The Western Conference has some excellent contending teams and it will be a tough ride for whoever makes the Finals in the end. With Portland winning the Play-In game over Memphis, we officially know the seedings of the conference.
The favorites for the NBA title are known, with the likes of the Lakers and Clippers the most feared teams on paper. But it doesn't end there, since the Houston Rockets have a 2nd ranked offense with two superstars of their own. Even the Nuggets and Jazz have strong squads, while the Trail Blazers feel they have enough to sneak into the Finals.
Here is how the Western Conference is expected to play out.
Western Conference Bracket
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers
The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis and that will be enough for them to defeat the very talented Trail Blazers. The Lakers simply have two of the top-five players in the league, which automatically makes them the favorite over any 8th seed.
Portland might be the best 8th seed in recent years and certainly the toughest opponent for the Lakers, but they won't have enough. The Blazers will push the Lakers to 6 games before James and Davis end it before they give Portland a chance to steal a Game 7. The Lakers proceed to face the winner of Houston - OKC in the next round.
Winner: Lakers vs. Trail Blazers 4-2
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
The Clippers have the most depth in the league, and all they have to do is stay focused and clinical in their play. Doc Rivers will make sure of this, and Luka Doncic won't have enough in the tank to keep the Mavericks going for long.
Expect Playoff Kawhi Leonard to show up, along with an excellent version of Paul George. The Clippers simply have too much talent, and Williams and Harrell provide unbelievable star power off the bench. The Mavs will steal one with Doncic and Porzingis having big games, but the Clippers will end with a "gentleman's sweep".
Winner: Clippers vs. Mavericks 4-1
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Utah Jazz
This is probably the most competitive match in terms of star power. The Nuggets have Nikola Jokic and tremendous depth, while the Jazz have Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Gobert must show up for the Jazz to have a shot, and he will have some good games in the series. Mitchell will be the best player in the series, but Denver is simply too good this season.
Jokic is currently the best center in the league and the likes of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr provide too much scoring for the Jazz to handle.
Winner: Nuggets vs. Jazz 4-2
(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder
Perhaps other than the Lakers vs Trail Blazers, this is the matchup we all want to see. Russell Westbrook is out for at least the first few games of the series, so we won't get to see him go against Chris Paul in an all-time competitive grudge match. Still, James Harden will have a lot to handle as he will be required to carry the Rockets in the first round.
Which he will do. James Harden is expected to be his MVP self and fight off the deadly OKC Thunder in 6 games. It is unlikely Russ will come back in the first round, and if the Rockets can manage to get a 2-0 start they might not need him until the matchup with the Lakers. Chris Paul will be deadly and they will snatch two games, but the Rockets end it in 6.
Winner: Rockets vs. Thunder 4-2
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Houston Rockets
The second round will really heat up, as the best 4 teams will be playing it out as they inch closer to the NBA Finals.
The Lakers have to take on the Houston Rockets, with a returning Russell Westbrook (expected) and a slew of three-point shooting. LeBron and AD will absolutely have to dominate inside if the Lakers want to win this series. This Houston Rockets team is the most high-risk high-reward team probably in NBA history, so it wouldn't be surprising if they upset the Lakers.
But if all goes according to plan, and if Houston doesn't get abnormally hot from three, the Lakers have the better team and they will end it in Game 7. LeBron is the best player in the world when at the top of his game, and AD is a top-five player. The lack of interior D will come back to haunt Houston and they will have to regroup next season.
Winner: Lakers vs. Rockets 4-3
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (3) Denver Nuggets
This will be a hotly contested matchup since both teams have the most depth in the NBA right now. The Clippers have four legitimate All-Stars on the squad though, which will play greatly in their favor.
As good as Jokic is, and he is great for Denver, the Clippers have Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi will turn back into MJ-esque and he will make big plays in tight moments to carry the Clippers to a Los Angeles showdown in the Western Conference Finals. Denver will fight hard, but their lack of a perimeter All-Star will probably be their downfall this season. Expect Denver to come back next year after making some big trades.
Winner: Clippers vs. Nuggets 4-2
Western Conference Finals
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Los Angeles Clippers
Who will play in the NBA Finals? LeBron and AD take on Kawhi and Paul George in somewhat of a scripted Western Conference Finals showdown. And the script couldn't be any better.
With all the marbles on the line, both teams will fight it out with a chance to win it all. There is a ton at stake here. LeBron is aging and wants to get closer to MJ with at least one more ring. Davis does not want to be the player who is a Hall of Famer without a ring. And the Lakers want to win one for the late and great Kobe Bryant.
For the Clippers, Kawhi has a chance to go down among the best 20 players ever while PG and Doc Rivers are hungry for some silverware. This will go 7 games, with all the superstars showing up. However, the Lakers simply have two of the top five players in the world on one squad. Their motivation will be sky high and they will escape from the Clippers in a comeback Game 7.
LeBron James will show why he is still The King, and he will have a chance to win his fourth ring and fourth Finals MVP which will place him even closer to MJ.
Winner: Lakers vs. Clippers 4-3