Basketball is almost here with the 2019-20 NBA season only a week away from tipping off. If you know anything about me, you know it means it’s time for some season previews. Before I get into my positional rankings, all eyes first turn to the teams, starting with the stronger conference. Who’ll make the postseason in our 2019-20 NBA Western Conference standings predictions?
We all recognize how competitive the West is already with it always finding a way to leave a good team out of the playoff picture. That’s something that’ll happen with a few teams due to the new era of NBA basketball we’re entering. On that note, out of the maybe 11 teams that’ll contend for a playoff spot in the West, only eight will make it? Here’s how I think teams will finish in the West.
Team #1: Los Angeles Clippers
This is the most obvious choice on the list. Los Angeles, as a city, had the best offseason of any in recent memory. But, the Clippers had the best offseason of any team in the NBA. After being touted by yours truly as the premier free-agent destination, the Clippers proved to be exactly that. With the signing of Kawhi Leonard, which sparked a trade for Paul George, the team suddenly has the best roster in the NBA. Not only do I expect them to make the playoffs, but I also expect them to have the best record in the West as well.
I understand that Paul George will probably miss the first 10 games of the season due to shoulder surgery. However, Kawhi Leonard said he’s feeling better at the beginning of this season than he was at this point last year. And, if you ask me, Kawhi has shown that he can carry the burden on his back as a lone star. On top of that, the Clippers have a better roster around Kawhi without Paul George than the Raptors had in the NBA Finals. They’ll be in the playoffs as one of the best teams in the NBA. There’s about a 99% chance of it.
Seed Projection: 1
Team #2: Denver Nuggets
My next team is one that’ll be in contention both this season and 10 years down the line. The talent they have is undeniable when it comes to competing with other Western Conference teams. Denver has new pieces such as Michael Porter Jr. (returning from injury), Bol Bol, and Jerami Grant to go along with their established core of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Paul Milsap.
That’s a pretty dangerous team for anyone to play if you ask me. Denver has all the tools to be a championship team. Their duo of Murray/Jokic may not be as appealing as a Kawhi/PG13 or a LeBron/AD, but they can still give you trouble on any given night. Their season ended last year in the second round to the Portland Trailblazers in what was a surprising seven-game series loss. That team doesn’t compare to the roster Denver has this year. The Nuggets return with a better, now more experienced roster, and I can’t see a reason for them not to earn a home-court advantage (for at least the first round).
Seed Projection: 2-4
Team #3: Los Angeles Lakers
You’ll never see me bet against a LeBron James-led team. No matter if they’re as bad as the 2007 Cavaliers or as good as the 2019 Lakers. Last year, The Great TPR, as well a few others, were skeptical of the Lakers making the playoffs. They were right. I recognize the first excuse that’ll come to mind when that’s discussed, but no one truly knows what would’ve happened. Nevertheless, the Lakers have reloaded with a better (and much older) roster. Los Angeles managed to trade for Anthony Davis and sign a load of proven veterans that both James and Davis had a part in.
What are the expectations for this Lakers squad? Nothing less than an NBA Championship. They now have the elite player that LeBron needs to truly compete. Although DeMarcus Cousins suffered another heartbreaking, season-ending injury, the Lakers have Dwight Howard to fill some of that void.
It’s hard to read how good the Lakers will be in terms of the regular season. They don’t have the depth of some of the other elite teams in the West, but they do have LeBron James. I think that the Lakers will be a borderline top-three seed in the West. That’s simply because of load management. Davis and James likely will rest sporadically throughout the year with neither playing 75+ games. However, their seed won’t reflect how dangerous of a team they’ll actually be in the postseason.
This is about who’ll make the playoffs, though, and where they may fall. The Lakers aren’t built to be a top-three team in the West for the regular season. However, they’ll find a way to the Western Conference Finals no matter what seed they are.
Seed Projection: 3-6
Team #4: Houston Rockets
It would be criminal not to have the Rockets as one of the top-four teams in the Western Conference. After trading for Russell Westbrook, they’re the only team to have two former MVPs. That makes them a force to be reckoned with already. Pairing James Harden and Russell Westbrook, both recognized as certified bucket-getters and playmakers, is just scary. Obviously, one (or both) of those players is going to have to sacrifice. That doesn’t mean that they can’t cause the same level of havoc they have in the past.
Yes, it’s Westbrook and Harden who’ll carry the Rockets towards their eventual success. But, when I look at this team, I have to mention the supporting cast that comes with these two MVPs. Houston, outside of their dynamic duo, represents a whole lot of offense. Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Gerald Green, and others form a team that fits comfortably with the type of play that comes with Westbrook and Harden.
The Rockets won 53 games last season, and that was with Harden and Chris Paul as their top players. Like the Nuggets and Clippers, Houston improved. I’d bet on the Rockets having less than 53 wins. Competitiveness and balance may prove to be too much. That’s despite the fact that they have a better roster. However, I do see them as a team that can potentially earn themselves home-court in the first round.
Seed Projection: 3-5
Team #5: Utah Jazz
After their impressive offseason, the Jazz are being regarded, by some, as a sleeper team in the West. That’s understandable considering with Donovan Mitchell you now have proven-veteran PG Mike Conley. In addition to that, Utah managed to lure Bojan Bogdanovic away from Indiana in what’ll also prove to be an impressive acquisition. That all goes without me mentioning the fact that the team retained Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles. The Jazz are built for success, but the biggest question is if they can hang with the previously-named teams.
They have too good of a roster not to make the playoffs and compete for a top-four seed. I’ve said that about many teams, and that’s simply because there are many teams with that level of talent. The Jazz ranked first in the conference last season in defensive rating (105.3). With their improved offensive paired with their already established defense, it makes the Jazz one of the more complete teams in the NBA.
Mitchell has Conley in the backcourt with him which will give him a mentor to lean on, as he’s still young. Mitchell is also a player I expect to improve yet again from his play a year ago. It’s a different league, and if the Jazz want to contend, Mitchell needs to play like an All-Star. They have a ceiling of a top-three seed like many of these other teams They also have a floor of a sixth seed too, though. It’ll be interesting to see where they end up. For now, they’re in my 2020 NBA playoff picture.
Seed Projection: 4-6
Team #6: Portland Trail Blazers
I waited a while to list the Portland Trail Blazers. That’s because I’m simply not high on them as a team. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum do form what’s probably a top-two backcourt in the NBA. However, the Clippers, Nuggets, Lakers, Rockets, and Jazz got better on paper. The only thing Portland did was acquire Hassan Whiteside, Nassir Little, Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja, and Pau Gasol. Those are really good signings when you look at a supporting cast. But, does it beat signing and/or trading for All-Star players? No. Which is exactly what the previously-named teams did.
Lillard and McCollum have also said that they can’t follow the load management trend. I’d take that as meaning we should see Lillard and McCollum play nearly the whole season. That’s something that could end up compromising the Trail Blazers down the line in the postseason. While other teams have the depth to rest key players, the Blazers simply don’t. That’ll translate to top players being rested for the bright lights while Lillard and McCollum might just be gassed.
Portland is coming off an impressive, deep playoff run that took them all the way to the Western Conference Finals. However, they won’t reach anywhere near that point this season. They’ll make the postseason, but in terms of seeding, I expect them to be in the bottom half of the very tough West.
Seed Projection: 5-7
Team #7: Golden State Warriors
It’s known by now that Kevin Durant has departed, and Klay Thompson is out until around February with an ACL tear. That doesn’t mean that you should sleep on the team that’s been the conference’s standard for the past five years. The Warriors still have Stephen Curry, the best point guard in the NBA, the first unanimous MVP in league history, and my pick for the 2020 NBA MVP. I’ve written many pieces in the past that have reflected what Curry can do when Durant isn’t by his side, with the highlight being two NBA Finals appearances. While he didn’t have Kevin Durant, he did have Klay Thompson, who he’ll be without for most of the season.
That’s where Golden State’s offseason acquisitions come into play. The biggest of those being the sign-and-trade acquisition of D’Angelo Russell who’s coming off a breakout season spent leading the Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs. I can admit that Russell isn’t the player Durant or Thompson is, but he’s an All-Star who’ll be paired with one of the best players in the game. Both players will also still have the services of Draymond Green who has basically been the engine driving the Golden State dynasty.
Don’t give up on this Warriors team that still has talent around them. Curry, to me, will have his best season since pre-Durant. Russell will improve offensively in a system better than the one he played in with Brooklyn. The only thing that may compromise this team’s season entirely is if Klay Thompson doesn’t make an impact immediately when he returns.
Golden State has been the NBA’s best team for the past five years. Some teams have been assembled to beat them. On that note, do I expect them to notch a top-three seed? Not at all. Will they get home-court advantage? Probably not. But, will they make the postseason? I’d bet a whole lot of money on it.
Seed Projection: 6-8
Team #8: San Antonio Spurs
This is such a hard decision considering the number of teams that can be put into this spot. With that, it’s hard to bet against Gregg Popovich and the system that has led the Spurs to 22-straight playoff appearances. I’ll explain the cases for the teams that have been held out of my playoff picture after. But, looking at the Spurs, I don’t see their playoff appearance streak ending just yet. You first have to look at Popovich who’ll, more often than not, find a way to combat these high-powered offenses. You then turn your head to the fact that the Spurs have a dynamic duo of their own in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, both All-Stars.
I may be giving more credit than I should to their system, but they deserve it. They play and run their franchise in a way that ensures some type of success each season. Even in this new era of NBA basketball, I expect that system to keep pace. Looking at the roster further, All-Defensive guard Dejounte Murray returns after missing the entirety of last season. It gives the Spurs another impact player who was also in The Great TPR’s top-10 point guard list last year. The Spurs will be battling for a playoff spot with teams who, right now, I don’t see making it. Ultimately, the Spurs will prove the doubters wrong again.
Seed Projection: 8
Just Out: Mavericks, Kings, Pelicans
The Mavericks, Kings, and Pelicans are all teams that have compelling cases to be playoff teams this season.
It’s hard leaving a team with Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic as their dynamic duo out of the picture. But, that’s just how competitive this conference is. The Mavericks have an excellent support cast, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Mavs snag a low seed in this conference. Looking at every team, though, there are simply better teams than Dallas. The Porzingis/Doncic combination is going to be fun to watch and both will flourish. However, will they flourish to the point where it warrants them a playoff appearance? No.
As for the Kings, they came close to a playoff spot last season as well. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield both should take the next steps in their careers and put up All-Star-like numbers. Behind a roster that’s relatively young, I don’t feel as if Sacramento is a playoff team just yet. They have a lot of young talent but not the overall talent to compete with some of the other teams above.
The Pelicans are a confusing situation. In the preseason, the number one overall pick, Zion Williamson looks dominant. Now, if you look at the rest of the Pelicans’ roster, they seem like a playoff team at first glance. Like with the Mavericks, I wouldn’t be surprised to see New Orleans’ young core lead the team to the postseason.
Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Jrue Holiday, and JJ Redick form a squad that can compete with the Spurs or a depleted Golden State. However, I just don’t see them as a playoff team. Others have more experience and/or talent than the Pelicans. Can a breakout season by Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram change that? Sure. But, for now, they’re one of my last teams out.
Just An Early Projection
I can make a case for all 11 teams on this list to make the playoffs. For now, these are the eight that I think will make the postseason. Through offseason acquisitions, established talent, and other factors, I strongly believe that the above teams will make it to the NBA playoffs. Would I be surprised to see one of my “just out” teams make the playoffs? No. But, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Let me know who you think will make it to the postseason in the Western Conference.