The Contenders of the Wild West
The Western Conference has owned the Eastern Conference for over a decade now, and although the East made some notable improvements this offseason, the best of the best still remains in the West. If you enjoy gambling, this is going to be a really difficult year to cover spreads, considering the level of competition is going to be ridiculous. Below are the top six teams in the Western Conference.
San Antonio Spurs (Vegas Insider Odds to win the Western Conference: 12/5)
The Spurs have the best starting 5 in the league, and LeMarcus Aldridge should help Tim Duncan rest during the regular season, making him fresh for the playoffs. There are some doubts regarding how well Aldridge will fit the Spurs’ offense given his “ball stopping” tendencies, but I’m sure Duncan and the gang will teach Aldridge how to play Spurs ball. Also, having a “ball stopper” isn’t always a bad thing, especially when you need an easy bucket in crunch time.
What makes this team even more ridiculous is that Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and LeMarcus Aldridge are not the number 1 player on the Spurs. That title goes to defensive player of the year, Kawhi Leonard. Expect him to go on a rampage this season considering all the weapons opposing teams have to worry about.
Add in David West, Manu Ginobli, Boris Diaw, and Patty Mills off the bench, and there’s no wonder this team is the favorite to beat the West.
Golden State Warriors (Vegas Insider Odds to win the Western Conference: 3/1)
The Champs didn’t have as much of an exciting offseason as the Spurs, but father time is on their side. With a young core, the Warriors have no excuse but to play even better this upcoming season.
Regular season will be a breeze for them, so I don't even care about analyzing that. What we should look for is how they will play in the playoffs. Although the Warriors won it all, they were not at the top of their game. They were down 2-1 in the second round against the Grizzlies, with Mike Conley and Tony Allen playing on one leg, and they were down 2-1 against Matthew Dellavedova in the Finals.
The Warriors are going to have to tweak their offense when the shots aren’t falling if they want to be back-to-back champs.
Oklahoma City Thunder (Vegas Insider Odds to win the Western Conference: 18/5)
Last season, the Thunder missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009. That was clearly due to injuries. If Durant and Westbrook are healthy, they are a scary team to face.
They may not be as deep as the rest of the contenders in the West, but sometimes it doesn’t matter. In crunch time you know that either Westbrook or Durant are going to eat up the clock and throw up contested shots, but for whatever reason, it works.
Ever since trading James Harden, the Thunder have not made it back to the finals. Since Kevin Durant is entering the final year to his contract, Oklahoma City needs to go all-in. Expect a hectic trade deadline from OKC in order to improve their depth. Dion Waiters better watch his back.
Los Angeles Clippers (Vegas Insider Odds to win the Western Conference: 13/2)
The Clippers had a proactive offseason to say the least. They got Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Wesley Johnson and Knicks legend Cole Aldrich. They also stole DeAndre Jordan back from the Mavericks.
Lance Stephenson had a horrible season with the Hornets, but I expect him to bounce back having Chris Paul by his side. I also expect Lance to be Doc Rivers’ number one perimeter defender in the playoffs.
To all Josh Smith haters: It is true that the Pistons are better without him and that he is an inconsistent shooter with a questionable shot selection. It is also true that he was a major reason why the Rockets beat the Clippers in the playoffs. Josh Smith will hijack Glen Davis' role. That is a good thing.
Paul Pierce became a spot up specialist on the Wizards with John Wall feeding him the rock; I expect more of the same on the Clippers. Even if Pierce has a mediocre season due to age/injury, who's willing to bet he won't do this in the playoffs?
The Clippers blew a 3-1 lead against the Rockets in the 2nd round last season. It was a very alarming series to witness after winning such an exciting Game 7 against the Spurs. The Clippers have the same talented core with new and improved depth. This is Chris Paul's best squad yet.
Houston Rockets (Vegas Insider Odds to win the Western Conference: 11/1)
I already wrote a column on why the Rockets are legitimate contenders after acquiring Ty Lawson this offseason. There are some question marks regarding how good this team is at defense, even when Dwight Howard is healthy, but their offense is going to be so fluid and impossible to guard that it may not even matter.
Memphis Grizzlies (Vegas Insider Odds to win the Western Conference: 15/1)
All the teams above either won a championship, has Durant coming back, or made a noteworthy acquisition in the offseason. Memphis has done none of the above, so why are they included in this column? Never sleep on a team with established players who know their role and like to play defense.
Memphis is not a sexy pick to win the West due to their lack of “star power”. I can’t stand how some people still think star power is a determining factor to win it all. I admit you can’t win a championship without having a star player, but if you mean to tell me that Marc Gasol and Mike Conley aren’t star players, then you don’t watch basketball. Sure, Gasol is not as polarizing as a LeBron James, Stephen Curry, or Anthony Davis, but Gasol remains one of the best passing big men in the game, and one of the best defenders.
The Grizzlies are a small ball neutralizer due to their size and toughness. Take the Warriors. Last season, the Grizzlies were up 2-1 against the Champs due to their ability to suffocate the perimeter on defense and control the offensive glass. The Grizzlies may not have earned the title as favorites, but they undoubtedly have earned the title as contenders.
High-level competition has always been a factor in the Western Conference. Two seasons ago, an 8 seed team took the championship-winning Spurs to 7 games. However, this season is different. These six teams are going to be dominant on a whole different level. Don’t let the Vegas Odds fool you; there is no favorite.