The NBA’s Western Conference has been the dominant conference for the last couple of decades. The amount of championships on that side of the draw has far outweighed that of their eastern counterparts.
The 2020-2021 season has a plethora of teams at the top that haven’t done much of anything in terms of winning a championship. None of the four teams left have made the NBA Finals this millennium.
Setting Sun Rising Again
The Phoenix Suns have knocked off the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and left a true void in the conference. With no clear cut favorite, the Suns could very well be on their way to their first Finals appearance since 1993.
Devin Booker could now be considered the premier shooting guard in the Western Conference. He shredded the Lakers to the tune of 29.7 points per game. His amazing shooting and prowess to take over games keeps the pressure on his defender and the team’s next opponent isn’t known for their stellar defense.
Chris Paul has added a steady hand to this young team. The 16 year veteran has his bag of tricks working, but (of course) the injury bug has bit him once again. Paul needs to work through a shoulder injury if he plans on pushing Phoenix to the pinnacle.
DeAndre Ayton has provided solid play in the middle, averaging 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game during the playoffs. If he can continue to provide an inside presence, the Phoenix attack could stay balanced.
Phoenix is a young team with a few veterans and the ultimate driver at the wheel.
Ace In The Hole
Nikola Jokic has shown his MVP pedigree so far this postseason. He’s averaging 33.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in the playoffs and his play is vital to whatever Denver hopes to achieve.
The Nuggets led all Western Conference teams in scoring during round one (120.8 points per game). Unforseen contributions from Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris and Austin Rivers have given opponents more things to think about on the court.
Ultimately, the progression of Michael Porter Jr. might be the biggest reason Denver advances. He’s averaging 18.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game during the playoffs, proving (at times) that you can ride his game on the offensive end.
The combination of Porter and Jokic could end up being way too much for the upcoming opposition. The two have combined to hit 33 long range shots during the playoffs. Their height and skill make it tough to stop them from shooting at will.
Denver has one guy that’s known for his top level play. It might be the play of the unknowns that ultimately swings the pendulum in their favor.
Playing To A Different Beat
The Utah Jazz could be deemed the forgotten top seed. A team nobody has picked to make the Finals, much less win the NBA championship. The team with the NBA’s best record does not wield the top notch firepower of other teams, but they might have the best overall arsenal.
In round one, the Jazz had five players average at least 17.0 points per game. Donovan Mitchell averaged 28.5 points per to lead the way and Utah was undefeated with him on the floor. Can he continue his top notch play and lead the Jazz into the Conference Finals?
They have veterans like Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson (off the bench) playing very well and pouring it on offensively. Utah needs these two guys to apply as much of an offensive imprint as possible. Without them, the team can’t possibly muster up enough points to advance.
Rudy Gobert (17.4 points, 13.0 rebounds) will be a tough match up in the middle, but he will have his fair share of tough big men to contend with. He will have to raise his game another level and provide a consistent second punch to Mitchell.
It won’t be easy for the Jazz, but it’s nowhere near impossible.
L.A. Story Rebooted
There’s no statistic you can use when it come down to the Los Angeles Clippers’ chances at winning the championship. Their chances rest on the shoulders of three people.
Head coach Tyronn Lue will have to use every trick in the book to pull off the unimaginable feat. His job more than anything will be to keep Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in the right state of mind. Lue will have to get his team ready to play defense with the onslaught of offensive minded players left in the postseason.
Leonard and George will need to push the envelope on both sides of the ball.
Leonard is averaging 32.1 points per game in the postseason. He’s looking more like a former Finals MVP every time he takes the court. George is averaging 23.5 points per game in his attempt to erase recent playoff memories.
The Clippers have gotten strong performances from their role players like Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum in round one. Their offense and scrappy play has added a much needed punch, especially on the road.
The Clippers have never made it to the NBA Finals and with this version of the franchise that has been a failure. That could change in a matter of weeks, but it’s still the same story until then.