On Wednesday morning, our SB Nation NBA preview was published. In it I offered up a best case, worst case, and most likely scenario for the Golden State Warriors. It covered a lot of ground going between those potential outcomes. The good is very good. The bad is very not good.
A few hours later I found myself answering questions for a soon-to-be-published NBA predictions post for the upcoming season.
The last question was the obvious one, and also the one I struggled with the most: who plays in the NBA Finals?
I went up and down the Western Conference, and every team offered what felt like a massive red flag to me. How could I predict them?
The Warriors are one of those teams. I don’t need to tell you how good they can be; I also don’t need to tell you that we can’t bank on a playoff-missing Dubs team welcoming back Klay Thompson off of two serious leg surgeries and jumping straight back into greatness.
It could go either way, and that’s a bit of a theme. Here’s the competition ... but just their red flags.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are the popular pick to win the West. I couldn’t pick them in this exercise, however, because an earlier question had asked, “Will the Lakers look foolish or genius for the Russell Westbrook trade?” and I don’t need to tell you how I answered.
There’s greatness in the Lakers potential, but there’s also some 7-for-26 shooting nights from Westbrook while the Warriors sag off and play 5-on-4 against the other quartet of Lakers. LA traded much of their depth for a star who is easily gameplanned against in the postseason, and who likely serves to take possessions away from arguably the best player in NBA history.
The Nuggets start the season without Jamal Murray, who tore his ACL in April. It is possible, but unlikely, that Murray will return to the Nuggets this season. They should be very good regardless — Michael Porter Jr. is on the rise, and Aaron Gordon is blending into the system — but good enough without Murray?
Los Angeles Clippers
Similarly, the Clippers are without Kawhi Leonard, whose ACL injury remains a little bit of a mystery. If he returns this season (a big “if”) and is the Kawhi of old (also a big “if”), the Clippers are contenders. But if not? Suddenly that roster looks wildly pedestrian.
The Jazz finished with the best defense in the league last season, and the third-best offense. Their garbage-time adjusted net rating of +11.3 towered over the second-best mark of +6.8, set by the Clippers. And then they got stomped by the Clippers in the second round, the way they lost to the Nuggets in the first round the year prior, and the Rockets in the first round the year prior, and the Rockets in the semis before that, and the Warriors the year before that.
Do you trust them in the postseason?
In Luka Dončić we may trust, but in Jason Kidd we do not. Or at least, I do not. Nothing about Kidd’s coaching tenure with the Milwaukee Bucks or Brooklyn Nets leads me to believe he’ll do as good a job — let alone a better job — in Dallas than Rick Carlisle did.
Kidd is a question mark, as is Kristaps Porziņģis, as is the team’s depth.
Is Dončić, still just 22, enough to overcome all of that?
Portland Trail Blazers
Every year the Blazers get touted out as a potential Western Conference contender, and every year they stop well short of actually looking like one.
This isn’t a red flag so much as the reality that they’re simply not good enough.
The Suns won the West last year, and with Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges only getting better, they’re a threat to repeat.
But for as good as those players are, they’re not taking a team anywhere near the NBA Finals without a healthy Chris Paul, and I know better than to bet on Paul being healthy in April and beyond.
Red flags abound, up and down the West. The conference is there for the Warriors to take ... and for quite a few other teams, too.
Who wins the West?
This poll is closed