Contenders or Pretenders: Western Conference playoff picture

The Western Conference is a tight race every year with elite teams in bunches. This year is no different as there’s already multiple 50-win teams with about a month of NBA basketball left. With few mediocre teams in the conference, I will look to group them into Contenders, Middle of the Pack, and Pretenders. This list will only feature teams with a win percentage higher than 40%.

The official 2017 NBA Western Conference standings via basketball-reference are: 

Contenders:

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. San Antonio Spurs
  3. Houston Rockets
  4. Los Angeles Clippers

Even though this isn’t how they rank in the standings, these 4 teams have the best chance of making it out of the West. Each team has their positives and negatives but the Warriors are still the best team here. They have the reigning 2-time MVP Stephen Curry and with the addition of former MVP Kevin Durant, this team is more than formidable. Although Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs will have a lot to say about who comes out on top. Even with minimal all-star caliber talent, Kawhi and famed coach Gregg Popovich are close to taking over the top seed.

Meanwhile, the Rockets and Clippers are both good enough to defeat either aforementioned team. But their inexperience in winning conference Finals games could hold them back. James Harden and his Rockets will need to prove they can make threes continuously on the road to the finals. And the Chris Paul and Blake Griffin combo must continue to improve along with coach Doc Rivers to take the Clippers to the next level.

Middle of the Pack:

  1. Utah Jazz
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder
  3. Memphis Grizzlies
  4. Portland Trailblazers
Utah Jazz teammates Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward

 
The Utah Jazz are a team that has been over-performing but are a worthy team. They are on the brink of contenders but are just missing one more vital piece. 
Gordon Hayward has been stellar all season and got voted to his first All-Star game. But in order for the Jazz to reach contender status, they need to acquire one more star level player in the offseason. On the other hand, The Oklahoma City Thunder are a team in a state of perplexity. Losing Kevin Durant in the offseason ruined in chance of them making any real noise in the playoffs. But this didn’t stop Russell Westbrook from balling out of control averaging a triple-double so far for the season. The lack of talent around him is what will end the end cause OKC to falter.

The Memphis Grizzlies are a team always in contention but this year seem to take a step back performance-wise. While they are still high on the rankings, they still need to add a wing scorer to take pressure off Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Lastly, the Portland Trailblazers still have a solid team but has been grossly underperforming. The trade deadline move for Jusef Nurkic has helped but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will need to elevate their play exponentially to become contenders.

Pretenders:

  1. Denver Nuggets
  2. Dallas Mavericks
  3. New Orleans Pelicans
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Nuggets’ Will Barton dishes a sweet no-look pass to Kenneth Faried

Currently, the Denver Nuggets are sitting at 8th in the Western Conference standings but have been teetering. With Portland rearing right behind them, the young impact players for Denver must really step up. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic must continue their high-level play in their early careers. The Dallas Mavericks are an older team with some young bright spots. Harrison Barnes isn’t quite a star and Dirk Nowitzki is too old to carry a team by himself to a high playoff seed. In the offseason, if Dallas can find a star-caliber guard, they can be revived in Dirk’s final NBA season.

Likewise, the New Orleans Pelicans have a good mix of experience but lack real depth. They acquired DeMarcus Cousins in a shock trade deadline move but in turn, decimated their roster. If they can find guard/wing talent in the draft or free agency to pair with Cousins and Anthony Davis, look out for this team in the playoff race. And lastly the Minnesota Timberwolves have a real solid team with potential superstars. Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns could become one of the best 1-2 punches in the league when they put it together but are not ready yet.

Western Conference Playoff Outlook

Barring any other major injuries, the Contenders on this list realistically have the best chance of making out of the Western Conference. Most project the Warriors will win the conference for the third straight season but the competition is fierce. With the now lack of bench depth and injury to Kevin Durant, Golden State have been put on notice. Houston and San Antonio are also capable teams and will make this an interesting Western Conference playoff race. 

Davon Moore

Sports junkie…. something of a Savant about the Sport of Basketball. Please comment below any article and express your thoughts with me!

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