Both the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers came into the 2019-2020 NBA season as favorites to win the Western Conference. Coming into bubble play, the Lakers are the 1-seed, while the Clippers are the 2-seed, thus proving the preseason predictions correct. But the Lakers and Clippers are not the only teams in the West, there are more formidable contenders outside of the top two seeds. Although the Clippers and Lakers still remain the favorites, I believe there are three teams that could upset the teams out of L.A. and win the West.
Team #1: Denver Nuggets
The Clippers’ biggest weakness is the Nuggets’ strength, size. Just take a look at the lineup the Nuggets ran out during the scrimmage against the Wizards.
But what really sets the Nuggets apart from the next two teams listed is depth. Denver can run out any combination of Paul Millsap, Jerami Grant, Michael Porter Jr., Noah Vonleh, or Torrey Craig at either Los Angeles duo. Albeit none of the five names listed are defensive stalwarts, but they have enough length to make life tough around the rim for any one of Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, or Anthony Davis.
In the regular season, the Nuggets won a game each against both L.A. teams, loss twice to the Lakers, and once to the Clippers. But now everything changes, throw out the regular season, no more significant home court advantage. This is bubble ball we are talking about, and the Nuggets could surprise either team from L.A. with their size, depth, and scoring ability.
Team #2: Houston Rockets
We travel to the other side of the size spectrum to Houston. The Rockets’ style of play relies on shooting. Led by James Harden, Houston attempts almost 45 shots from behind the arc a game. The reason why the Rockets may upset both teams from L.A. is as simple as the Rockets getting hot from behind the arc, and outscoring their opponents.
Houston is not the most sound team defensively. But bringing in savvy veteran Luc Mbah a Moute to help P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington defend the star forwards in Los Angeles strengthens their case an team that could upset the Lakers and the Clippers. Pair a deeper bench with a star studded guard duo and Houston’s strength coming into the bubble is something the Lakers are lacking, which is depth and guard play.
With no Avery Bradley in the bubble and Rajon Rondo injured, Harden and Westbrook would match-up with a guard rotation of Dion Waiters, J.R. Smith, Alex Caruso, and Danny Green. The Lakers’ guard rotation has playoff experience with Smith and Green, but the clear advantage rides with Houston.
If the Rockets were to come out of the West, it would rely on shooting, guard play, and the defense of Covington, Tucker, and Mbah a Moute.
Team #3: Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks would be the most surprising, but the reason they crack the list is star power. It is no secret that Luka Dončić is on pace to become one of the brightest stars of the game if he is not already. Pair him with the Mavs’ other star, Kristaps Porzingis, and you get close to a top five duo in the league.
Although the Mavericks may have the star power, they lack depth. Defensively, Dallas will have their fair share of problems with the star-studded duos in L.A. as well. Dorian-Finney Smith, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Tim Hardaway Jr. will all get tasked with the difficult duty of defending any one of the four stars in Los Angeles, which does not bode well for Dallas. Compared to the Nuggets and the Rockets, what they have defensively against L.A.’s brightest starts is not as strong.
But as I said, the star power of KP and Luka could keep them in each and every game against the Western Conference’s top teams. Luka is averaging right around a triple-double and Porzingis’s production picked up right as the season was postponed. So if the Mavericks are going to be the team not from L.A. to shock the world and come out of the West, it is going to come from their stars.
Do I think that an L.A. team will win the Western Conference? Yes. Would I be shocked if a non-L.A. team wins the West? No.
The Western Conference championship predictions have been dominated by the Clippers and the Lakers, with good reason. But the Nuggets, Rockets, and Mavericks all have the talent and have shown they can hang with both the Lakers and Clippers on occasion. So do not act surprised if one of the three teams listed upset the Clippers or Lakers.
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