NBA Bubble Restart Primer: Western Conference Breakdown

The NBA invited 13 teams from the Western Conference to the restart in Orlando. Of the 13 teams invited, six have already clinched a playoff spot. With each team scheduled to play eight seeding games, the other seven will fight for the final playoff spots while the six that have clinched will compete for seeding.

The Western Conference will have much more on the line compared to the East. Teams seeded 3 thru 7 are separated by only four games and teams seeded 8 thru 12 are also only separated by four games.

The West due to having several good teams as well as 13 teams battling for positioning should make for entertaining and completive basketball. Also, the West hasn’t had as many issues with COVID or players opting out like some teams in the East.

As for the schedule, the teams will take part in seeding games from July 30 to August 14. If the ninth-place team is within four games of the eighth-place team then a play-in series will happen between the two. The eighth seed has to win one game but if the ninth-place team wins two games then they will replace the eighth seed in the playoffs. The playoffs will run from August 17 to no later than October 13.

With all of the teams staying in Orlando this year postseason will have no home-court advantage and could produce some compelling series especially in the later rounds. There is also the risk of players contracting the COVID-19 virus and that could not only ruin a team’s chances but an outbreak could cause the league to have to shut down again.

Teams:

1. LA Lakers

Los Angeles LakersRecord: 49-14

Seeding games opponents: LA Clippers, Toronto, Utah, OKC, Houston, Indiana, Denver, Sacramento

Outlook: The Lakers were playing their best basketball right before the season was halted as they defeated both the Bucks and Clippers in a three-day span. Now they must find that gear again but this time without Avery Bradley (opted out) and Rajon Rondo (for 6-8 weeks).

LA appears to be the favorite in the West but it depends who you talk to if its the Lakers or Clippers. Expect LeBron James and Anthony Davis to dominate but can the supporting cast give them enough help come playoff time?

Burning question: Which LA team is better? Clippers or Lakers?

2. LA Clippers

Los Angeles ClippersRecord: 44-20

Seeding games opponents: LA Lakers, New Orleans, Phoenix, Dallas, Portland, Brooklyn, Denver, OKC

Outlook: Despite Kawhi Leonard missing 13 games and Paul George missing 22 games, the Clippers are still in second place in the West. When healthy the Clippers have looked every bit as a title favorite.

LA also added Marcus Morris before the season stoppage who despite the offensive struggles should prove immensely helpful come playoff time.

Burning question: Can Kawhi deliver a title to another snakebitten franchise?

3. Denver Nuggets

Denver NuggetsRecord: 43-22

Seeding games opponents: Miami, OKC, San Antonio, Portland, Utah, LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Toronto

Outlook: Despite being in third place in the West the Nuggets still feel a bit under the radar. After the Lakers and Clippers, it seems the general consensus is that the Rockets are the next biggest threat in the West instead of the Nuggets.

A big part of that could be how Denver looked last in last year’s playoffs or some still not believing in their supporting cast around Jokic. If Denver wants to be considered a threat then they will need to prove it come playoff time.

Burning question: How dangerous can this Denver team be?

4. Utah Jazz

Utah JazzRecord: 41-23

Seeding games opponents: New Orleans, OKC, LA Lakers, Memphis, San Antonio, Denver, Dallas, San Antonio

Outlook: The Jazz are one of the teams that will be missing a key player as Bojan Bogdanovic will be out after having surgery. The Jazz will also be without Mike Conley at some point as he awaits the birth of a child.

Utah will also have to deal with questions about chemistry as Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were at one point angry with one another after Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. Those two will be discussed frequently during this return.

Burning question: What will the Jazz’s chemistry look like with Gobert and Mitchell?

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

oklahoma city thunderRecord: 40-24

Seeding games opponents: Utah, Denver, LA Lakers, Memphis, Washington, Phoenix, Miami, LA Clippers

Outlook: OKC has been the league’s biggest surprise this season and a big part has been the play of Chris Paul. Despite his massive salary which is part of why he’s in OKC, Paul has been a perfect fit for the Thunder. The Thunder were expected to be a lottery team and yet here they are as the fifth seed in the West right now.

With so many teams bunched up in the standings, the Thunder could end up as high as three or as low as seven.

Burning question: Can the Thunder play spoiler come playoff time?

6. Houston Rockets

Houston RocketsRecord: 40-24

Seeding games opponents: Dallas, Milwaukee, Portland, LA Lakers, Sacramento, San Antonio, Indiana, Philadelphia

Outlook: The Rockets have fully embraced the small-ball lineup. The question is now how far can they advance with it. James Harden and Russell Westbrook give the Rockets a strong one-two punch but they’ll need others around them to hit their shots.

The Rockets are viewed as the third-best team in the West by many but can they prove it when the playoffs come? Much of that will depend on the play of Harden and Westbrook.

Burning question: Can Houston upset one or both of the LA teams?

7. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas MavericksRecord: 40-27

Seeding games opponents: Houston, Phoenix, Sacramento, LA Clippers, Milwaukee, Utah, Portland, Phoenix

Outlook: The team that has the league’s best offense is the Mavericks surprisingly. Between Luka Doncic looking like a superstar at times and Kristaps Porzingis returning to his old form, the Mavericks are a team that nobody should want to see come playoff time.

The issue for Dallas is can they stop anyone? Dallas has the NBA’s top offensive rating but they sit 17th in defensive rating.

Burning question: Will the Mavericks put a scare in one of the West’s top teams?

8. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis GrizzliesRecord: 32-33

Seeding games opponents: Portland, San Antonio, New Orleans, Utah, OKC, Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee

Outlook: The Grizzlies come into the Orlando bubble as the 8th seed. That makes them the team that five others are trying to catch and finish within four games. Should the team that finishes ninth be within four games of Memphis then they will play in a play-in game.

If the ninth-seeded team beats Memphis twice then they would take the Grizzles play in the playoffs. Memphis has had a solid season thanks to Rookie-of-the-year frontrunner Ja Morant. Can he and the Grizzlies make the playoffs?

Burning question: Will Memphis hold off the other five teams and make the playoffs?

9. Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail BlazersRecord: 29-37

Seeding games opponents: Memphis, Boston, Houston, Denver, LA Clippers, Philadelphia, Dallas, Brooklyn

Outlook: Portland will enter Orlando with its full roster for the first time this season. They could be one of the more dangerous teams competing for the final playoff spot.

The big question is how will they develop chemistry with only eight games left of the season. The addition of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins is a big help. Can Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum get the Blazers to the ninth seed and within four games of the eight seed?

Burning question: Is this Portland team the biggest threat to Memphis? or is it New Orleans?

10. New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans PelicansRecord: 28-36

Seeding games opponents: Utah, LA Clippers, Memphis, Sacramento, Washington, San Antonio, Sacramento, Orlando

Outlook: The Pelicans, despite being in 10th place, are considered by many as the team most likely to be in the final playoff spot. New Orleans has the benefit of the league’s easiest schedule but they still have to pass the Blazers and stay within four games of Memphis.

Zion Williamson looks to be in great shape but he left the bubble for a family emergence and will be forced to quarantine when he returns. It’s unknown if he will miss any games yet.

Burning question: Can the Pelicans take the final playoff spot from Memphis?

11. Sacramento Kings

Sacramento KingsRecord: 28-36

Seeding games opponents: San Antonio, Orlando, Dallas, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Houston, New Orleans, LA Lakers

Outlook: Five teams are fighting for the final playoff spot yet the Kings are hardly mentioned among the others minus the Suns. The Kings had won seven of their last 10 before the NBA season was suspended.

If Sacramento can find that groove then they could play spoiler for the play-in game. A big question is if they will be missing any players after having De’Aaron Fox suffered a ankle injury and four others dealing with COVID (Harrison Barnes, Alex Len, Buddy Hield, Jabari Parker). The Kings need them all healthy for any shot at the playoffs.

Burning question: Will the Kings be helathy enough to comepete for a playoff spot?

12. San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio SpursRecord: 27-36

Seeding games opponents: Sacramento, Memphis, Philadelphia, Denver, Utah, New Orleans, Houston, Utah

Outlook: The Spurs playoff chances took a major hit when LaMarcus Aldridge was announced as out due to surgery on his shoulder. Without him, it’s almost impossible to see the Spurs making the playoffs.

Should they miss the playoffs it will end their NBA record of 22 consecutive playoff appearances.

Burning question: Can Pop work his magic one last time?

13. Phoenix Suns

phoenix sunsRecord: 26-39

Seeding games opponents: Washington, Dallas, LA Clippers, Indiana, Miami, OKC, Philadelphia, Dallas

Outlook: The Suns technically have a shot at the playoffs but it’s very small. They are six games behind Memphis and 2.5 behind Portland and New Orleans with only eight games left.

Phoenix likely won’t make the playoffs but could use a strong showing with rumors going around that Devin Booker may have eyes for New York.

Burning question: How many games will the Suns win? Will it be more than 2?

Predicted Finish:

1. LA Lakers

2. LA Clippers

3. Denver Nuggets

4. Houston Rockets

5. Utah Jazz

6. Dallas Mavericks

7. OKC Thunder

8. Memphis Grizzlies

9. New Orleans Pelicans

Play-in game: Pelicans 2-0 over Grizzlies

  
Brandon has covered basketball for several outlets including FanSided and 247Sports. He is a graduate of Radford University with a degree in media studies/journalism.

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