The Western Conference has been the better and more competitive conference in the NBA. It is also widely perceived to be the stronger conference in the NBA.
Before the season began, experts were talking about how the Los Angeles Lakers could challenge the Warriors’ reign in the West. They were terribly wrong. Instead, it has been the other Los Angeles team that has surprised us. Also, we saw superhuman effort from James Harden but the Rockets could only finish 4th after a slow start. Except for the Clippers sneaking in and Denver finishing at #2, there wasn’t much surprise in the Western Conference playoff picture. Make sure to read my 2019 NBA Western Conference winner prediction:
(1) Golden State Warriors vs (8) Los Angeles Clippers
As expected, the Golden State Warriors clinched the #1 spot in the Western Conference. However, unlike in previous seasons where the Warriors had home court advantage throughout the playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors of the East have a better win-loss record than the Dubs. But then maybe that won’t matter because with their championship experience, Golden State has proved to be capable of winning on the road in the postseason. I mean, isn’t this what they are here for? The addition of DeMarcus Cousins was supposed to make them invincible. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, the Warriors have struggled to find their championship form. But maybe the playoffs will awaken the sleeping giant.
You have to credit the Los Angeles Clippers for making it to the playoffs despite trading leading scorer Tobias Harris during the trade deadline. We’ve been talking about teams surprising us this season but the Clippers should be on top of that list. They traded Chris Paul two seasons back, Blake Griffin last year and DeAndre Jordan this year. They still made the playoffs behind sixth man supreme Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverly and other over-achieving role players. Enough of the compliments. The Dubs are going to destroy them anyway.
Prediction: Golden State Warriors via sweep
(2) Denver Nuggets vs (7) San Antonio Spurs
Finally, the Denver Nuggets are in the postseason. After missing the playoffs by a needle in the previous two seasons, the Nuggets flexed their muscles and made sure they won’t miss the bus this year. Nikola Jokic had an excellent season, doing it all for his team. Denver has been hounded by injuries all-season long. Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton missed a combined 76 games but they’re supposed to be healthy right now and that should be a huge sigh of relief for the Nuggets who are one of the most inexperienced teams in the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
That inexperience could prove to be their achilles heel against a San Antonio team that has made 22 straight postseason appearances and are coached by one of the greatest coaches in NBA history in Gregg Popovich. Also, San Antonio has a super veteran line-up that worries me because while Denver is good, these Spurs have been there and done that. The Spurs have LaMarcus Aldridge and Demar DeRozan for starters. Then they also have the likes of Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and whoever Popovich puts inside the game. San Antonio is the 7th seed is no joke. Not with their coaching, not with their poise and experience. Not at all so Denver should beware here.
Prediction: This one’s tough but I’ll pick the Denver Nuggets in six games
(3) Portland Trail Blazers vs (6) Oklahoma City Thunder
For the last month of the season, we thought that the Blazers would end up 4th behind the Houston Rockets. But as fate would have it, Houston slipped to #4 and the Blazers ended up at #3. Good news? Not really. Portland will now have to face an OKC team led by two All-Stars in Russell Westbrook and Paul George. You can talk about their struggles and stuff but this is the postseason. Those stars were built for this. As for Portland, they will be without starting center Jusuf Nurkic who suffered a season-ending leg injury. Likewise, focus will be on starting shooting guard C.J. McCollum who played only three games after suffering a bad fall on March 16. McCollum is a 20-point scorer but averaged just 10 points per game in his three games since the injury.
The Thunder swept their regular season series 4-0. Now the Blazers are faced with the task of defeating Oklahoma City in a seven game series. If Paul George and Russell Westbrook aren’t tough enough to beat, what more with Portland playing without their defensive anchor and third leading scorer in Jusuf Nurkic? We’re not even talking about the mental barrier that Portland has to overcome. They were swept by Pelicans in Round 1 last year and also swept by the Warriors in Round 1 two seasons ago. Tough assignment, especially without your starting center.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder in five games
(4) Houston Rockets vs (5) Utah Jazz
Houston was one of the hottest teams after the all-star break as they raced from 6th to 3rd in the Western Conference standings. When they were starting to cool off, it seemed that they had done enough to merit the #3 spot in the West. But lo and behold, the Rockets fell to 4th and now are faced with the task of knocking off the Utah Jazz which is always easier said than done. James Harden is an absolute offensive machine, being the first player in NBA history to score at least 2,800 points and issuing 500 in a single season. Harden isn’t alone and in fact he has double-double machine Clint Capela, sixth man Eric Gordon and point god Chris Paul.
However, when you take about the Utah Jazz, you talk about defense. Utah ranked 4th in scoring defense and even in the previous years, they were known as a tough defensive squad. Credit defensive anchor Rudy Gobert for much of that identity. He’s one of the best rim protectors in the league and that could spell some trouble for the unstoppable Harden. Donovan Mitchell has also improved much from his rookie season and he has been Utah’s best offensive weapon. Throw in Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles and you have on very potent scoring team on offense.
Prediction: Houston Rockets in six games