50 games, but unlike Houston, the Clippers are built for the playoffs and not necessarily the regular season. With Leonard already resting on back-to-back games, the fourth spot seems about right.
- Portland Trailblazers – The Blazers could probably go get a bunch of old guys from the YMCA, stick them with a backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and finish around the top of the division.
- Utah Jazz – Donovan Mitchell has a year more of experience, Rudy Gobert is the most dominant defender in the league, and speaking of chemistry, all this team did was trade out Ricky Rubio for Mike Conley Jr. while keeping their core group together. That’ll get them in the playoffs.
- San Antonio Spurs – Speaking of old guys from the YMCA. The Spurs shouldn’t be better than New Orleans, Minnesota, or even Dallas. But year after year they simply outsmart their opponent and make the playoffs with lesser talent. No exception this year.
- Golden State Warriors – The eighth and final spot is based on process of elimination. Zion and the Pelicans are just too young. The chemistry in Minnesota never seems to work, Sacramento never seems to figure it out, Doncic and Porzingis need one more player, and Phoenix, Memphis, and Oklahoma City just aren’t playoff teams. I have a feeling Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Steve Kerr may still have a little something left.
Keep in mind that we are talking about the regular season here. Denver will have trouble matching up against either Los Angeles squad or the Rockets when the playoffs begin, but despite the game seven loss to the Blazers last season, the Pepsi Center will be a nice advantage to have.
Images via fivethirtyeight.com, bleacherreport.com, heatnation.com, kpbs.com, union-bulletin.com, theringer.com, cbssports.com.