O’Connell: Western Conference Playoff Predictions Through 3 Weeks
November 7, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams (23) reacts with forward Kawhi Leonard (2) after scoring a three point basket against the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The 2019-20 NBA regular season is already entering its third week. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics are tearing it up while the Golden State Warriors are falling apart after injuries to stars Klay Thompson and Steph Curry.
Here are my current playoff predictions for the Western Conference.
First Seed | Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers (6-3) have gotten off to a strong start considering Paul George has yet to play a game this season. Kawhi Leonard has continued his dominance from last year’s postseason, averaging 29 points through seven games. Lou Williams and Montrez Harrel once again give the Clips one of the best second groups in the NBA. Once George gets to be healthy, they will take over as the No. 1 seed in the West this season.
Second Seed | Los Angeles Lakers
Lebron James is on his way to another MVP season after being somewhat irrelevant last year. He’s averaging 26.1 points and 11.1 assists, which is unheard of from a small forward. Opponents have had trouble so far stopping James, as well as Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard, all of whom are monsters inside. The Lakers (6-1) are currently on a six-game winning streak and just getting started. They will be one of the best teams in the league and take home the second seed in the Western Conference this season.
Watch James grab this rebound and go coast-to-coast for a rim-rocking dunk in transition:
Third Seed | Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic is unreal. He is nearly averaging a triple-double through the first seven games, putting up 26.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 9.1 assists per game. With Kristaps Porzigis getting back to full health after a torn ACL he suffered two seasons ago, the Mavericks (5-2) could be in for a great year. I think they keep up their early successes and finish as the third seed in the West. Doncic will be a serious MVP candidate in only his second year in the league.
Fourth Seed | Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets (5-2) haven’t seen the MVP numbers from last year out of Nikola Jokic, but they are still getting it done. This leads me to believe that once the big man gets it going, they can become a dominant team in the West this year. Denver is without a player averaging 20 points a game so far, so they will need someone to step up into this role. Whether that be Jamaal Murray, Nikola Jokic, or someone else, we will have to wait and see.
Fifth Seed | Houston Rockets
James Harden and Russell Westbrook have worked well together so far despite both of them being very ball-dominant players. Westbrook has continued his triple-double craziness while Harden has shown flashes of his scoring streak from last year. Harden’s 36.5 points a game is a league-wide best through the first couple of weeks. The Rockers (5-3) can beat anyone on any given night and will be a fun team to watch this season.
Here’s a look at Harden’s 59-point performance against the Grizzlies on October 31:
Sixth Seed | Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz (5-3) had a disappointing end to last year, losing in the first round of the playoffs, but they found a young star in Donovan Mitchell. He’s averaging 25.5 points through eight games this season. Add in the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, and new acquisition Mike Conley, and the Jazz can be something special this season. They have the depth and stars to make a deep playoff run and can definitely earn higher than the sixth seed, but as of now, I have to put them there due to the amount of talent the western conference possesses this season.
Seventh Seed | San Antonio Spurs
You can never count out a Greg Popovich-coached team. Lamarcus Aldridge has had a strong start to the season and Demar Derozan should continue to mesh with his new team. The Spurs (5-3) can prove that they can still be a great franchise despite losing almost all players from their last championship run. They have loads of young talent and can give any team in the league a hard time night in and night out.
Eighth Seed | Portland Trailblazers
The Trail Blazers had an unexpected but amazing playoff run last season, ending in a loss in the Western Conference Finals. Damien Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the keys to their success. Both have started off hot in 2019, averaging over 20 points each. The return of big man Jusuf Nurkic from a leg injury could help the Blazers get back on track after starting 3-5 so far this season. They will likely not be able to make it as far into the playoffs, but definitely keep your eye out for a potential upset. With Damian Lillard, beating any team is possible.