The NBA’s western conference has been the more dominant conference for a long time, but the win-loss columns really show it this year.
While teams only have one game left, the east still has a race for the eight-seed, while the west is essentially set. The only change could be the seeding between the Jazz and Clippers, but they’d still face each other in the quarter-finals regardless.
With that in mind, here’s a break-down of each western conference team going to the dance.
Be sure to check our other previews:
Eastern Conference (#4-1)
NBA Playoff Picture: The West (Part One)
(8) Portland Trail Blazers
At the beginning of the season, despite losing LaMarcus Aldridge, this is where I would’ve had this team end up. And my only reason would be Damian Lillard.
Not only is he the engine that makes this team run, but he is extremely good and extremely underrated. This season, he’s averaged 27 pts, 4.9 reb and 5.9 ast in 75 games and it’s been his best shooting season of his career.
However, Lillard has some help. C.J. McCollum – coming off of his Most Improved Player award – got better, averaging 23 pts, 3.6 reb, 3.6 ast and is almost shooting a 40-50-90 in 80 games. They also have four other players averaging double-figure points, which means they have guys who can step up.
In fact, the Trail Blazers’ offence is seventh in the league in points for. The problem is their defense is 25th in points allowed, so the big test for this team will be their ability to contain opposing offenses enough to outscore them.
Another factor is whether they’ll be healthy. Lillard is supposed to be playing in the team’s last regular season game on Wednesday, but Allen Crabbe and McCollum are questionable for Wednesday, Jusuf Nurkic is questionable for the first-round of the playoffs and both Ed Davis and Festus Ezeli are done for the season.
Those two obstacles will be tough enough when facing GSW in the opening round, but add the fact that they’re 0-3 against the Warriors this regular season and it looks like it could be a first-round exit for the Trail Blazers.
(7) Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis is a weird team right now.
They’ve had the same solid core of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph – each of whom are having respectable seasons – for forever (it seems) and the team is healthy, with the exception of Chandler Parsons, who’s done for the season. However he’s had injury problems all season, so really, the Grizzlies have the roster they’ve had all year.
Unlike a lot of teams in the west, Memphis is not a run-and-gun, small-ball, offensive juggernaut. The only guys averaging double-figures in points is Conley, Gasol and Randolph.
Now, that’s not to say they don’t score – they average 100.6 points per game – but they slow the pace down and rely heavily on their defense. The team allows 100 points per game – good for third in the league – and have a great defender in Tony Allen, as well as a lot of guys who fill their respective roles well.
They may have also lucked out with their first-round matchup. The Grizzlies will be facing the San Antonio Spurs, a team with more star power but has a similar style of play. Memphis also won the regular season series 2-1.
They’ve also proven that they can beat any team in the west’s top-8, so don’t sleep on Memphis and expect the opening round to be a good one.
(6) Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder will go as far as Russell Westbrook takes them. I said it before when I tried defining the criteria of an MVP; if you take Westbrook off this team, they’re in the lottery instead of the playoffs.
Westbrook literally had to average a triple-double for OKC to make it this far, because nobody on the team can do anything in terms of creating. So, when Westbrook came off the floor, you could see the team struggle.
Now, all of that said, they’ll be heading into the playoffs healthy, they’re 11th in points per game and have a top-10 defensive rating. And despite the 1-3 regular season record against the Houston Rockets, three of those games were a one-possession game.
It’s also possible that Westbrook tears Houston to shreds. In those four games, he’s averaged 36.3 pts on 45 per cent shooting and recorded two triple-doubles. The big concern is, when teams key-in on Westbrook, who’s going to step up.
(5) Utah Jazz
This is a low-key good team.
The organization handled the rebuild properly and now they’re sitting atop their division.
The acquisition of George Hill in the off-season was big, but Gordon Hayward had an all-star year and Rudy Gobert is a beast down low. They also have the type of roster where you have to respect all of their bench players, because they can make you pay as well.
They have the slowest game-pace in the league and are 28th in points per game, but their defense is legit. They only allow 96.8 points per game – that’s first in the NBA – and they have a 3rd-ranked defensive rating. They should also be heading into the playoffs healthy.
The Jazz beat the teams they should and have proven they can beat the best in the league. However, the other top-8 teams in their conference have given them trouble. Including their first-round opponent, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Lob City has the Jazz’s number this year – they’re 3-1 in the regular season series – and each win was by double-digits.
While it will be interesting to see how the slow pace of the Jazz matches up with the relatively fast pace of the Clippers, it’s possible Utah could head home early.
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