Now onto the Western Conference…
Golden State Warriors
(Last season’s record: 58-24)
There isn’t much left to say about the Warriors. After breaking the single season win record with 73 wins in 2016, the team then signed Kevin Durant, who many consider to be the best player in the league. This led to back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018. Apparently the Warriors still weren’t satisfied, and this summer added a 4x All-NBA center in DeMarcus Cousins.
Golden State is now the first team in NBA history to feature a starting lineup with ALL 5 starters being All-Stars. Durant is a top 3 player in the league, and has an MVP trophy and two Finals MVP trophies to back his case. Cousins is recovering from an ACL injury and likely won’t be back in action until December, but is one of the most dominant players at the center position when healthy. Running point for the Warriors is Steph Curry, who many already consider to be of the greatest shooters of all time. Curry has been the gold standard of point guards in the league for years, with his playmaking ability being the catalyst that makes the Warriors offense hum. Add in Klay Thompson, who would be a number one scoring option on most other teams, averaging 20 PPG as a premier three-point shooter. Oh, and don’t forget Draymond Green, a former Defensive POY in his own right.
Bottom Line: A true dynasty in the making, this years edition of the Warriors is looking to be one of the most potent and dangerous offenses in history. The fun should continue for Golden State fans, as their team looks set to coast to a third straight championship tile run.
(Last season’s record: 65-17)
The Rockets managed to steal the number one seed in the conference from the
Warriors last season, but ultimately fell to the eventual champs in Game 7 of the Conference Finals. Golden State is even better this year, but Houston is still their toughest challenge in the West.
James Harden (above) was the league’s Most Valuable Player last year, averaging a whopping 30.5 PPG. In one-on-one situations, Harden just might be the toughest matchup on the planet for defenders. Another MVP season is a realistic possibility for one of the best scorers in the game. Harden’s backcourt mate, Chris Paul, is one of the best point guards in the league despite entering his 14th season. The future Hall of Famer has led the league in steals 6 times, in assists 4 times, and is a nine time All-Star. If Paul hadn’t suffered an injury in the playoffs last year, the Rockets may have been able to knock off the Warriors. In hopes of taking that next step, Houston signed Carmelo Anthony. NBA fans know how great “Melo” was when he was in his prime. He has regressed a bit in recent years, but still has the raw ability to impact games with his knack for scoring that has made him a 10x All-Star .
Bottom Line: Houston’s “Big 3” may only be matched by Golden State and Boston. At full health, the Rockets should comfortably be set up in the top two of the Western Conference. Another rumble with the defending champs is likely.
Oklahoma City Thunder
(Last season’s record: 48-34)
A mainstay powerhouse in the West, the Thunder have made the playoffs eight times in the last nine years. No championships have been won yet, however. Every year the Thunder look to have one of the best rosters, but always manage to fall short when it matters. Could this year prove to be different?
There have been 3 players in NBA history to average a triple double (10+ points, 10+assists, and 10+rebounds in a game). Those players: Oscar Robertson in 1961, Russell Westbrook in 2017, and Russell Westbrook again in 2018. That goes to show you just how good the superstar Thunder point guard is. Perhaps the most electrifying player in the league, the energy and explosiveness Westbrook possess is unmatched. Shooting guard Paul George is the team’s other superstar, who’s own ability keeps opposing defenses honest and opens the floor for Westbrook. A perennial All-Star, George can shoot from deep and play stellar defense. Center Steven Adams has been developing into a rock solid compliment to Westbrook and George, and this year has potential to be a major breakout campaign.
Bottom Line: Once again, all the talent is in place for OKC to make a deep run. It will be tough to take down the Warriors, but this year seems to be the best chance since the departure of Kevin Durant for the Thunder to make it out of the West.
(Last season’s record: 46-36)
The Nuggets drew the short end of the stick last season, missing the playoffs by just a singular game. All sign point towards improvement this year, and Denver hopes to be on the other side of the elimination line. With a roster that is chalk-full of promising young talent, this is a team that has potential to grow into a serious threat out West.
The centerpiece is Nikola Jokic, the bigman from Serbia who has become one of the most well rounded centers in the game. Next to him down low this season will be Paul Millsap, who is a 4x All-Star, but missed most of last season with an injury. His return will be a key for the Nuggets, as Millsap is extremely productive on both sides of the ball. Denver also drafted Michael Porter Jr in this years draft, who was a top college player in the nation, although in a very limited sample. He fell to Denver with the 14th pick due to concerns over his two back surgeries, but could be the steal of the draft if all goes well. The most intriguing storyline for this team,however, will be the play of Isaiah Thomas (above). In the 2017 season, Thomas was arguably a top 5 player on the league, finishing second in MVP voting and single handedly carrying the Boston Celtics to within one game of the NBA Finals. Since then, however, injuries have plagued him and Thomas hasn’t returned to that form.
Bottom Line: The return of Millsap and the reemergence of Isaiah Thomas will determine just how far the Nuggets can climb in the standings. More than likely, Denver won’t be worrying about missing the playoffs this year.
(Last season’s record: 48-34)
The Jazz won 29 out of their final 35 games last year, and took the fifth seed in the West. They managed to knock the Thunder out in the first round before losing to the Houston Rockets. The upcoming campaign has the potential to be even better for Utah, and Jazz fans are hoping for the first title in franchise history.
Rookie Donovan Mitchell (above) was one of the best stories of last season, as the 12th pick in the draft blew away everyone picked before him and had an outstanding first year. The Louisville product was the top player on his team, and led them to the second round of the playoffs. Many people (including myself) believe that Mitchell should have won Rookie of the Year, but he ultimately came in second place to Ben Simmons of Philadelphia. At the center position stands 7’1 Rudy Gobert, who is undoubtedly one of the most imposing defenders the league has to offer. Gobert won Defensive POY last season, and led the league in blocks in 2017. Veteran floor general Ricky Rubio and sharpshooter Joe Ingles will start along the MItchell/Gobert duo to from one of the most balanced lineups in the league.
Bottom Line: Somewhat overlooked due to the star power of other teams in the conference, the Jazz have major upside and can do damage in the postseason. Things are looking bright in Salt Lake City.
Los Angeles Lakers
(Last season’s record: 35-47)
Unless you live under a rock, you know what the Lakers have done this summer. The signing of LeBron James sent shockwaves throughout the NBA universe, and completely changes the balance of power in the league. With the Cavaliers and the Heat, LeBron has made the Finals each of the past 8 seasons. He is now in the Western Conference for the first time in his 16 year career.
James has officially made his way into the conversation to be considered as one of the greatest players in history. He will try to add to his legacy by carrying a Lakers team that finished 12 games under .500 last season to a championship. One of the lone bright spots for the team was rookie Kyle Kuzma. As the 27th pick last year, not much was expected of Kuzma, but the power forward from the University of Utah exceeded expectations and will now be a top option for the team. The front office also signed veteran point guard Rajon Rondo in the offseason. An NBA champion and 4x All-Star, Rondo has been one of the most prolific passers in the game since his arrival, leading the league in three separate seasons. The development of young forward Brandon Ingram will also be key. Ingram’s length makes him an excellent defender, which could prove to be very helpful against some of the elite competition the Lakers will face in the playoffs.
Bottom Line: Any team with LeBron James is capable of taking a trip to the Finals. The key to success will be how the rest of the role players fit together to help him. If all goes well, this could be a Finals-caliber team. If not, LeBron might miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
(Last season’s record: 47-35)
The Timberwolves snuck into the playoffs last year by a single game, capturing the 8th seed. Unfortunately that meant they had to play the Warriors, and were swept away in four games. Health was an issue last year, however, and if they can stay on the floor, Minnesota can be very dangerous.
As of now, Jimmy Butler is the best overall player on the team, but trade rumors are swirling after Butler apparently asked out of the organization. Should he leave, young center Karl Anthony-Towns will become the centerpiece of the team. One of the brightest young talents, Towns is poised to be a face of the NBA in the future. Towns and Butler are currently flanked by Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague, who both have been on the team for a long time, which helps the chemistry aspect and could lead to a higher seed this year. The biggest X factor will be the play of Derrick Rose. One of the saddest stories of recent memory, Rose was the youngest MVP in league history and was on the way to becoming on the the best point guards the NBA had ever seen. Injuries then plagued him, as multiple ACL tears have hindered every return. If Rose returns to even a sliver of his old self, Minnesota could become tough to stop.
Bottom Line: he fate of Jimmy Butler could determine how far this team can go. Towns continuing his development and the possibility of a full-strength Rose offers enough hope that a strong season should be upon the horizon for the Timberwolves.
Portland Trail Blazers
(Last season’s record: 49-33)
Portland rode a fantastic regular season all the way to the third seed in the West, only to be swept in the first round of the playoffs by New Orleans. After a disappointing result, the team did not make any major changes to the roster and will return an almost identical team.
The Blazers feature one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league, with Damian Lillard (above) leading the charge. A 4x All-Star, Lillard made the All-NBA team last year after putting up great numbers across the board. This year should be another career year, as he is Portland’s clear-cut top scoring option. CJ McCollum is one of the more underrated players in the league, averaging 21.5 PPG and shooting a consistent 41% from the three point line. But outside of the two of them, Portland is rather thin on consistent scorers. Depth could become an issue, and points may be hard to come by in the minutes without Lillard or McCollum on the floor.
Bottom Line: The biggest question surrounding Portland will be whether or not they can tread water in the very competitive Western Conference. Without any major changes to the roster, another top three finish will be a lot harder to come by for the Blazers.
San Antonio Spurs
(Last season’s record: 47-35)
In what has been one of the most unthinkable streaks in basketball, the Spurs have made the playoffs every year since 1997, and have only missed out on the playoffs once since 1989. Unfortunately, this season may be the one to put a cap on that streak. A dwindling roster that is nothing compared to what has been on San Antonio in the glory days, it could be a gritty type of season for the Spurs.
In the most massive trade the summer, the Spurs traded away franchise player Kawhi Leonard, who was reportedly unhappy being in San Antonio. In return, the team was gifted DeMar Derozan (above), who will now step in as the go-to guy on his new team. The 2x All-NBA shooting guard has been an elite player and was one of the best players in Toronto history. Derozan will lead an aging Spurs team, featuring the likes of Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. Gasol is in his 17th NBA season, and the 2x NBA champion is now 38 years old. Gasol’s fellow power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is likely the teams best scorer aside from Derozan, being a 6x All-Star and leading the Spurs in PPG last season. The wto experienced veterans will have to learn how to mesh with Derozan and rookie Lonnie Walker IV in hopes of restoring what was once an elite Spurs offense.
Bottom Line: A very different feel from what Spurs fans are likely used to, the Spurs will be fighting to stay afloat in the West. The streak is in jeopardy this year. Will it continue?
(Last season’s record: 24-55)
In what was a season to forget in Dallas, the Mavs finished with the fourth worst winning percentage in the league last season. This season, all arrows are pointing up, and with some new faces on the squad, the Mavericks could be a sleeper team to watch.
Nobody even thinks about the Mavericks without thinking about Dirk Nowitzki. The 40 year old German is entering his 21st season, all of them being with Dallas. Nowitzki has done just about everything, as a 13x All-Star, a league MVP, and NBA Champion, and a Finals MVP. The future Hall of Famer is surrounded by more young talent this year than in the last few years, as well.New acquisition, 3x All-NBA selection DeAndre Jordan is a freakishly athletic center, which will take a lot of pressure off of the the aging Nowitzki. Jordan will pair with sophomore Dennis Smith Jr to form a high-flying duo unlike any other in the league. The wild-card for Dallas will be rookie Luka Doncic. The third overall pick in this year’s draft, Doncic is just 19 years old, but played professionally overseas and won a lot of accolades against some of the best European pros. The Mavericks are hoping he will turn out like a certain other European player that they took a chance on.
Bottom Line: A new era is taking shape in Dallas, and this season could mark the beginning of a turnaround. Don’t overlook Dallas this season.
There you have it! If your team didn’t make the cut, sorry, but that will likely be the least of your suffering this year. There will always be a breakout team or a disappointing season, but this should steer you in the right path and give you the gist of what to expect.