We turn now to part 2 of our NBA preview, the Western Conference. I find the West even more difficult to predict than the East. Yes, the Warriors are good but it’s hard not to remember that they were shaky coming into the 2021-22 playoffs and they rely on some very veteran players. On top of that, at least five teams can make a credible argument that they will win 50 or more games. So, let’s dive in to some assorted questions….
Could six or more Western Conference teams win 50+ game?
For sure. Last year, four teams won 52 or more games and Utah (49 wins) and Denver (48 wins) were a hair away from joining them. Since 1979-80, a conference has had six or more 50-win teams 14 times. For kicks, here are some more fun facts on the subject (note that in years when the NBA didn’t play a full schedule, we defined a 50-win team as one with a winning percentage above .610)….
-From 1979-80 to 1988-89, no conference had more than four 50-win teams. Yup, the Showtime Lakers had it really easy most of the 1980s.
-From 1989-90 to 1998-99, a conference had six or more 50-win teams three times. 1990-91 was the first time this happened when the West was stacked.
-From 1999-00 to 2000-09, things got funky. Seven times, a conference exceeded six 50-win teams, with all eight playoffs teams hitting the mark in 2007-08 when the 57-25 Lakers drew the 50-32 Nuggets as the eight seed. Denver featured Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, and Kenyon Martin. Still, Kobe and the Lakers smoked Denver, 4-0 and outscoring them by 13.3 ppg.
-From 2009-10 to 2018-19, the number of six or more 50-win teams regressed back to three times, though the 2009-10 West hit eight teams again. That year, the Lakers again were the one-seed drawing a tough matchup against the 50-32 Oklahoma City Thunder with young Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. This series was tighter than against Denver, as L.A. won 4-2 but had a ppg margin of only +1.7.
-Since 2019-20, only one time has a conference exceeded 50+ wins with six teams.
-Weirdly, the Eastern Conference has only had six or more 50-win teams one time (1996-97), while the other 13 times happened out West.
Will the Draymond punch hurt the Warriors’ shot at repeating?
Probably not. Draymond Green’s quasi-sucker punch was reckless and particularly inexcusable for a vet player. Nevertheless, Jordan Poole wasn’t hurt and, regardless of intent, lack of injury is what matters most, as our prior study of teammate punching incidents found.
No, the Warriors’ most pressing concern is keeping Steph Curry fresh and healthy. As amazing as Steph still is, he had his lowest full season rate stat numbers since before GS became a dynasty. He still should be really good but that is the real risk for a 34-year old who relies on perpetual motion to score.
Are the Suns toast?
They are definitely a 50-win team but there is a sense, after the terrible end to 2021-22 and the ugly off-season tiffs with Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder and Chris Paul hitting age-37 that they are no longer inner circle contenders. There are no stats to show this but that is my sense as well.
Can the Mavs continue to improve without Jalen Brunson?
Definitely. Brunson was a tough loss but ultimately, the Mavs are a slow-paced (95.4 pace was slowest in the NBA) and average offense (15th) with a great defense (6th). Most of the offense revolves around Luka Doncic isolations and he’ll need a little help at some point but this style should scale well for the playoffs.
Can the Lakers bounce back?
They can make the playoffs but the West is way too deep for this older team to compete. We all agree that Russell Westbrook is a horrid fit with LeBron James and it’s concerning that management could think this would fit AND that it did not rebalance the roster after watching them play together. This is potentially a mess unless Rob Pelinka can pivot.
Can the Clippers stay healthy?
I have no idea but did you know that Kawhi Leonard has never played more than 74 games in a season and he broke 66 games played only twice? On the stats-side, Kawhi has become a much better passer, though some of his dynamic stats (blocks) have lagged since his injury with the Spurs. The Clipps should be really good but questions abound.
With all that said, here are my predictions, of which I have little confidence:
1. Golden State Warriors
2. Denver Nuggets
3. Los Angeles Clippers
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Memphis Grizzlies
6. Dallas Mavericks
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
8. New Orleans Pelicans
Play In Teams
9. Los Angeles Lakers
10. Portland Trail Blazers
11. Sacramento Kings
12. Utah Jazz
13. Houston Rockets
14. San Antonio Spurs
15. Oklahoma City Thunder
-Warriors over Grizzlies
-Clippers over Nuggets
-Warriors over Clippers
-Bucks over Warriors
MVP: Joel Embiid
ROY: Paolo Banchero
COY: Doc Rivers
DPOY: Giannis Antetokounmpo