In my previous blog, I discussed a few NBA teams in the Eastern Conference poised for a deep playoff push. Now, let’s take a look at how the Western Conference postseason is shaping up now that we are nearing the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
The Golden State Warriors remain at the top of the divisional standings with a record of 45-21. However, the Denver Nuggets, a surprising threat out west, are just one game behind in 2nd place. The Oklahoma Thunder have also been surging as of late following a slow start to the season, and are currently in 4th, just one game behind the Houston Rockets. Taking all of these impressive late-season runs into consideration, these teams have, perhaps, the best chances to come out on top of the Western Conference.
Golden State Warriors
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to many that the defending champions, who have won three of the last four NBA Finals series, are yet again sitting in first place in their division. The Warriors are favored to claim the title yet again this year, with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant leading the way, both of whom are averaging 28.6 and 27.6 points per game respectively, making them both top-five scorers in the league.
Their recent acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins has been beneficial, but somewhat underwhelming. His presence hasn’t propelled them to near invincibility as some predicted it would, but he is still a contributor. If they are to successfully defend their throne and win their fourth championship in five years, they’ll have to stay composed in a postseason that includes a few teams ferociously gunning for the title.
A truly surprising team to emerge as contenders (given how quickly they’ve improved in just a few seasons), the Nuggets continue to win games despite being plagued with crucial injuries. Michael Porter Jr. and Trey Lyles have both been sidelined recently, on top of Will Barton and Gary Harris missing a significant amount of playing time throughout this past season.
Luckily, Denver has found its savior in Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 20.4 points per game, in addition to their stout defense. The Nuggets are only allowing 107.1 points per game, but have lately been hitting a few speed bumps. This could prove to be their eventual downfall, but counting them out entirely would be a mistake.
James Harden has defiantly made his case for the title of MVP this year, averaging an incredible 36.6 points per game, which is 8 points more than the NBA’s second scoring leader, Paul George. Yet, Harden is only one man. The Rockets had a slow start to the season and have also experienced their share of injury woes, forcing Harden to put the team on his back. While that has been working as of late, it isn’t a recipe for success in the postseason. However, Chris Paul and Clint Capela are now back in the rotation, which should alleviate some of the burdens that have fallen upon Harden’s shoulders.
With the playoffs getting closer and closer, Houston will need to tighten up their defense. Not every game can be decided in a shootout ending in 150-point totals. Though their offense is among the league’s best, if they cannot spread their talents to both ends of the court, they are going to have a difficult time getting past teams with comparable offensive talents.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook continues to put up MVP-caliber numbers since winning that title after his 2016-17 season with the Thunder. Today, he is leading the NBA in assists with 11.2 per game; two full assists more than Kyle Lowry. He’s also pulling down 11.2 rebounds per game as a point guard. Oklahoma City also boasts the aforementioned second-leading scorer Paul George, who has finally found his rhythm with the team.
Where they are lacking, however, is in bench scoring. The Thunder cannot rely solely on the talents of Westbrook, George, and Steven Adams if they are to beat top-tier opponents. Luckily, their recent signing of Markieff Morris should provide some assistance. Oklahoma City has a serious shot at reaching the Western Conference Finals, where they could face off against the Warriors yet again, setting up a rematch of the 2016 series.