NBA Western Conference, Finals predictions

Lakers star LeBron James and Clippers star Kawhi Leonard
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Yesterday, we predicted the 2020-21 NBA Eastern Conference. Today, we tackle the West and NBA Finals.

Kurt Helin

Regular-season standings

1. Los Angeles Lakers

2. Denver Nuggets

3. L.A. Clippers

4. Dallas Mavericks

5. Utah Jazz

6. Portland Trail Blazers

7. Golden State Warriors

8. Houston Rockets

9. Phoenix Suns

10. New Orleans Pelicans

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

12. Memphis Grizzlies

13. San Antonio Spurs

14. Sacramento Kings

15. Oklahoma City Thunder

 

First round

Los Angeles Lakers over Phoenix Suns

Denver Nuggets over Golden State Warriors

L.A. Clippers over Portland Trail Blazers

Utah Jazz over Dallas Mavericks

Second round

Los Angeles Lakers over Utah Jazz

L.A. Clippers over Denver Nuggets

Western Conference finals

Los Angeles Lakers over L.A. Clippers

NBA Finals

Los Angeles Lakers over Milwaukee Bucks

The Lakers are in their own tier this season — they have the best duo in the league in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and they added great regular-season depth with Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder. It’s possible, however, that the Lakers choose to rest LeBron and Davis during the season more and the Nuggets grab the top seed. I see the Clippers and Nuggets as the second tier in the West, and I am betting on Tyronn Lue to help improve the chemistry and strategy and force a Los Angeles showdown in the Western Conference finals.

After that the West is wide open. Dallas, Utah, Portland, Golden State, and Houston could finish in any order (Houston being lower is betting on the Rockets finding a trade partner for James Harden, if that happens early enough they will miss the playoffs entirely). After that I think the Suns could make the playoffs, and maybe Stan Van Gundy can find enough shooting on the Pelicans’ roster to get them there. The Timberwolves have the offensive talent but I don’t trust their defense. Look for Memphis to make a leap next season, and after that the Spurs and Kings have higher aspirations but this is a deep and tough conference.

Dan Feldman

Regular-season standings

1. Los Angeles Lakers

2. L.A. Clippers

3. Denver Nuggets

4. Utah Jazz

5. Dallas Mavericks

6. Phoenix Suns

7. Portland Trail Blazers

8. Golden State Warriors

9. Houston Rockets

10. New Orleans Pelicans

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

12. Memphis Grizzlies

13. San Antonio Spurs

14. Sacramento Kings

15. Oklahoma City Thunder

 

First round

Los Angeles Lakers over

L.A. Clippers over

Denver Nuggets over

Utah Jazz over Dallas Mavericks

Second round

Los Angeles Lakers over Utah Jazz

L.A. Clippers over Denver Nuggets

Western Conference finals

Los Angeles Lakers over L.A. Clippers

NBA Finals

Los Angeles Lakers over Milwaukee Bucks

The Lakers are far from locks to repeat, but they’ve earned benefit of the doubt.

Still, I don’t have the Clippers that far behind. They have talent and should have better chemistry. If not for the unique challenges of last season, they might have won the title.

The Nuggets and Jazz look like safe playoff teams with the Mavericks close behind. I like where the Suns and Trail Blazers stand, but this conference is deep.

The Warriors (top-heavy with Stephen Curry and maybe Draymond Green) and Rockets (James Harden trade request) have massive variance. The Pelicans have plenty of talent, though their lack of shooting/floor-spacing causes fit concerns.

The Timberwolves lead the lower-middle class, because – owing their first-round pick to Golden State – they have the least incentive to tank if still in the play-in race.

Even the Thunder could be frisky with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, George Hill and Al Horford. But Oklahoma City seems ready to tank.