NBA: Western Conference Predictions: Separating the Great, from The Good

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 10: Draymond Green #23 high fives teammates Klay Thompson #11 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors while facing the San Antonio Spurs in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 10, 2013 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA – MAY 10: Draymond Green #23 high fives teammates Klay Thompson #11 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors while facing the San Antonio Spurs in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 10, 2013 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

By: Rossy Pasternak

In the second instalment of our NBA conference predictions, we cover the loaded Western Conference (click here for Eastern Conference). Teams such as the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder missed the playoffs last year, even though they would have made it if they were in the East. This year, the West has just gotten stronger. OKC will have Westbrook and Durant together at 100% health, the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge, and the Warriors are the same run and gun, fire at will team as they were last year. Gear up for an intense, exciting season in the West, as there are so many great teams in this conference that each night there will be a great game to watch.

  1. Golden State Warriors (2014-15: 67-15)

Whenever you win a championship, you have a target on your back the next year. I’m sure that everyone in the league has their game against the ‘Dubs circled on their calendar as a “prove it” game, a game where they can prove that they belong among the elite. There has already been drama and tension with the Warriors, and the season has yet to even start. The Clippers and Warriors rivalry is well known, and took another step this year when multiple Clippers said that Golden State “got lucky” by not having to face them, or the spurs. Everyone on the Warriors can shoot, pass, rebound, and defend. I do not see any way in which the Warriors struggle this year, as long as reigning MVP Steph Curry stays healthy. With his well-known supporting cast of Thompson, Barnes, Iguadala, Green, and more, Curry has a lot of talent to play with. My only concern is a slow start from the Warriors, as head coach Steve Kerr is out for an undisclosed period of time due to offseason back surgery. Assistant Luke Walton, best known for winning championship rings while sitting on the bench for the Lakers, is assuming the head coaching duties. While Walton has been serviceable as an assistant, there is no way that he should be a head coach of a championship team. Look for him to share the duties with fellow assistant Ron Adams.

  1. Houston Rockets (2014-15: 56-26)

Well, it seems like Daryl Morey has outsmarted the whole NBA once again. Able to steal Ty Lawson for what amounts to a new laundry machine, Morey’s Rockets had one of the best off-season’s league-wide. Other than Lawson, Morey also added guard Marcus Thornton, and draft picks Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker, with the only notable losses coming in the form of Pablo Prigioni and Josh Smith. This Houston team is going to be scary good this year, with James Harden trying to prove to the world that he deserved the MVP last year. A healthy year from Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley would also help immensely for these Rockets. Remember, Houston was very competitive with the Warriors in the Conference Finals last year, and were without Beverley, their best perimeter defender, to lock down Curry. This team had it all last year, and just added to their depth. Lawson, if he can stay on the court, figures to be a vital part of the Rocket’s offence, allowing Harden to play off the ball more and get easier looks. Look for the Rockets to continue their run as one of the best in the West.

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder (2014-15: 45-37) 

Without Kevin Durant for most of the year, and missing Russell Westbrook for a long stretch as well, it is surprising the Thunder did as well as they did. This year, led by new head coach Billy Donavan, the offence looks to take off in a less iso-centric attack. With the big three of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka all healthy, and as good of a supporting cast since the trade of James Harden (WHY!!!!), the Thunder are looking as good as they have since going to the finals in 2012. GM Sam Presti looked to prove to everyone that he would not make the same mistake twice, and signed Enes Kanter to a max deal this summer. Unfortunately, Kanter is no James Harden, and that contract will look terrible if either, or both, of Durant and Westbrook leave in the next two years. All-in-all, however, the Thunder are not to be taken lightly this year, as they have all the talent, and star-power, to prosper in this exceptional conference.

  1. Los Angeles Clippers (2014-15: 56-26)

It still feels weird to me that the Clippers are now the best team in L.A. With the Lakers trade for Chris Paul being vetoed by the league in 2011, the Clippers took advantage, and traded for Paul, creating one of the best teams in the West. The Clippers, with legendary coach Doc Rivers, have not been able to win in the playoffs though, which is tarnishing their legacy. Rivers, Paul and Blake Griffin see the window closing, which is why losing DeAndre Jordan would have been a huge tragedy for the L.A. elite. Instead of losing Jordan and having to find a replacement centre with no cap space left, the Clippers now have their own big three back, with the additions of Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson. This is a team full of experience veterans such as Pierce, Paul, and Doc, that will not let Stephenson step out of line, so look for a much better, much more cooperative Lance than you have seen before. If all the pieces fit, – with Doc at the helm, they will – the Clippers could jump even higher than this 4 spot.

  1. San Antonio Spurs (2014-15: 55-27)

How the Spurs continue to be this good all the time amazes me. Coach Pop, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli continue to get things done. GM R.C. Buford also gets things done, which is how top free agent LaMarcus Aldridge ended up taking his talents to South Texas. With dark-horse MVP candidates sprinkled all around this team, as well as the “Pop system” working it’s magic, just like the “Patriot Way”, this team will once again be among the best in the NBA. There are a few concerns about Aldridge’s fit in the fast-paced ball movement system the Spurs run, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that Pop can get it all to workout in the end. Once again, San Antonio will rest it’s veterans during the later parts of the regular season in order to be ready come playoff time. It looks like once again, the Spurs will do some damage in the West.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans (2014-15: 45-37)

Three words: Fear. The. Brow. Anthony Davis is scary good, and it is time the world recognized that. For the last few seasons Davis has somehow flew under the radar in New Orleans, but last year he took the NBA by storm, leading his team into the playoffs for the first time since Chris Paul departed for Los Angeles. With a supporting cast of veterans like Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, and Ryan Anderson, Davis has all the tools he needs to bring this team up another level. New head coach Alvin Gentry, coming off of his championship as an assistant under Steve Kerr in Golden State, is here to improve things offensively. Gentry has worked under Kerr and Mike D’antoni, two of the greatest offensive minds the game has ever seen. Under Gentry, the Pelicans will excel offensively like they never have before. In an underrated move, the Pelicans also brought in associate head coach Darren Erman, who is touted as a defensive mastermind. Partnered with Erman, look for Anthony Davis to become one of the best defenders in the league right now, and maybe in history. Davis has all the physical tools be great, now all he has to do in order to be considered among the NBA’s best players, is prove that he can carry his team to the promised land.

  1. Memphis Grizzlies (2014-15: 55-27)

Grit and grind is the motto for the Grizzlies, and it fits their roster and city perfectly. Memphis is considered a blue-collar city, and their style of basketball represents that. The Grizzlies’ fans support their team with pride every time they step onto the court, which is great to see. But unfortunately, their team is aging, and the wear and tear from playing such a demanding style has finally taken its toll. Resigning Marc Gasol was huge for this franchise, as he is one of the most beloved athletes to ever play in Memphis, and is perfect for this system. Gasol, along with frontcourt partner Zach Randolph, and point guard Mike Conley, will once again lead the Griz’ this season. Randolph is getting up there in age, but he can still battle under the basket for rebounds and easy layups, and is one of the most feared big-men in the NBA. With a more of a defensive supporting cast, don’t look for many high scoring games when this team plays. Nevertheless, this is a fun team to watch, and a dangerous team come playoff time as they have proven over the last few years.

  1. Utah Jazz (2014-15: 38-44) 

In the second half of this past season, the Utah Jazz decided they would trade Enes Kanter, and give Rudy Gobert a chance in the starting lineup. That decision paid off immensely, as the “Stifle Tower”, dominated teams defensively, and the Jazz posted a 93.5 defensive rating after the all-star break, which was good for first in the NBA. Gobert averaged 2.5 blocks per game, an outstanding accomplishment. With Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and the return of Alec Burks from injury, the Jazz seem to be poised for a breakout season under head coach Quin Snyder. Point guard Dante Exum was lost for the season already, but I believe the Jazz can still be a very good team, even without their #5 pick from 2014. Rookie (and Canadian) Trey Liles will be interesting to watch play this season, as he qualifies in the “tweener” category of players who are athletic enough to play the 3, but tall enough to play the 4. Look for a breakout year from Trey Burke.

  1. Sacramento Kings (2014-15: 29-53) 

“Boogie” Cousins finally has an adequate supporting cast, but can he and Rajon Rondo gel? Can they both get along with George Karl? There are too many questions about the character of this team that a self-destruction seems inevitable. If the Kings can settle the ship, they could finally be dangerous.

  1. Phoenix Suns (2014-15: 39-43) 

The addition of Tyson Chandler will help defensively, but what about Alex Len? How will Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe play together in their first full season together? Can Markieff Morris behave? If all of these questions can be solved, then the Suns have a chance at the playoffs. Look for Jeff Hornacek to be on the hot seat if things do not go well early on.

  1. Dallas Mavericks (40-32)

Rick Carlisle is a magician when it comes to coaching, but he needs good players for his system to work. The Mavs don’t have a true starting point guard in a conference full of them, and will struggle to score. Dirk isn’t getting any younger, and Chandler Parsons and offseason signing Wes Matthews are going to be coming off serious injuries when they return. But the last few years have taught me never to rule out Dirk and the Mavs, so you never know.

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves (2014-15: 16-66)

First of all, let me say that Flip Saunders was one of the greatest coaches, and greatest people this league has seen, and it is a shame he has passed. Here at SportsNak, our prayers are with the Saunders and Timberwolves families. The team Flip has assembled, thanks to some shrewd trading with the Cavs, is now a mix of smart veterans that can lead the young guns, and teach them the ins and outs of the NBA. Andrew Wiggins is a future superstar, and Karl-Anthony Towns looks like the real deal. The ‘Wolves wont be good this season, but boy do they have a good foundation, and a potentially another high pick to work with. It will be an emotional year for the Wolves, maybe it will spark some productive play in Minnesota.

  1. Portland Trail Blazers (2014-15: 51-31)

To say the least, the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge ended the Trail Blazers’ short run of being championship contenders. After learning of Aldridge’s decision to leave, the team went ahead and traded Nic Batum, let Wes Matthews leave via free agency, and pretty much stripped down the veteran core. The team is now being built around Damian Lillard, the exciting and promising point guard who has been playing second fiddle to Aldridge since being drafted. Now, surrounded by the younger C.J. McCollum, Myers Leonard, and Noah Vonleh, all recent first round draft picks, Lillard will have a chance to grow with this new core. The Blazers made the first puzzling, and first overall, move of the offseason, signing Al-Farouq Aminu to a 4-year, $30 Million deal. This deal was the first of many during this offseason that would usually be considered an over-pay, but because of the increasing cap in upcoming years, will end up being a good value deal. Terry Stotts, one of my favourite coaches in the league due to his use of new technology and analytics, is reportedly on the hot seat amid disagreements with management, an understandable reaction when the team you are coaching has it’s core gutted. This will be a tough year for the loyal Blazers fans, but the future looks bright, with Dame DOLLA leading the way.

14.  L.A. Lakers (2014-15: 21-61)

Kobe Bryant, Louis Williams, and Nick “SwaggyP” Young, all on the court, possibly at the same time. Good luck with that. Other than those three, the Lakers have assembled a young core that is pretty enviable. Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Russell are three great young basketball players that have bright futures in the NBA. The Lakers will not have a good team this year, – no team that has Metta World Peace on their roster at this point in his career can –  and will compete for the #1 pick once again this year…sorry Kobe.

15.  Denver Nuggets (2014-15: 30-52)

There are only two bright spots on this very bad roster: Jusef Nurkic, and Emmanuel Mudiay. Other than those two, the Nuggets roster is made up of role players and trade-chips. Look for at least two of Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, and Danilo Gallanari to be traded by the deadline. Good luck to coach Mike Malone, an exceptional coach who has had bad luck with an impatient ownership in Sacramento despite encouraging results, and now a bad roster in Denver.

That is all for our NBA East and West Conference Predictions, thanks for reading and be sure to check in later on for the mid-season rankings!

Do you agree with our pre-season rankings? Comment Below!

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