Following up on the Eastern Conference playoff forecast, I’ve assembled my predictions for the Western Conference. While there exists little parity in the upper echelon of the West, the majority of the teams will compete for the remaining spots, each with a legitimate chance of playing basketball well into April.
- Golden State Warriors (75-7) – There isn’t much to say here, other than the best regular season of all-time upgraded their weakest starting position to one of the best players at that position. Forward Kevin Durant now joins guards Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the best shooting backcourt in NBA history, to create the most talented roster ever assembled. While many disapprove of Durant’s free agency choice, fans of the other twenty-nine NBA teams better get comfortable with vying for runner-up.
- San Antonio Spurs (68-14) – The Spurs had a productive offseason by signing center Pau Gasol and drafting guard Dejounte Murray to fill the void recently retired forward Tim Duncan left. The Spurs undoubtedly have the second best roster in the NBA, with forwards Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge leading the charge for the upcoming year. Unfortunately, the Spurs play in the same conference as the super-team Warriors, and will have to settle with the second seed, though coach Gregg Popovich surely won’t be satisfied without a championship finish.
- Los Angeles Clippers (61-21) – Will this be the year that the Clippers finally break their playoff woes? Probably not, as a spot in the Western Conference Finals would mean beating either of the two aforementioned teams. That being said, the Clippers have the star-power to remain in the conversation. The Clippers added depth with forwards Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass, and forward Blake Griffin’s trade rumors have come to a simmer, both of which bode very well for the team. However, the Clippers face an inevitable second round exit against whichever of the two powerhouses they face.
- Portland Trail Blazers (55-27) – With the departure of guard Wes Matthews, forward Nic Batum and forward LaMarcus Aldridge within the past couple season, the Blazers were expected to enter a mild rebuild phase. However, the emergence of guard CJ McCollum has greatly expedited that process, as both McCollum and guard Damian Lillard continue to impress in every facet of the game. Offseason additions such as center Festus Ezeli and forward Evan Turner bring much needed experience to a youthful team that will inevitable struggle in the playoffs. The young roster has the potential to cause some noise now and stay together in the future during the deconstruction of these super-teams.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (52-30) – As much as Thunder fans would love to wake up from their nightmare and see #35 back in a blue and orange jersey, the Thunder are going to have to make do with what they have. With guard Russell Westbrook at the helm, the Thunder will remain competitive; guard Victor Oladipo will also look to elevate his game alongside the MVP candidate. However, Westbrook is only one man playing against five, and will have to get used to life without his wingman and gain help from a depleted supporting cast.
- Houston Rockets (50-32) – The Rockets had an active offseason, highlighted by finally closing the book on the failed Dwight Howard experiment. New additions guard Eric Gordon and forward Ryan Anderson provide floor spacing for newly-appointed point guard James Harden, yet somehow render the Rockets even worse defensively. The Rockets have the offensive firepower to lead the league in points, but will ultimately also lead the league in points allowed, setting themselves up for a first-round playoff exit.
- Utah Jazz (46-36) – The Jazz are actually the only team in the NBA whose starting five each makes an appearance on Sports Illustrated’s top 100 list. Despite such a formidable core, the Jazz lack the superstar necessary to truly push the needle. A fresh backcourt of guards George Hill and Joe Johnson provides veteran leadership for the Jazz as they look to creep back into the playoffs after missing the postseason by one game last season.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (43-39) – As the dark horse of the western conference, the ‘Wolves young core has the potential to sneak into the playoffs. Led by new coach Tom Thibodeau, Providence guard Kris Dunn joins forward Andrew Wiggins and center Karl-Anthony Towns as the potential big-three strive to leave their mark in the association. In reality, the eighth seed is the ‘Wolves ceiling, but the group is beginning to form the foundation for a promising future. Much like the Blazers, the ‘Wolves can thrive long after the inevitable power-shift in the West. For now, they’ll gather what playoff experience they can scrape together.
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