NBA: Western Conference Power Rankings and Playoff Previews

Before we get into the teams that made it into the Playoffs, it’s important we give due respect to the team that shone brightest in the Bubble. The Phoenix Suns really flexed their muscles, as Devin Booker blossomed into a superstar caliber player. Deandre Ayton also proved his worth to the team flourishing and dominating in the post and improving defensively. Monty Williams deserves huge credit as it seems like he has made great strides in developing a winning culture in Phoenix and providing Suns fans with a winning team. Disney World really was the happiest place on earth for the Pheonix Suns.

#8 Portland Trailblazers

The Blazers had a very bad start to the season with one of their star players in Jusuf Nurkic being ruled out for a long time due to his broken leg. Damian Lillard once again had to come to Portland’s rescue as he was the sole reason why the Blazers were still in the running for a playoff spot. The season hiatus came at a perfect time for the Blazers as it allowed Jusuf Nurkic to fully recover.  Although their offence led by Lillard and McCollum is top 10 in terms of efficiency, the Blazers are currently in the bottom 5 in the league in terms of their defence. Portland  did manage to edge pass the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies in order to get to the playoffs but their first round matchup is against a very well rested LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. In addition to the hectic schedule of games which has left the blazers out of breath. CJ McCollum has also suffered and played with a back injury in the past couple of games which will surely be a concern for an already depleted Portland team. They will once again be reliant on Lillard to do something special, but Davis and James will be too strong for this Portland side.

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#7 Dallas Mavericks

With the regular season finally complete, the Dallas Mavericks now own the league’s all-time record for offensive rating in a season. The team averaged 1.161 points per possession this season, otherwise known as an offensive rating of 116.1. The simplest explanation for how the Mavs did this: Doncic and Porzingis. 2 special talents with special skill sets, a 6’ 9” point guard who scores at a high volume, and a big who can shoot 3s. But don’t mistake this glitz and glamour for success, the ,Mavs are deeply flawed. The best offensive team simply doesn’t finish as the 7th seed unless there are some major weaknesses. The most glaring one being how they can’t close gamesDallas devolved into the league’s worst offence in the final three minutes of one-possession games. Their first round matchup is far from ideal as they face the Clippers. Luka is bound to have a hellish series with both Kawhi and George, 2 elite wing defenders taking turns guarding him. The Mavs will be heavily reliant on Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. having career nights every game to stand any chance of pulling off an upset.

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#6 Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz are not in a good spot. The bubble has been an absolute disaster for them, winning only 3 games against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Grizzlies who seemed like they were in freefall and a dead rudder against the Spurs. But if you really squint and try to find the light, Donovan Mitchell has proved yet again that he is going to be a great player for years to come, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot in a losing effort against the Nuggets in a double OT game, who are coincidently also the Jazz’s first round opponents. Barring something special from Mitchell, this series isn’t expected to go Utah’s way with the Nuggets as heavy favourites. The Jazz don’t have enough firepower with Bojan Bogdanovic side-lined for the season and their defence has been awful with 2 time DPOY Rudy Gobert looking a shell of his former self. Mix this all with bad team chemistry, originating from the fateful march 11 evening when the NBA suspended its season after Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, you get a team that has some major decisions to make in the offseason.

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#5 Houston Rockets

If we were to describe Houston’s regular season, the phrase ‘small ball’ is the only one that comes to mind. Head Coach Mike D’Antoni fully committed to the small ball lineups when he traded Center Clint Capela to the hawks for Robert Covington. Although on paper this looks problematic against some of the top teams in the league, Houston have done a great job committing to the defensive end in the Bubble. The Rockets have gone 4-4 in the Bubble and face the Oklahoma City Thunder next. Although Houston would have been slight favourites to win this series, injury to all-star Russell Westbrook will see him miss out on a chance to face his former team. On the other hand OKC have been in fine form led by Chris Paul who’ll be looking forward to exacting revenge on the rockets. OKC’s 3 guard lineup will cause problem for the rockets, as they can switch out faster off screens and defend shooters like McLemore and Green more efficiently. Houston will find themselves heavily reliant on Harden offensively till Westbrook comes back, as this series is bound to go 6 or 7 games which is far from ideal for Harden and Houston as we have seen them flame out time and time again in the playoffs.

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#4 Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets coming into the 19-20 season looked to build on their success and were pegged as many to be the real challengers to the LA teams in the west, but with untimely injuries to Jamal Murray, Will Barton and Gary Harris its fair to say the NBA hiatus gave them a good opportunity to reassess things and get healthy again. Mike Malone has been adamant throughout the Nuggets’ bubble experience, that seeding does not concern him. The seeding games were always about building rhythm and getting the guys back to full fitness. Through this perspective, the Denver Nuggets have been highly successful in hitting these goals. Prioritizing health and fitness, by resting the starters down the stretch in close games against the Lakers and Clippers. Denver went 3-5 and have drawn the Utah Jazz for their First-Round matchup, which for them is a great matchup. Matchup-wise, the Nuggets have an advantage over the Jazz, who are without Bogdan Bogdanovic. Nikola Jokic matches up favourably with Rudy Gobert, and the same goes with Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell. What gives Denver the edge is Michael Porter Jr., whom the Jazz don’t have a clear match for.

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#3 Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have earned the respect of the league, pundits and fans of the NBA all season long. They went from not being taken seriously in the preseason to possessing the tag of “team nobody wants to face.” They still have questions for the perimeter outside of their three main guards, but the Thunder have continued their strong play in the bubble. The Rockets seemed like the worst possible matchup for OKC, with no high volume scorer to match Harden. But the Westbrook out for the first few games, it gives OKC an interesting opportunity. Rockets will go small, but without Westbrook will lack some of the dynamism that has brought a stagnant Houston offence to life. Undoubtedly Harden will average over 30 points, but it won’t be pretty. The Thunder with their 3 guard lineup of Schroder, Paul and Shai sprinkled with 20 minutes of Andre Roberson will always have a body to throw at Harden coming out of high-screens and switches making life difficult for him to get easy looks. OKC ,as most teams playing the rockets, will have the height advantage. Steven Adams can dominate in the paint catching offensive rebounds, but if Westbrook returns fully fit and firing, it’s hard to think that Adams would even be on the floor come crunch time. OKC must capitalise on the Brodie-less Rockets to gain the upper hand early in the series.

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#2 Los Angeles Lakers

This season has been an emotional ride for the Lakers, as they are finally back in the playoffs competing for the biggest prize, with biggest names on their team. The Narrative feeds perfectly into how this team is going to go all the way, but they haven’t really shown that in the Bubble. The Lakers haven’t been good in the bubble, they can’t make shots and the defense isn’t ideal. On the other hand, however, they didn’t really need to be good. The Bubble experience was more or less about getting guys like Horton-Tucker, Caruso, Waiters and JR minutes bedded into the rotation in the absence of Rondo and Bradley. The first-round matchup is far from ideal. The Lakers wouldn’t want to see the Blazers because of the matchup, but they’ll still take them down. It may take 5 0r 6 games to do that and therein lies the issue. The Lakers don’t want to have to play extra games as they prepare for a deep playoff run.

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#1 Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers made their intentions clear in the offseason when they traded for both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George that they will be going in all guns blazing and fight for the Championship. The team has had a very interesting and strong regular season which includes a 5-3 run in the bubble as they ended with the second seed and will be facing the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. The Los Angeles Clippers are one of the most well rounded teams in the association. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are probably one of the most complete duos of the game as they are both the top performers on both ends of the floor. The Clippers are expected to make light work of the Mavs, who are poor defensively and struggle to close games. An easier matchup will result in a shorter series, giving them time to rest guys as they prepare for tougher challenges ahead.

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