The Western Conference playoffs will be decided tonight as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets face off for the last playoff spot. Besides the Rockets and Warriors, every team has been fighting for seeding or even to clinch a playoff spot. This race to clinch the playoffs just shows how deep the West is compared to the East, which means the first round is bound to be interesting. With so many great teams in the West, which of the lower seeds have a chance to upset the top dogs in the Warriors or Rockets?
New Orleans Pelicans: It doesn’t matter which team Anthony Davis plays, he’s a matchup nightmare. Even without Demarcus Cousins, Davis has found a way to eat up teams in the paint, averaging 29.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game in April. The key in the playoffs will be Rajon Rondo, who is known to step up his game on the big stage. He’s a fantastic defender that could give Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson or Eric Gordon trouble. As long as he’s still making plays (averaging 10.4 assists in April), the role players continue to stroke it, and Davis rises to the occasion as the star player, they have a chance.
San Antonio Spurs: For the Spurs it’s pretty simple, continue to play fantastic defense and trust Coach Popovich. This time doesn’t have much star power outside of LaMarcus Aldridge, who some NBA fans would argue he isn’t a star. Also, he’s been known to go missing for a couple of games in the playoffs. However, they will have the coaching advantage no matter which team they will play, which means they have the advantage in close games that come down to the wire. ATO plays, out of bounds plays, and matchups in the fourth will be on Popovich’s side and the Spurs need to keep games close. When they beat the Rockets last year, they played tough defense, executed efficiently on offense, and used their veteran experience to make plays in crunch time. Don’t count out Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, just ask James Harden about them.
Oklahoma City Thunder: This team is the one team to watch for upsets, even against the Warriors or Rockets. Their seeding isn’t set as of today, but they can beat both the Rockets and Warriors, especially the Warriors. When it comes to the playoffs, the starters extend their minutes and stars are locked in to playing their best basketball of the year. Luckily for the Thunder, they have two stars, and two players that are borderline stars, depending on how they play that day. Russell Westbrook fell off at the end of the series between the Rockets and Thunder last year, Paul George wants to get back to a Conference Finals series, and Carmelo Anthony needs to win in the playoffs to help his legacy. This Thunder team is hungry and we would be worried if we drew them in the first round.
Minnesota Timberwolves/Denver Nuggets:This last seed will be decided tonight, but each team doesn’t have a great chance of upsetting the top seeds. Even with the addition of Jimmy Butler, this team still doesn’t have great defense and don’t consistently bring it night in and night out. As for the Nuggets, their team feels like their one year away. Their young core players, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and Gary Harris, have shown that they will be a great group of players for the next five years, but they need one more summer to really put it all together. They’ll have a healthy Paul Millsap, another summer to develop these young guys, and will be ready to make some noise next season. Until then, they won’t be a major threat to the top seeds.