NBA Commissioner Adam Silver handled a troubled and bumpy 2020-21 season well. The result was an exciting playoffs that had one of the most watched conference and championship finals in years. This season we should see more sold out arenas and fans cheering for their favorite teams. When it comes to play, eight teams will stand out and make a push for deep playoff runs. Time to break down which teams in the western conference have the best shot to make the playoffs and advance past play-in rounds.
#1 Los Angeles Lakers
The easiest choice bolstered by the return of center Anthony Davis makes the Lakers an instant favorite. Los Angeles added more players that pushes them to the number one prediction. Kent Bazemore, Trevor Ariza, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony give Frank Vogel’s team better starting guards and complimentary talent who can score against playoff bound opponents. They might reach the finals if most of the roster is healthy by May.
#2 Utah Jazz
They had the best record last year for good reasons. The Jazz just couldn’t win a critical playoff series. Newly signed center Hassan Whiteside will turn heads in Quin Snyder’s defense. The return of guards Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell puts many teams in difficult positions to guard especially when they drive to the paint or shoot three’s consistently. Forwards Rudy Gay, Eric Paschall, Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic should be consistent on scoring and defense. Just don’t expect them to cruise to a number one seed like last year.
#3 Denver Nuggets
Another team that performs well in the regular season but struggles at times in the playoffs, Denver has better talent and depth to compliment league MVP Nikola Jokic compared to the last two years.
A full season of Aaron Gordon helps not only the forward depth but it gives time to both offense and defense to work with each other in better ways. PJ Dozier and Jeff Green should have an easier time playing in games whenever Gordon leaves. Jamal Murray will return some time this season and it’ll be a plus to the guard position that is starting Monte Morris at point beginning of the year. Bones Hyland comes to a team desperate at shooting guard. He could see a lot of minutes in the first half of the season.
#4 Dallas Mavericks
Jason Kidd has much to work with regarding a talented roster that failed to win a first round series up two games to none against the Los Angeles Clippers. Kidd’s biggest test is helping team and league star Luka Doncic take the next step to greatness and closer to winning a championship. Whether that involves trading or helping Kristaps Porzingis play his role to avoid team conflict.
Dallas made sure to re-sign free agents such as Tim Hardaway Jr. but didn’t add pivotal players to take pressure off the franchise stars. That shows Dallas’ front office wants coaching to be the difference and why the team can make it to the second round of the playoffs. Thankfully they’re the best team in a weak Southwest division.
#5 Golden State Warriors
Last year was going to be better than the 2019-20 season no matter what happened. James Wiseman was one of the top three rookies in the league and was coveted in trade talks. This year the Warriors get shooting guard Klay Thompson back at some point. The trio of Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will be a threat heading into the playoffs. In fact, Vegas gives the Warriors fourth best odds to win the championship.
While Thompson will return middle of the season, Golden State will be working on their depth, role players and development of new stars. First round picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody should contribute when needed. It helps older players such as Andre Iguodala develop and tutor the rookie and sophomore players to take the next steps, playing with franchise stars and learning how to play under pressure in critical games. Finally, Otto Porter Jr. is an upgrade at forward in case Green or Andrew Wiggins can’t play or need rest.
The Warriors will be a threat in the second half of the season, so expect the team to struggle the first few months. Should they finish in the middle of the western conference, they have a good chance of reaching the conference finals.
#6 Los Angeles Clippers
Franchise star Kawhi Leonard won’t play the regular season and that means the Clippers will be in the bottom parts of playoff predictions. All four of their draft picks in the first two rounds were guards, three of them shooting.
The picks will be pivotal when Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe need rest. Terance Mann is good depth to replace Bledsoe, but Justise Winslow is a question mark at pointguard. Los Angeles did secure forward and center depth with last season’s trades. Coach Ty Lue can find adjustments even early in the season. Still, without their main star the Clippers could have a turbulent time if they’re inconsistent monthly.
#7 Portland Trailblazers
They don’t have last year’s depth but with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum leading, they’ll clinch playoff berths late in the season. New coach Chauncey Billups could play rookie Greg Brown III early since Robert Covington is the best forward on the team. A full season from Jusuf Nurkic helps a team that was terrible on defense most of last season. There aren’t many solid choices left for the playoffs, so Portland’s a best bet to clinch a spot near the bottom and win a play-in game.
#8 Memphis Grizzlies
Year three of coach/star player duo Taylor Jenkins and Ja Morant should not disappoint. Both have grown since arriving to the Grizzlies. Jenkins’ team reached the play-in round and advanced to the playoffs, winning one game against the Utah Jazz and earning respect from fans and analysts in the league. This year will build off that more, but Memphis could struggle at times with a conference full of talented teams and veteran roster depth even in their own division. It’s possible they’re a much higher seeded team next year, since they’re still learning.
The acquisitions of Kris Dunn and Steven Adams solidifies better defense and depth when needed. Memphis knew additional height and talent was a must and drafted a forward and a center with their two first round picks.
Memphis has more talent than San Antonio and has younger players and additional height to contend and move past Phoenix. Don’t be surprised if they win play-in games against both teams to clinch the eighth seed.
Play-in teams that will miss the playoffs: Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs
Last year’s conference predictions: 6-2