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Teams are continuing to jockey for position in order to get a more favorable matchup but there are no easy opponents in the NBA Western Conference. It’s like navigating a minefield. The West is loaded with quality teams.
The contenders to win a championship are the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers. It’s very simple for the Lakers: a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis make them the favorites out West. If they are not, it’s a wide open race. The other concern is their ability to consistently knock down outside shots.
The Jazz have dynamic scorer Donovan Mitchell and defensive menace Rudy Gobert in starring roles. The supporting cast of Mike Conley Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson and Derrick Favors are more than capable of getting them over the top. The concern is getting it done when the lights are bright and the pressure is on.
The Nuggets have constant triple-double threat Nikola Jokic and emerging star Jamal Murray paving the way. The role players of Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, Paul Millsap, JaVale McGee and x-factor Michael Porter Jr. can all contribute to a title run. The concern is the team being focused enough to be consistent.
The Clippers have a pair of All-NBA performers in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George doing the heavy lifting. The “others” include Rajon Rondo, Serge Ibaka, Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac and Reggie Jackson. They must produce for them to advance far. The concern is mentally getting over last year’s playoff collapse.
Three teams in contention have a puncher’s chance to upset a team or two, because of some outstanding individual talent. Those teams are the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers and Dallas Mavericks.
The Suns have Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton carrying them. The supporting cast of Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Dario Saric must show up to help the cause. The concern is a lack of experience from key contributors.
The Trailblazers have a dynamic duo in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The supporting cast of Carmelo Anthony, Norman Powell, Enes Kanter, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic can make this team very dangerous. The concern is getting enough consistent play from enough players.
The Mavericks have Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis leading them. The complimentary players of Josh Richardson, Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr., Max Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith must give a steady contribution. The concern is their commitment on the defensive end.
Rounding out the playoff picture is the team “Just Invited.” A team without a realistic chance at advancing. The San Antonio Spurs are that lone team in the West. The Spurs have some good, young talent to work with in Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker and Devin Vassell.
Heading into the season, the assumption was that the defending champion Lakers would get back to the Finals. But heavy is the head that wears the crown. The challengers are coming. In waves.