With the play-in games underway, it’s about time where we all turn our attention to the two-month fiesta that is the NBA Playoffs. This year could prove the most intriguing postseason in recent memory, with several different teams having a realistic shot at snatching the crown. While both conferences look equally competitive, this piece will address the three biggest storylines in the Western Conference.
- Are the Jazz for real?
Oddly enough, the Utah Jazz finished with the best record in the NBA this year, posting a 52-20 mark. This is particularly surprising in a conference loaded with star power like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Nikola Jokic.
So how did they do it?
First off, and likely overlooked is the defensive stalwart that is Rudy Gobert. “The Stifle Tower” is a true rim protector who allows wing defenders to cheat up knowing they have a backup line of defense. Gobert led the league in blocks at 2.7 per game.
Complimenting him is the obvious star of the team in Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell led the Jazz in scoring at 26.4 points per game, and he’ll probably need to up that number to around 30 in the playoffs for Utah to have a realistic shot at winning the title.
However, basketball is a team sport, and the Jazz had five players who finished in double figures this year. It’s also important to note that they set the NBA record for most three-pointers made per game at 16.8
The bottom line for the Jazz is do they have enough scoring outside of Mitchell to compete with the elite teams in the west realistically. Even though the five players in double figures stat is cute, it’s hard to imagine a world where Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, and Joe Ingles take down a team like the Lakers.
Utah has a phenomenal roster, but they lack a second superstar, which is often needed to win an NBA Championship. Mitchell is the DJ behind the turntables, and he’ll have to play all the right tracks for the Jazz to make a deep run. But it’s still probably not gonna be enough.
- Return of the Clippers
For those of you who need a refresher, the Los Angeles Clippers blew a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals, which seemingly caught everyone off guard.
Well at least it caught the Clips off guard.
Hopping back to 2021, they return the same core group of players led by Leonard, Paul George, and the always ruthless Patrick Beverley. Ok, Beverley may not be a leader, but he’s fun.
For L.A. it’s simple, is George gonna show up?
In 2020 against the Nuggets, he finished with 10 points in two out of the seven games, one of those being their season-ending game seven.
If the Clippers are going to compete for a championship, they’ll need him to be a consistent threat on offense. He finished with 23.3 points per game this year, but no one will remember if he doesn’t ball out in the postseason.
He is L.A. ‘s second best player, and the closest thing they have to a superstar paired alongside Leonard.
Talent-wise, the Clips are one of the few teams who can match the Lakers and Nets. Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins, and Lou Williams are a few other notable names on their roster, a roster with ten formidable players.
But the NBA is a league fueled by superstars, and the Clippers only have one of those, unless, of course, Playoff P has something to say about that.
- The King
Don’t act like you didn’t know this was coming. We are all interested to see if LeBron and the Lakers can win the NBA title from the No. 7 seed.
But arguably more importantly, James is going for his fifth NBA title, which would raise the inevitable question. Players with five titles include Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan. His legacy has already been written on the Etch A Sketch, but there’s something about number five that changes the conversation.
LeBron is still playing at an extremely high level, posting stats of 25.5 PPG, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.7 assists. He also decided to make a three-pointer from the “R” on the STAPLES Center logo to clinch a playoff berth in the play-in game on Wednesday night.
He’s comparable to Drake in which his greatness may be taken for granted (rap reference), but we should all be excited to watch him in what could be his final playoff run. His ankles may not hold up forever.
Regarding analysis, the Lakers are probably the best team in the West, and it’s their conference to lose. Alongside “The King” sit Anthony Davis, Dennis Schroder, Kyle Kuzma, Marc Gasol, Andre Drummond, and Montrezl Harrell.
Their roster is deep, talented, and enormous. LeBron has enough around him to do it.
But hey, if he wins it this year, he may have more in common with Mike than just Space Jam.