The final regular season game has been played and the jockeying for playoff position in the Western Conference has come to an end. Below we discuss the contenders and ignore the pretenders.
Western Conference Powers
The Favorite – Golden State Warriors
Who else but the Golden State Warriors would be the favorites to win the West? Sure, they didn’t take their customary seat in the lead car of the postseason parade, but injuries, particularly to Steph Curry, played a role in that as well as the fact that their rivals from Houston caught fire early and finished strong. Yes, Curry will miss the first round of the playoffs, but it’s not like there aren’t a few guys who can get the job done in his absence. The Warriors have been in the Finals three years running and have won a pair over that time. They remain the bettors’ choice even as the second seed in the West.
The Challenger – Houston Rockets
James Harden has been immense this season and the addition of All-Star Chris Paul has been a game changer for the Rockets. Houston wrapped up the regular season with the best record in the league and a quick check of SBR odds reveals that they will be among the favorites to win the title this year and supplant the perennial finalists from Golden State. But the regular season and the playoffs are two different animals. The Warriors have been there and done that, while the Rockets were worn out last season by the time they reached the conference semifinals and fell to San Antonio. Harden was a mess in the series clincher in which he was held to 10 points and looked positively bewildered in the 114-75 demolition. Could history repeat itself?
The Dark Horse – Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers scorched a path up the Western Conference standings with a dazzling 13 straight wins but then flailed down the stretch. However, when the rubber hit the road and they needed a win over the Jazz in the regular season finale to secure the No. 3 seed in the West, they got the job done. Going forward, their fate will be largely determined by the balky ankle of scoring leader Damian Lillard. If the sixth-year veteran is healthy then watch out; because as he goes, so too go the Trail Blazers. Let’s not forget about his teammate Jusuf Nurkic, the 7-foot center, who is collecting double-doubles like married men collect regrets. This dynamic duo, along with CJ McCollum, could upset the balance of power in the West.
Fading Star — San Antonio Spurs
Under Gregg Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs have been the most consistently successful franchise over the past two decades. It seems when one big star fades into the sunset another takes his place, as was the case when David Robinson gave way to the even more talented Tim Duncan. But now that Duncan has retired, it appears there is a void that cannot be filled even by the likes of Kawhi Leonard (who has played only nine games this year and presumably won’t be available in the postseason). Of course, the Spurs have suffered their fair of injuries this season, most notably to Leonard, but there doesn’t seem to be that passing of the torch from one outstanding iteration to the next. Many of the sharpest cappers in the sports gambling industry who write for SBR Picks have debated this topic, but I’m not sure if there is enough talent in San Antonio to muster another dynasty in the making. Regardless, the Spurs will be first-round fodder for the Warriors and then must go back to the drawing board as they contemplate the future of the franchise.