The Western Conference has long been more competitive than the Eastern Conference, and although there are some strong teams in the East this year, the West has much more depth. Last year, the race for the Western Conference playoffs carried on to the final regular season game, and this year should be no different.
Eleven of the fifteen teams in the Western Conference are .500 or above and they’re separated by only three games in the standings. Only eight will make the playoffs.
The Warriors zipped up to the top of the standings with their win against the Kings and should maintain that when Stephen Curry is healthy, but the rest of the conference will probably still be weird as hell. As an example, compare today’s standings to what things looked like just yesterday (when the Warriors were fourth).
The Clippers, Thunder, and Grizzlies all sat at the top of the West, yet I would not be surprised to see the Clippers or Grizzlies miss the playoffs. The Thunder’s defense looks real, and they should make the playoffs with ease if they stay healthy.
The Rockets are just beginning to find their way, and I’m confident they’ll return to the playoffs, even if they aren’t as elite as they were last year. The Jazz, who made the conference semifinals last year, are in deeper trouble: an anemic offense has put them near the bottom of the conference despite roster continuity from last year. They might have to make some trades to jumpstart their season.
Maybe the biggest surprise in basketball right now are the Sacramento Kings, who have had their best start in years. Led by De’Aaron Fox, they’re a young, fast squad that has outperformed expectations by a mile. I don’t think they’ll keep it up for the entire season, but I’d love to be proven wrong.
The Spurs and Pelicans are on the outside looking in right now, but they’re both capable of making the playoffs. New Orleans especially can be super dangerous with the right matchups, and if they can keep their pace and stay healthy, they are likely to make the playoffs.
It’s still early, but the Western Conference standings are already a mess. Don’t expect it to be resolved until the end of the regular season. It’s going to be a ridiculous race to the finish.