Too-early NBA playoff prediction: The Western Conference

Oct 24, 2019
PHOTO: AP

The Warriors dynasty is officially over and it's a free-for-all in the wild, wild West.

The top teams of the conference will be vying to fill the void that Golden State has left behind, and big offseason moves from Houston, the two Los Angeles squads, and Utah should make for a highly competitive season.

Add to that the possible logjam at the eighth spot with teams like the Spurs, Pelicans, Mavericks, Kings, and maybe even the Timberwolves duking it out for that final playoff seed and we've got the makings of one of the more exciting seasons in recent years.

Unfortunately for the other teams, only eight squads will make it to the Western Conference postseason. Find out who we think will make the cut in the second edition of our too-early NBA playoff predictions.

8. San Antonio Spurs

2018-19 record: 48-34

Prediction: 41-41

We initially pegged the Pelicans to end the Spurs' 22-year playoff streak this season. But with Zion Williamson's scheduled knee surgery, the door is once again wide open for the Popovich-helmed squad to take the eighth spot in the West. LaMarcus Aldridge's game has aged well and should still have at least one more 20-point, nine-rebound season in the tank. DeMar DeRozan remains one of the best all-rounders in the league and will contribute numbers across the stat sheet for the Spurs. They won't win as many games last year because a lot of Western teams suddenly got better, but if DeRozan and Aldridge remain as durable as they were in previous seasons, the path is clear for another playoff appearance for San Antonio.

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7. Golden State Warriors

2018-19 record: 57-25

Prediction: 43-39

With Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson still recovering from an ACL injury, it's easy to dismiss the Golden State Warriors' chances at nabbing a playoff spot. That they will also be missing the services of Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston only complicates matters for the San Francisco-based squad. But fortunately for the Warriors, they have one of the handful of people who can carry a team to playoffs in Steph Curry. He might have to break his three-point record this season to do so, but if Curry, Draymond Green, and new addition D'Angelo Russell can hold the fort down until Klay eventually returns, then the Warriors will most likely be engaged in postseason competition.

6. Los Angeles Lakers

2018-19 record: 37-45

Prediction: 45-37

The Lakers seemed like a joke after trading away an entire lineup's worth of players for Anthony Davis in the offseason. But now, they actually have a pretty decent roster that can make a push for the playoffs. They've since surrounded the superstar tandem of AD and LeBron James with decent role players that can space the floor and also provide a boost on the defensive end. And if Kyle Kuzma continues his upward trend and Dwight Howard finally plays the right way, then this team could realistically make it to the bottom half of the playoffs. The inconsistency of their bench and the inevitable rest days for LeBron will hinder them from climbing any higher in the rankings. But with AD in the fold, they should be a lot better than last season.

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5. Portland Trail Blazers

2018-19 record: 53-29

Prediction: 51-31

Portland made a few more changes to their roster in the offseason than we expected, but as long as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are still in the fold, then the Blazers are still going to be highly competitive. The Blazers are hoping Hassan Whiteside returns to his 2016-17 form, but he still should be a double-double threat regardless, while also providing more blocks than their previous big men. Kent Bazemore should provide a solid option off the bench to help lessen the damage of losing both Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu. They should be more or less at the same caliber as their last campaign, it's just that more teams have become better and will most likely nudge them out of their Top 3 finish from last season.

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    4. Utah Jazz

    2018-19 record: 50-32

    Prediction: 53-29

    This Utah team is probably the best it has been in years, perhaps since the Stockton-Malone era. With the arrival of elite point guard Mike Conley and sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz should now have enough firepower to go deeper in the playoffs. Conley is an upgrade over Ricky Rubio and should fit perfectly playing alongside Donovan Mitchell. Bogdanovic was a revelation for the Pacers after losing Victor Oladipo and should be a solid piece for the Jazz. Both new additions should help address Utah's lack of scoring and ease the pressure on Mitchell, which should make him a more efficient offensive threat this season. Couple that with Rudy Gobert anchoring their defense, and they should be one of the best teams in the entire league.

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    3. Houston Rockets

    2018-19 record: 53-29

    Prediction: 54-28

    The Russell Westbrook-James Harden tandem can go in vastly different directions. Having two ball-dominant scorers on the floor could possibly spell disaster for Houston's 2019-20 campaign. But if it clicks, and we're leaning towards this scenario, they could finally be on the road to the NBA Finals. Both superstars have mentioned their willingness to relinquish personal stats for team success and while that remains to be seen, the sheer firepower of the two MVPs is difficult to disregard. The Rockets have also kept their core intact with Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and PJ Tucker all returning to round out the team's starting five.

    2. Los Angeles Clippers

    2018-19 record: 48-34

    Prediction: 55-27

    If not for Kawhi Leonard's load management history and Paul George's injury, we would have put the Clippers at No. 1. But it is what it is, and the Clippers know that they don't need to win the most games to become a legitimate championship threat. They are perhaps the only team in the league that can flat-out dominate on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, especially when the duo of Leonard and George are at 100%. And that's just the tip of the iceberg for this Clippers team. We're not exaggerating when we say that they are at least two-deep in every position with players like Lou Williams, Maurice Harkless, JaMychal Green, and Montrezl Harrell coming off the bench. Of those names, Williams and Harrell stand out as starting-caliber players that are luxuries to have in the second unit and should help the Clips win a whole lot of games.

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    1. Denver Nuggets

    2018-19 record: 54-28

    Prediction: 60-22

    With another year of experience under the belts of their young stars, the return of steady veteran Paul Millsap, and what will most likely be another near trip-dub average for Nikola Jokic, we project the Nuggets as the team to beat in the West. Other upper tier teams might have more talented individuals in their lineups, but the Nuggets will be the most cohesive unit among the elite squads this season, having no major changes to their lineup from last season. Perhaps their best addition to the squad has already been with them for a year in Michael Porter, Jr. and if he plays as advertised, then Denver will easily reach, maybe even breach, the 60-win mark.

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    PHOTO: AP
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