The Denver Nuggets – Predicting the Western Conference
The NBA season tips off this week and the Western Conference is up for grabs. The Suns look to shine. The Lakers added Westbrook and Carmelo. Golden State is getting the band back together. Doncic is the Mavericks Top Gun. While the Jazz are sounding smooth.
And don’t forget about the Denver Nuggets and their league MVP.
The Wild West with its new faces, players returning from injuries, and young talent developing is about as predictable as Kawhi Leonard’s next Clipper game.
But here are how the teams will finish when the regular season ends.
1. Utah Jazz – The Jazz bring back almost every player from last year’s first-place, 52-game winning squad.With Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert, and a homecourt record of 31-5 last season, Utah’s depth and system makes them the favorite to win the West. Which is probably why regular season records can be misleading.
2. Phoenix Suns – The Suns finished second in the West last season and look poised to contend for a title in 2021-22. The only hesitation of ranking them over the Jazz is the probability of reduced minutes for Devin Booker to keep him healthy, and even more for Chris Paul. Entering his 17th NBA season at the age of 36, Paul has played in over 1,090 games averaging almost 35 minutes per contest. Unless Cameron Payne can channel his inner Chris Paul, the team will have to settle for second place.
3. Denver Nuggets – Denver has the league MVP in Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. fresh off a Max contract, power forward Aaron Gordon for an entire season, and the return of their sharpshooting superstar in Jamal Murray. Plug in a healthy Will Barton, and depth that includes Monte Morris, JaMychal Green and others, and one could argue that the Nuggets are the team to beat.
The reality is that Jamal Murray will probably not return to the lineup until February, which puts a lot of pressure on Morris, PJ Dozier, Austin Rivers, and 4 foot 11 Facundo Campazzo to step up their backcourt play.
The other issue is defense. Aaron Gordon is an excellent defender, but most everyone else is a defensive liability. Unless coach Michael Malone is looking to bring back the Doug Moe 145-144 style offense, Denver is looking at third place.
4. Los Angeles Lakers – With Lebron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and as many as three future Hall-of-Famers on the bench, it’s hard to believe that fourth place is the best they can do. But besides the obvious that, with an average age of 31.3, the team will rest players throughout the regular season to prepare for the playoffs, this Laker squad is full of holes. The team lacks perimeter shooting (although not players who like to shoot), guys that can defend, and players willing to sacrifice, set picks, and do the dirty work that is necessary for team success.
But with Trevor Ariza, Playoff Rondo, and Lebron & company. They are the scariest 4-seed of all-time.
5. Memphis Grizzlies – Ja Morant will not only make the All-Star Team this season, but he will also start.Combine that talent with a full year of 6’11 Jaren Jackson Jr., and some terrific depth that includes Steven Adams, Dillon Brooks, and Kyle Anderson, and you have a sleeper team that will be tough to beat all season long.
6. LA Clippers – Los Angeles won 47 games last season and added Eric Bledsoe to their lineup. But it’s hard to predict when Kawhi Leonard is going to play when he’s healthy, yet alone coming back from a partially torn ACL. Without Leonard, and just Paul George, the Clippers are more like the Indiana Pacers, George’s former team. Decent, but not good enough.
7. Golden State Warriors – It is easy to pencil Klay Thompson back into the lineup, add seven-footer James Wiseman at the center position, assume Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and Steph Curry are good to go, and let Steve Kerr do his thing. But Klay Thompson isn’t even expected to practice fully until next month.
The Warriors were six games over .500 last season, which was remarkable. But Andre Iguodala, Moses Moody, and Jonathan Kuminga doesn’t make this squad anymore than a seven-seed, with or without Klay.
8. Mavericks – Luca Doncic will probably win the MVP this season, but all the Mavericks added to last year’s 42-30 squad was Reggie Bullock. That’s enough to make the playoffs, but not by much.
The Portland Trailblazers should grab the ninth spot and the play-in-game, but that’s assuming Damion Lillard is still on the team. Zion Williamson will secure the tenth and final position, along with his teammates that no one pays attention to.
This all leads to a potential first round match up between the Nuggets and the Clippers. So, get well soon Jamal….and….no hurry Kawhi!
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