The NBA season is postponed until July 31, when a 22-team tournament will take place as the league returns from its COVID-19 hiatus. After scrimmaging and finishing the regular season, the playoffs will begin.
In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles teams are the two favorites. The Lakers and Clippers are expected by many to face off in the Conference Finals with the winner going on to represent the West in the NBA Finals. Is there another team that could upset them as the conference champion? Our TGH NBA staff weighed in:
Spencer Poole- Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers are a team that a lot of people seem to have forgotten after their impressive run to the Western Conference Finals last year. Due to a slew of injuries to key players such as Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Rodney Hood, the Blazers have been mediocre at best this season.
They are currently 3.5 games behind Memphis for the last spot in the playoffs. But both Collins and Nurkic are coming back for the Orlando restart; and with their starting frontcourt back, expect Portland to make some serious noise. Nurkic is a key part of the Blazers’ offense, specifically his pick and roll game with Damian Lillard, and Zach Collins is one of Portland’s best inside enforcers. If everything clicks they could be a lot to handle for the Lakers in the first round and maybe even get a big upset.
Tyrese Boone- Portland Trail Blazers
If the Trail Blazers can find a way to make into the playoffs they’ll definitely be contenders to win the championship. Since the NBA bubble gives everyone a level playing field, all it takes is a team with a hot streak to make it to the Finals. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum had this type of run last year where they made it to the Western Conference Finals beating some solid playoff competition. It’ll be interesting to see if they can do this again this year.
Ben Hendricks- San Antonio Spurs
Leave it to a team as well-coached as the Spurs to thrive in chaos. San Antonio is first in the league in fewest turnovers per game, and in the top 10 in field goal percentage. Those fundamentals are what led them to championship after championship. And, even though the stars are gone, Gregg Popovich and his squad can overcome flash with substance. Look for them to take advantage of ill-prepared teams.
Adam Hushion- Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks may not have the best team on paper going into the NBA restart, but they do have a young superstar with limitless potential in Luka Doncic. Doncic is arguably coming of the best season a 20-year-old has ever had in the NBA, putting up averages of nearly 29 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
With Doncic, Dallas can go into every conference playoff series that isn’t against one of the Los Angeles teams and believe they have the best player on the court. In the playoffs, the ability to give your superstar the ball and let him run the offense can be the difference maker.
This season, Doncic led the Mavericks to the best offensive rating in league history, besting teams like the Durant Warriors, Showtime Lakers and Jordan’s Bulls.
If Dallas can move up in the standings and avoid the L.A teams for a round, they have a young superstar with shooters around him and a proven championship-level coach to make an all-time run at a championship.
Zach Russell- Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder blew up their squad last offseason, trading away Paul George and Russell Westbrook, receiving Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and tons of picks in return. The result has been one of the most surprising teams in the league, and their success could continue into the playoffs.
The three-point guard rotation of Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander, and sixth man Dennis Schröder could exploit teams with weak defense at the guard positions. Gallinari remains an elite scorer who can spread the floor and cause problems for defenses, while Steven Adams can be an effective rim-running center against small-ball teams.
OKC has shocked the league so far; what’s stopping them from doing so in the Orlando bubble? The Thunder, led by a Paul, a veteran hungry to win, will be a tough out against any team, and could push one of the top teams to the limit, perhaps even upsetting them.
Featured image credited to Forbes.
Stats credited to Basketball Reference.
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