As you saw yesterday, the Eastern Conference’s five teams do not seem up to par with the Western Conference. But, as many NBA fans know, that is just the status quo.
The Western Conference is stacked each and every year, which makes the playoffs much more fun to watch late at night during the summer. If the Raptors and Bobcats are playing at the same time as the Clippers and Warriors, who are you watching? Exactly.
Here are the top five contenders in the NBA’s Western Conference for this year’s Finals. Do we see a new team make the push to the Finals? Do the Spurs get to the Finals for the 307th time in a row?
5) Houston Rockets
The Rockets (48-22) are built for a championship run, and they will be relying heavily on their two superstars to get there. James Harden is one of the better players in the NBA and Dwight Howard is still one of the better big men in the game.
These two will need to take the initiative to take the Rockets to the next level. The problem in Houston (pun intended) is the lack of depth. After Harden and Howard, the starting lineup is rounded out by Chandler Parsons, Terrence Ross and Patrick Beverley. Coming off the bench is Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, but the better teams in the West will be able to exploit the Rockets lack of depth in a seven-games series. Can James Harden overcome that?
Even with Hard, Houston is the last in our list of the top five contenders in the NBA’s Western Conference.
4) Portland Trailblazers
At 45-26, the ‘Blazers do not have as good a record as the Rockets do. So, why are they number four as opposed to the Rockets at number five? Depth. The ‘Blazers have been playing sans LaMarcus Aldridge lately, but he will be good to go for the postseason. Add him to a budding superstar in Damian Lillard and one of the best all-around small forwards in the game in Nicolas Batum and Portland is a tough team to deal with already.
Not to mention the stellar play of shooting guard Wesley Matthews (16.6 points per game) and center Robin Lopez, who in Aldridge’s absence has been incredible.
The main difference between Portland and Houston though, as mentioned is the depth. The ‘Blazers bench consists of Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, Mo Williams and even C.J. McCollum who has filled in admirably when called on. The question with the ‘Blazers has always been can the defense step up?
3) Los Angeles Clippers
For the past few seasons, the Los Angeles Clippers have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch, but they have not been able to get to the next level in the postseason. This year however, the Clippers are primed for a deep run. Currently the Clippers hold the three seed in the Western Conference at 50-21.
Winners in nine of their last 10 games, the Clippers are getting hot at the right time, can they win the West? That remains to be seen, but as long as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin continue to put on a show, the Clippers will be dangerous. But, what could separate them from the rest of the conference is the scoring depth. In addition to Paul and Griffin, Jamal Crawford can score 30 any given night, Danny Granger and Darren Collison can hold their own on the floor as well.
Not to mention when J.J. Redick comes back. The Clippers may be the most prepared team for the playoffs, but can they overtake the top two teams in the West?
2) San Antonio Spurs
As long as Gregg Popovich is the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, they will be at the top of these lists. The Spurs have the best record in the NBA at 54-16 and possess the biggest point differential in the NBA (+7.8 points per game). The Spurs have been battling injuries all season as Tim Duncan is the only player to start in over 59 games, yet they still are the best team as far as record in the NBA.
Once again, Duncan and point guard Tony Parker will lead the team into the playoffs, but this may be among the deepest teams “Pop” has coached in a long time. The Spurs have six guards that play meaningful minutes (Parker, Ginobili, Belinelli, Joseph, Mills, Green), and they do not miss a beat. In addition to the guards, Duncan is paired with Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter when everyone is healthy, which is a nine man rotation of good NBA players.
Can the Spurs continue their playoff dominance? It has to end sometime, right?
1) Oklahoma City Thunder
Last year’s Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder rounds out this list, and for good reason. Despite being two games behind the Spurs, the Thunder are still the favorites to get to the NBA Finals. Why? Kevin Durant is a good enough reason in itself, but he is not a one man show in Oklahoma City, this time he has a very good surrounding cast.
When Russell Westbrook is fully healthy, he is among the better point guards in the NBA. In addition, Serge Ibaka is one of the best players under the rim in the league averaging nine rebounds and just under three blocks a game. Derek Fisher is one of the savviest veterans in the NBA, but can still contribute in a big way off the bench. Following him are proven scorers Caron Butler and Reggie Jackson, who can each score 20 points on any given night.
The one thing the Thunder are missing is a good perimeter defender. But wait, Thabo Sefolosha will be healthy before the playoffs start, so the Thunder will be ready to roll in June. Can Kevin Durant finally win his ring?
Photo: Soobum Im, USA Today Sports Images
In addition to writing here at Sportsnaut, Josh covers fantasy sports, NFL Draft, and daily fantasy sports at sites across the internet. His work has been seen on Pro Football Focus, eDraft, XNSports, Project Roto, The Chicago Tribune, Philly.com and others.