The Utah Jazz have the best record in the NBA, but they are not the favorites in the Western Conference, especially over the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, the Lakers are the best team in the West once LeBron James and Anthony Davis are healthy. There is very limited competition with the Lakers’ star power, even teams with a better record like the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns are a great team with Devin Booker and Chris Paul playing like the best backcourt in the league, they do not have the Lakers’ physical ability and talent. Most importantly, the Suns do not have playoff experience outside of 35-year old Chris Paul. LeBron and Davis are too major of a mismatch. Portland and Dallas are very inconsistent and do not have the defensive ability to defend The King or Davis. That being said, there are only 2 teams in the West that have a shot at usurping the Lakers.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are a massive threat to the Los Angeles Lakers, even though they did not quite make it to the Western Conference showdown last season. The Clippers are back, hungrier than ever, and they just added “Playoff” Rajon Rondo to their squad before the trade deadline. The Clippers are playing very well this season, holding the 3rd seed in the West, and ranking 6th in defense and 1st in 3-point shooting (41.5%). On both ends of the floor, the Clippers are a problem.
The Clippers also have some key advantages over the Lakers. Head coach Tyronn Lue coached LeBron James to his 3rd NBA title with the Cavaliers and knows the way James plays the game better than any coach in the NBA. He can use that to his team’s advantage, especially if they have a Western Conference Finals showdown. Most importantly, the Clippers have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George who are both superstar defensive players. They can do the best job possible at defending LeBron, forcing him to give up the ball to secondary players.
The Clippers failed to show these advantages last season as they choked a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets, they will be ready this season and have a shot at beating the Lakers.
1. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets have arguably the MVP favorite in Nikola Jokic on their squad, which makes them an immediate championship contender. Jokic is averaging 26.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG, and 8.7 APG this season. With Jokic in the middle, the Nuggets have an advantage over most teams. Against the Lakers, he will put immense pressure on Anthony Davis and match him on offense.
The Nuggets also have a young star in Michael Porter Jr, averaging 17.0 PPG this season and he can be a major piece to match up with LeBron James on the wing. Jamal Murray, arguably the best player for the Nuggets in last season’s Bubble, will play his best in the postseason. In a nutshell, Denver is stacked across all positions.
Most importantly, the Nuggets have added Aaron Gordon. So far, Denver is 7-0 since adding the athletic forward to their lineup, because he fits in the lineup perfectly. The forward is averaging 14.2 PPG and 6.2 RPG, and his defensive versatility means he can defend LeBron and Davis at times. The Nuggets have climbed the rankings all season long and currently hold the 4th seed in the West, and with Jokic having an MVP season, they must play at their best to beat the Lakers in order to win the NBA championship in 2021.