The two Los Angeles teams are again expected to headline the Western Conference playoff race. The Lakers will have their sights set on repeating as NBA champions, with an impressive offseason only strengthening their chances. Even if they take a cautious approach with regular rest for James and Davis after such a short offseason break, they have the depth to stay in the hunt for the number one seed. The Clippers, meanwhile, have it all to prove, starting with the Leonard-George tandem that fell short in Orlando. Ty Lue has moved along the bench to replace Rivers, while Serge Ibaka will be asked to replace Harrell’s production. Like last year, anything short of a championship could lead to more overhaul in Clipperland.
The Denver Nuggets’ postseason heroics brought a much-needed boost to the final weeks in Orlando – and they are counting on continuity to keep them among the title contenders. Jamal Murray provide in the playoffs that he can be option 1A next to Nikola Jokic, thought the Nuggets will miss Jerami Grant’s do-it-all game. Like Denver, the Utah Jazz are banking on a fully healthy roster being enough to take the next step. Bojan Bogdanovic is back after missing the playoffs while Mike Conley is a good bet to bounce back strongly after a tough first year in Utah. Behind Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz can still be a top four team in the West if everything breaks right.
The Portland Trail Blazers have a chance to make some real noise this season after filling their holes on the wing. Robert Covington will slot in effortlessly next to Damian Lillard, C.J, McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, with Carmelo Anthony seemingly ready to embrace a bench role. With good health, Portland could sneak into the top three in the West. Another candidate to make a leap are the Dallas Mavericks. With Luka Doncic calling the shots, the Mavericks are poised to blow past last season’s win percentage, especially if new addition Josh Richardson can rediscover his peak Miami Heat form. The return of Dwight Powell is a big plus for Dallas’ pick and roll offense too.
Meanwhile, Harden and Steph Curry are facing huge workloads and question marks around their supporting cast. The Rockets are refusing to budge on Harden’s reported trade request – instead focusing on building a playoff contender around Harden, Wall, PJ Tucker and Christian Wood. The Warriors have had to lower than expectations after losing Thompson for a second straight season, but Curry, a motivated Draymond Green, and the mercurial talents of Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre should keep Golden State in the mix. Though it would be no surprise if they have to settle for a lower seed.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis Grizzlies, and New Orleans Pelicans are all in a similar boat, with a focus on chasing the playoffs while developing young talent. A full season of Zion Williamson will be must-watch viewing, while Ja Morant and the Grizzlies should be fueled by the early end to their Orlando experience. Keep an eye on Karl-Anthony Towns too, with the Timberwolves star poised for a monster year. Can he turn eye-popping stats into regular season wins?
The San Antonio Spurs are in an interesting spot, with Gregg Popovich likely to keep this roster competitive, at a time when securing a high draft pick might be the more valuable path. Still, even Popovich will struggle to keep the Spurs on the fringes of the playoff race. The Sacramento Kings have flashed potential but it is tough to see them cracking the top eight in the West unless De’Aaron Fox takes a major leap, while the Oklahoma City Thunder will likely be content to pile up losses while giving Shai Gilgeous-Alexander every chance to continue his growth.
Predicted Playoff Teams: Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Mavericks, Jazz, Warriors, Suns, Blazers