Photo credit: Utah Jazz/Twitter, Phoenix Suns/Twitter
The NBA Western Conference has always been jam-packed with formidable teams, which makes for entertaining viewing. Despite the massive improvement over the East side this year, The Wild Wild West remains the more competitive division.
When one powerhouse team falls off, another promising up-and-comer takes over. Then of course, you have your perennial contenders and rivals with bones to pick with one another.
With the playoff play-in format in effect once again this season, these six teams already separated themselves from the pack. Let’s break down how the West’s Top 6 got the job done during the regular season.
Following last year’s disappointing playoff exit where they lost a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the first round, the Jazz were out for redemption.
While it was the Los Angeles Lakers who reigned supreme during the first few weeks, it didn’t take long before the Jazz rose up the ranks. Once they snatched that top spot, they never let go.
The Jazz pretty much lorded over the standings thanks in large part to their proficiency with long range and intimidating defense. They even managed to hold the fort when superstar Donovan Mitchell missed some considerable time due to injuries.
Rudy Gobert will be looking to win his third Defensive Player of the Year award this season, while Quin Snyder should get a lot of recognition for Coach of the Year.
Both Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles are also deserving of the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Despite their regular season dominance, the Jazz still haven’t gotten the credit they deserve. Utah will be waiting to take on the team that ranks 8th. Will they continue to shock the critics come playoff time?
2. Phoenix Suns (51-21)
The Suns were a borderline playoff team last season but immediately became instant contenders this year. The biggest reason for their turnaround? Chris Paul! The 36-year-old playmaker is still on top of his game transforming another underachieving team into a powerhouse. That’s what CP3 does best, right? Turning mediocre teams into success stories!
All-Star Devin Booker also finally got the much-deserved help that he needed and continued to play magnificent basketball in his sixth NBA season. D-Book will finally participate in a playoff series and he has Paul to thank for that.
While they played terrific basketball during the regular season, they can’t rest on their laurels just yet because they will be facing the Lakers very soon.
Photo credit: Denver Nuggets/Twitter
The Nuggets have overcome a lot this season simply because Nikola Jokic played perhaps the best basketball of his career. The MVP frontrunner has been doing it all for the Nuggets, leading his team in major statistical categories like points (26.4), rebounds (10.8), assists (8.3), and steals (1.3). Grabe, ikaw na lahat!
While the injured Jamal Murray won’t be at their disposal this time around. Denver is still as dangerous as ever with the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. Aaron Gordon has also fit in nicely since arriving from the Magic over the deadline.
The Nuggets will take on familiar foes, the Portland Trail Blazers, in the first round. Do you think they can stop Dame Time from happening?
Photo credit: Los Angeles Clippers/Twitter
The Clippers are another team that are looking to prove themselves in a big way this postseason. After being the butt of jokes for losing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets last year, LA got back on the drawing board and became a much-improved team this campaign.
Paul George had the most efficient season of his career and Kawhi Leonard easily defeated opponents with his stellar play on both ends of the court.
The Clippers also made it rain from deep, averaging a league-best 41.1 percent success rate from long range.
They will take on the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, a team they already beat in six games last year. Do you think the Clips can oust the Mavs once more?
Photo credit: Dallas Mavericks/Twitter
Luka Doncic’s magic has once again pushed Dallas toward the postseason. However, it was also quite a challenging year for the Slovenian playmaker, who was second in the league when it comes to technical fouls. Chill lang, Luka.
Still, there’s no denying that the 22-year-old phenom is one of the best players and an ultimate game changer on the floor. Doncic, of course, figured in an ultra-physical match-up against the Clippers last year, and he will be looking to exact revenge this time around.
The biggest X-factor for Dallas would be Kristaps Porzingis. The Unicorn must return to his All-Star performance level so that the Mavs have a fighting chance to defeat the mighty Clips.
Will this finally be the year that Doncic makes it past the first round?
Photo credit: Portland Trail Blazers/Twitter
Damian Lillard had some extra motivation to win 42 games for Portland this season following one ridiculous bet. One fan reportedly wagered his house and would lose if the Blazers did not reach that win total.
True to his word, Dame led the Blazers to 42 wins and made sure one fan did not become homeless. Anyway, they’ll have to figure out the puzzle that is Nikola Jokic in the first round. The Blazers do have the skills to match up against The Joker defensively, but they’ll need a collective team effort to slow down the Nuggets’ other attacks.
The same goes for their offense, as guys like CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, and Norman Powell must pull their weight and give Lillard the help that he needs.
Do you think the Blazers can pull off a shocker against the heavily-favored Nuggets?
One thing’s for sure, we’ll be in for some good basketball games in the coming days. Who do you think will rule at the top of the West come July