Every team is .500 or better. The top three teams have the three best records in the league. The past three MVPs have all come from here, and this year’s MVP is nearly a lock to come from here. Welcome to the Wild West.
Why is the NBA the best professional sports league right now? It’s player-centric. Which conference has the best players?
SPOILER: The West.
- Kevin Durant (one-time MVP)
- Stephen Curry (two-time and reigning MVP)
- Russell Westbrook (likely to be an MVP)
- James Harden (in contention for MVP)
- Kawhi Leonard (two-time and reigning Defensive Player of the Year)
- Draymond Green (finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2015 and 2016)
- Damian Lillard (also a rapper)
I could have kept typing, but I thought it would be better if that list ended with the fact that one of the league’s best point guards also raps.
Anyway, the fact remains that the Western Conference has the best players (with the exception of the best player and G.O.A.T., LeBron James). Great players against for great players makes for the best matchups.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers
Out of the four series in the West, this is probably the least intriguing, but the series still has value. It’s a chance for Golden State to prove why it’s the league’s golden team, but also a chance to see what kind of find the Blazers have. The Splash Bros. vs. Dame and CJ McCollum. Portland may have a shortage in talent outside of its guards, but this series will see no shortage of offense.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies
Despite featuring the best coach in the NBA (more on that later), this is probably going to be the least entertaining series from the West, at least if you like offense. Both teams, especially Memphis, are heavily defensive-minded. The problem for the Grizzlies is that Tony Allen, their defensive anchor, is going to miss most, if not all, of the series with a strained right calf. Nonetheless, we’ll get to see Kawhi be Kawhi, and that’s usually exciting enough on its own.
(3) Houston Rockets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder
Close your eyes. Imagine a dimension where two basketball players were drafted by the same team and went to the Finals together, but then one of the players was unexpectedly traded away. Then, both players exploded on their own teams to be MVP candidates, averaging nearly 30 points per game and more than 10 assists per game (and one of them is actually averaging a triple-double).
Open your eyes. The dimension you entered is not an alternate reality. That dimension is very real, and we get to see James Harden and Russell Westbrook face off in the first round of the playoffs.
Oh boy. I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about it. In case you thought you misread the above paragraph, WE GET TO SEE JAMES HARDEN AND RUSSELL WESTBROOK FACE OFF.
I hope the NBA rewrites the rules for this series and no other series that requires these teams to play one 90-minute, winner-take-all game. I can’t even fathom the points, rebounds and assists totals that the Beard and the Brodie would each have.
Unfortunately, all we get is a potential seven-game series between this season’s two best players. Darn. That is just so unlucky.
(4) LA Clippers vs. (5) Utah Jazz
Wait, there’s more?
Have we not been #blessed enough?
This is actually an incredible matchup by two teams that have flown under the radar. The Clippers have been banged up, but actually have a healthy roster entering the playoffs for once.
The Jazz have 2017 All-Star Gordon Hayward and one of the best shot blockers in the NBA in Rudy Gobert squaring up against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
It’s not the flashiest series, but this is a great matchup nonetheless.
The Western Conference features four coaches who have won NBA Coach of the Year, including the reigning winner, Steve Kerr. Other winners of the award are Gregg Popovich, who has won Coach of the Year three times, Mike D’Antoni and Doc Rivers.
Steve Kerr just led the Warriors to the greatest three-year regular-season stretch in NBA history, including an NBA-record 73 wins last season. By the way, that 207-39 record in the past three seasons were Kerr’s first three seasons as an NBA coach.
Gregg Popovich is a five-time NBA champion head coach, and has won a title in three different decades.
Mike D’Antoni has the potential to be the NBA Coach of the Year yet again with the offensive revolution he’s led in his first season in Houston.
The NBA has some mastermind coaches, and a lot of them just so happen to be in the Western Conference.
The beauty of the playoffs is that anything and everything can happen. There can be upsets, sweeps, injuries, close wins and heartbreaking losses. The only certainty from this year’s Western Conference Playoffs is that it’s going to be wild.
Featured image by Keith Allison, courtesy of Creative Commons