Western Conference Futures As NBA Season Restarts
The NBA gets back to business on Thursday and all eyes will be on the Los Angeles Clippers-Lakers showdown. Everyone is wondering which team has the upper hand in the Western Conference. Taking a look at the futures, which side is the best bet?
The Los Angeles teams – the Lakers and Clippers – were the Western Conference favorites at the start of the season. They are the favorites now, in very good position to be the top two seeds in the West after the eight seeding games end and the actual playoffs begin. The biggest reason why the L.A. teams are in great position is that their best players – Anthony Davis and LeBron James for the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the Clippers – either needed rest to recuperate from injury/strain (Davis and Kawhi) or to be physically fresh for the playoffs (LeBron and George). Having their superstars in ideal physical condition gives the Lakers and Clippers the situation they need in order to put the pieces together. It’s a great debate as to whether the Clippers – who lagged behind the Lakers all season – might now put their best foot forward and overtake the Lakers once the playoffs begin. It feels like a 50-50 call. Keep in mind that the Lakers won’t have guard Avery Bradley, who won’t be traveling to Orlando. The Clippers have halted workouts due to COVID-19 concerns, but players haven’t opted out of the restart yet.
The other lower-tier favorites below the Lakers and Clippers are the Houston Rockets. This might seem strange, since the Rockets are currently tied for fifth in the West with the Oklahoma City Thunder, just behind the third-place Denver Nuggets and fourth-place Utah Jazz. However, the big problem with the Rockets in several past playoff failures is that James Harden carried a massive regular-season workload and was physically spent when he got to the playoffs. He wore down, and he didn’t have enough help on his roster.
Now, Harden has Russell Westbrook – a rested Westbrook – by his side. Harden will be rested himself. This is the very setup the Rockets have lacked in previous postseasons. They could catch fire and pull a few upsets. It’s possible, and it doesn’t seem ludicrous to imagine such a scenario.
The Denver Nuggets are likely to be the third seed, but if they face the Rockets in round one, they will be the underdog. The Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder will not have as much talent as the teams they will face in the playoffs, regardless of how the seedings shake out. The Dallas Mavericks are improving, but they will likely have to go through the Clippers in round one, a very tough ask. If you want good value out of any of these longshot choices, you have to ask yourself where the Rockets will finish in the seeding structure. If the Rockets finish fourth or fifth and you think they might be able to take out the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs, maybe choosing the third-seeded Nuggets could have value. If you think the Rockets will finish sixth and might bump off the Clippers in the second round, maybe the Jazz are worth a gamble. Realistically, though, it’s the L.A. teams and Houston you should focus on as the West favorites.
Notable players absent in the West: Bojan Bogdanovic of the Jazz, Avery Bradley of the Lakers, Trevor Ariza of the Portland Trail Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge of the San Antonio Spurs, Willie Cauley-Stein of the Dallas Mavericks.