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Predicting playoff teams who will come out of the Western Conference

We take a look out West and try to predict which teams will represent the conference in the 2021 NBA playoffs.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard drives to the basket on Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes during the second half of the game at Moda Center. The Blazers won 127-102. Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA season gets underway on Tuesday with Opening night of the 2020-21 regular season. It’ll be a 72-game trek to the postseason with the play-in tournament becoming a thing again this time around after its success in the NBA bubble in Orlando.

The Western Conference has always been viewed as incredibly competitive. This season is now different. Surprise, surprise! With the Golden State Warriors looking healthy and reloaded, the Phoenix Suns sporting a new Point God, and an up-and-coming Minnesota Timberwolves squad, the West will be ... wait for it ... wild again! Get it? Wild Wild West?! Okay, I’m done here...

Below I’m going to attempt to predict the finishing order of the Western Conference with each playoff team and play-in tournament (if warranted).

Western Conference Standings Prediction

  1. Los Angeles Lakers
  2. Los Angeles Clippers
  3. Utah Jazz
  4. Golden State Warriors
  5. Denver Nuggets
  6. Phoenix Suns
  7. Dallas Mavericks
  8. Portland Trail Blazers
  9. New Orleans Pelicans (play-in tournament)

The West is always so tough to figure out every season. So right off the bat, you’re probably thinking how it’s crazy to not have the Houston Rockets in the postseason. Well, there’s a decent chance James Harden gets traded elsewhere during the season. If he doesn’t, I can’t imagine he’s going to be happy for the entirety of the season with the toxic culture being reported. So if Harden gets dealt, the Rockets wouldn’t have enough to get in with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Christian Wood under a new coach.

I think the Jazz were kind of built for the regular season. There are few teams that play defense in this League and the Jazz do it well. Bojan Bogdanovic coming back along with Jordan Clarkson and Derrick Favors makes the Jazz very deep. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are both paid, so there aren’t any distractions. This feels like Utah’s season to take a step into the top 3.

I’m down on the Nuggets slightly compared to the field. Denver lost Jerami Grant, Torrey Craig and Mason Plumlee this offseason and will be relying on Michael Porter Jr. to take a big step. He’s a liability on defense, so while I think the Nuggets’ offense will be fine, defensively they take a hit without Craig and Grant on the wings.

The Suns are my sleeper team who could jump into the top 4 in a short season. If injuries kick in and Phoenix can stay healthy, the Suns have the potential to finish very strong with Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton — basically three All-Stars. What makes Phoenix so deadly is Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges on the wings defensively. The Suns could be very sneaky good on defense — Oh yeah, I almost forgot my boy, former Mountaineer great Jevon Carter!

The play-in tournament I think will be between the Trail Blazers and Pelicans. Portland has the potential to finish higher but it’s tough putting them ahead of maybe the 7-seed for me. The Pels could also be very good with that young core, but I can see a learning curve under Stan Van Gundy. So I think it’s Blazers-Pels in the play-in tourney with Portland coming out on top again.