Sonny’s Side Note: 2016-17 NBA Western Conference playoff predictions
Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part opinion piece on the NBA post-season. Digital editor Sonny Mulpuri offers ranked predictions for each division, and backs his choices with reasoned arguments. Have your own ideas? Write a Letter to the Editor or leave a comment below.
Western Conference Standings
1) Golden State Warriors
2) San Antonio Spurs
3) Los Angeles Clippers
4) Utah Jazz
5) Portland Trail Blazers
6) Memphis Grizzlies
7) Oklahoma City Thunder
8) Houston Rockets
9) Dallas Mavericks
10) New Orleans Pelicans
11) Minnesota Timberwolves
12) Denver Nuggets
13) Phoenix Suns
14) Los Angeles Lakers
15) Sacramento Kings
The potential playoff teams range from the Golden State Warriors to the New Orleans Pelicans. Let me start with the elephant in the room. Golden State, arguably, has four of the top-15 players in the NBA in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. They will have the most productive offensive in the league this season, but their defense could be shaky at times without a big man to hold down the paint. They should face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals, which will be an interesting matchup, but I still expect the Warriors to come out on top.
Now to address the rest of Western conference. The San Antonio Spurs are the only team that could pose a threat to the Warriors this season, if the Warriors lose a key player due to injury. The Spurs have no holes in their roster, but she could catch up with them during the stretch. However, I think that those players’ experience will outweigh that aspect and they will share some of that knowledge with the younger players. With a stable combination of young talent and veteran players, the Spurs need it all to click to clinch the one seed this season.
The Clippers are a team that will be all in this season. They acquired Chris Paul seven years ago to team up with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but they haven’t really lived up to their potential. This could be the last chance for the Clippers to make a deep run before they start shopping premier players. They’ve been a top-10 team in the league the past few seasons, but they need to acquire a better small forward to make a case for a higher seed.
The Utah Jazz have made a lot of progress since their rebuilding stage begun. With a clear star in Gordon Hayward, a solid second scoring option in Derrick Favors, and a young group of Rodney Hood, Alex Burks, Rudy Gobert, and Dante Exum, this team looks poised to make a statement in the league this season. Although I don’t expect this team to make it to the conference finals, they could slip up into the three seed if the Clippers don’t find a good small forward.
The Portland Trail Blazers were the surprise team of the league last season and they could ride that momentum into this season. Damian Lillard proved to the whole league why he should’ve been an all-star last season with his play on the second half. He is definitely in the upper class of point guards in the league and I think he’ll push himself even harder this year. C.J. McCollum took a significant stride forward last season and will be an even better complement to Lillard this season. This team’s magic may not be as surprising this season because they come into the season with higher expectations. They should look to add young pieces for the future, but not give away too much at the same time.
The Memphis Grizzlies are a team that are aging quickly and their window is closing fast. Although, they added Chandler Parsons and locked up Mike Conley, those contracts don’t represent the production they have had in the past or even will have for the future. They will still contribute to the team, but not in ways that the Grizzlies need them too. They have plenty of experience on this team, but they will need to look at younger talent to replace them in the coming seasons.
Now, the team that the whole league has on eyes on and wonder how they will rebound after the departure of Kevin Durant. The OKC Thunder will have to prove that they can still win without their top scorer. It’s all up to Russell Westbrook, who is a potential triple-double threat every night and he will be relied on to put the team on his back. However, in the type of NBA now, no lone star can lead their team to a championship and without another star to help him out, Russell Westbrook won’t be able to take his team past the first round, especially if they play Golden State or San Antonio.
The Houston Rockets have a semi-new look this season with the additions of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. They still have the best scorer in the league in James Harden, but they have slotted him in the point guard this season instead of his usual shooting guard. He’s still a score-first player and that mindset isn’t one that will make an elite point guard in this league and he needs to get his teammates involved this season if he wants to make it far in the playoffs. The Rockets won’t have a problem scoring this season, but defense will be the issue for them this year, prompting them to give up more points than they score.
Now, for the two teams that will also be contention for a playoff spot are the Mavericks and Pelicans.
The Mavericks brought in two former Warriors, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut. Like the Grizzlies, this team’s age will catch up with them and much of their starting lineup is over 30 years old. Dirk Nowitzki will still be the player relied on to score for this team, but the Mavericks need to look at other options like Harrison Barnes or Seth Curry. If they don’t produce consistent stats, the Mavericks will miss the playoffs and this year could very well be their last chance.
The Pelicans are only a season removed from a postseason berth. They have a superstar in Anthony Davis, although he seemed to have an underwhelming season last year. I expect him to bounce back in a big way this season and make last season the past. However, he needs to stay healthy and play in a least 70 games this season if they Pelicans have a chance of making it. They did lose Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, but they do have guys like Buddy Hield and Jrue Holiday, that will provide some solid minutes. I don’t expect the Pelicans to make the playoffs unless some of the other teams lose key players to injury.
The Western Conference playoff race might not be as intriguing as the Eastern’s will be, but it will still be great basketball to watch, especially in April when teams are fighting for postseason positioning.