NBA: Predicting the Playoff Teams in the West

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With the presence of the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference, it’d be understandable if you thought there was nothing to pay attention to in the conference unless it has to do with those two powerhouse teams.

While it’s highly unlikely that any team other than the Spurs or the Warriors will represent the West in the NBA Finals, the makeup of the rest of the playoff field in the conference will likely undergo major changes before the end of the regular season, providing some excitement outside of California and Texas. So, which eight franchises will represent the West in the NBA postseason? Here are our predictions of what the field will look like.

8. Sacramento Kings

Current position: 10th overall (24-32; four games back of eighth place)

Yes, the Sacramento Kings have probably made more headlines off the court than they have on the court this season, but we are under the impression that this team will make a run to sneak into the playoff field before all is said and done, largely because they have the talent to do it. DeMarcus Cousins is having a “beast mode” type of season, as the often overemotional center is fourth in the NBA in scoring and fifth in rebounding.

Coupled with Rajon Rondo, who leads the league in assists at 12 per game, you’d think that the Kings would be better than eight games below the .500 mark right now. They’ve got to put together a win streak if they want to reach the eighth seed and find some consistency, but with some other teams fading in the conference, Sacramento has the talent to pull it off.

7. Memphis Grizzlies

Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesMEMPHIS, TN - DECEMBER 30: Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts to a called foul against the San Antonio Spurs during a game at the FedExForum on December 30, 2014 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Current position: Fifth overall (33-23)

After the Memphis Grizzlies made a couple of trades involving key players before the deadline, many thought the team was giving up on the season. They lost Marc Gasol to injury for the remainder of the campaign, so raising the white flag would have made some sense. However, seeing how well the Grizzlies have played of late (7-3 in their past 10), they haven’t given up quite yet.

They currently sit in fifth place in the West, so it’s unlikely that they’d fall all the way out of the field. While we think they’ll slip up a bit, the talents of Mike Conley and others on that roster will keep Memphis competitive enough to qualify for the postseason yet again.

6. Utah Jazz

Current position: Ninth overall (28-29; a half-game back of eighth seed)

The Jazz have floated around the .500 mark for quite some time now, but we think the team is ready to take flight and make a slight move up the conference. Utah just might have the most scoring depth in the Western Conference, as seven players average 10-plus points per ball game and four score 15 or more points per night.

Derrick Favors has really developed this season and Gordon Hayward has taken the reigns of the club to lead this talent. When you see all of that potential on the Jazz, you’d expect them to be higher than No. 9 in the West, so putting them at No. 6 in the conference seems more than fair. Of course, finishing higher than seventh guarantees that you avoid the Spurs and the Warriors in the first round, so that’s a key factor in Utah’s motivation to move up.

5. Portland Trail Blazers

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Current position: Sixth overall (30-28)

It felt like everyone counted out the Portland Trail Blazers prior to the start of the season. They lost LaMarcus Aldridge and weren’t expected to be anywhere near the playoffs, but thanks largely to the heroic efforts of Damian Lillard (seriously, how was he not an All-Star?), Portland is solidly in the field at No. 6 right now.

Alongside Lillard has been the almost equally great play of C.J. McCollum, who has improved dramatically this season. When they beat the Warriors last week, we saw that the Blazers can beat anybody when they are playing their best, so predicting that they’ll finish fifth in the West is anything but a stretch.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

Current position: Third overall (41-17)

Everybody is saying that the big three in the West includes the Spurs, Warriors, and Thunder, but we think Oklahoma City will slip to the fourth seed before the end of the season. Of course, that’s not because of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who serve as the premier example of a dynamic duo in the NBA.

Instead, we think OKC will falter a bit down the stretch because of the drop off after their two superstars. They don’t hold a huge lead over the current No. 4 team in the conference and we saw how badly they can play when they aren’t hitting on all cylinders against the Cavaliers. A couple more bad performances (they lost again, to the Pelicans, on Thursday) and they will seize the third spot, which we expect to happen.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Current position: Fourth overall (37-20)

Say what you want about the Los Angeles Clippers, but this team is good enough to win an NBA title in any season where historical records aren’t being chased. They’ve been playing well without Blake Griffin; once he returns there’s no telling how good LA will play down the stretch.

Chris Paul is doing Chris Paul things and DeAndre Jordan has been a presence on the boards and on the defensive end all season long. It will take some work to overtake the Thunder (the two sides will match up three times before the season’s end), but we like the Clippers to shock everyone and take the third seed, earning the right to at least avoid the Warriors in the second round of the playoffs (should they make it that far).

2. San Antonio Spurs

Current position: Second overall (49-9)

In some ways, the San Antonio Spurs couldn’t have chosen a worse season to be having one of the best seasons in league history, largely thanks to the Warriors being just a bit better. In reality, the Spurs have a shot at catching Golden State in the race for the top spot in the West, as they are just 3.5 games back and play the Warriors three more times before the end of the year.

That feels unlikely though, so the Spurs might be stuck in second. That shouldn’t be too difficult for them to deal with though, seeing as they have a roster loaded with talent (Kawhi Leonard) and experience (Tim Duncan). A Western Conference Finals matchup of epic proportions feels almost certain between the Spurs and Warriors.

1. Golden State Warriors

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Current position: First overall (52-5)

With the presence of those Spurs, it’s pretty unbelievable to think that Golden State hasn’t all but locked up the top spot in the West. They’re off to the best 57-game start in NBA history and appear unbeatable almost every night (unless Damian Lillard is going crazy against them).

Yet, they’ll have to keep winning if they want to hold off the Spurs and maintain home court advantage for the playoffs, which just might push them to that new NBA record for wins in a season. Need we mention the names for the Warriors? At this point, only a person who’s been living under a rock for the past few months would be surprised that the Warriors are the clear favorites to win a second straight championship.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.com.

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