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The Return Of The NBA Part Five: A Western Tussle
Photo Courtesy of The Forth-Worth Star Telegram

The Return Of The NBA Part Five: A Western Tussle

Ab Stanley

The NBA’s Western Conference has a bunch of teams that could really make a push for the title. As a matter of fact, there are a few teams that could win multiple titles in the next few years.

The conference is 2-2 in the last four NBA Finals and this year’s rubber match could swing power the other way if they aren’t careful.

There’s a thought that the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers will duke it out for conference supremacy as the current one and two seed. Here’s a look at the teams that have a very good chance of overtaking them to get to the NBA Finals:

 

Centerpiece

The Denver Nuggets have good mix of veterans splashed into a base of pure young talent. Led by Nikola Jokic (20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists) and Jamal Murray (18.8 points per game), Denver plays an almost traditional inside-outside game that’s hard to beat. The scary part about Denver is they have players that haven’t reached their potential yet and they’re already good.

 

Spotlight: Passive Aggressive

Denver is fourth in the league in assists at 26.5 per game, spreading the ball around to able bodied scorers. With Jokic getting much of the attention, plus his knack for finding open players all over the court, Denver’s offense maintains a great flow when he’s on the floor.

 

A Pair OF Aces

When talking about the Houston Rockets, there’s no reason to waste time talking about different things. You can talk about Mike D’Antoni’s small ball philosophy, or the many talented role players they have but it will all comes down to the play of James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Harden leads the league in scoring at 34.4 points per game to go along with 7.4 assists. Westbrook is averaging 27.5 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists per game. I can’t see a narrative where this team wins and these two don’t go off.

 

Spotlight: To Be Three Or Free

The Rockets lead the league in three point shot attempts (2, 832) but they are close to the bottom in three point shooting percentage. That type of formula kills scoring runs by the team and conversely extends them for opponents. They also rank second in most free throws taken, which shows they can get some shots up around the rim.

Houston should be trying to get to the free throw line more than hoisting up errant three points shots. They will ultimately follow the lead of Harden and Westbrook. Can both come through in the playoffs?

 

Singing The Blues

Donovan Mitchell (24.2 points per game) leads the Jazz into a big test without a big piece. Utah will go into the bubble without it’s second leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic. Can the Jazz sustain a blow like that and keep their seeding with so many teams right on their heels?

 

Spotlight: Downtown Vibes

The Jazz lead the NBA in three point shooting percentage. They’re not even ranked inside the top ten in attempts, which shows they take smart threes where the players are open. Players like Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have to get more shots inside to keep those wing players open.

The loss of Bogdanovic, however, might be too big a blow to overcome.

Utah could use another guy who averages over 20 points per game: can anybody step up for them?

 

Two Sides Of Time

The Oklahoma City Thunder have exceeded expectations by positioning themselves smack-dab in the middle of the playoff race. The dual point guard backcourt of Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have combined to average 37.0 points and 10.1 assists per game.

Can the old grizzled veteran and his young running-mate fuel a Cinderella type playoff run for the Thunder?

 

Spotlight: Supporting Role

Dennis Schroeder (19.0 points and 4.1 assists per game)  and Danilo Gallinari (19.2 points per game) have been relied upon heavily for their scoring. These two players have to take pressure off of the starting back court and provide a bit more of a scoring punch. Schroeder is instant energy off the bench while Gallinari’s height and skill set makes him a tough match up for defenses.

The Thunder have a shot but it’s a very slim one.

 

Texas International

Luka Doncic is averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game . Kristaps Porzingis (19.2 points, 9.5 rebounds per game) has healed up during the break and is ready to go. Does Dallas have the duo that can upstage the leagues top teams?

 

Spotlight: Lock And Launch

Dallas is second in three pointers attempted and first in three pointers made. In fact, Doncic, Porzingis, Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway take a combined 28.5 threes per game which is about five threes less than the league average. They will no doubt continue to launch threes at a high rate, for better or for worse.

It might not be the worst idea, considering how the Mavericks won their last championship.

 

It will be a dog fight just to make it to the Western Conference Finals but these teams have the pieces to do it.

About Ab Stanley

Atlanta, GA

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