Predicting the 2021-22 Western Conference standings, playoffs, Finals

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After a summer of bold moves such as bringing in Russell Westbrook, the Lakers are grabbing headlines and are the betting favorite to be the Western Conference champion — again.

But Chris Paul and the Suns got a taste of the Finals and want more (and to prove last season wasn’t a fluke). Meanwhile, the Warriors/Nuggets/Jazz all need to stay healthy, but if things break right they are a threat. The West is again deep — look how far down the list we have Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. That’s a good team that could end up in the play-in because the West is stacked.

Here are the NBC Sports NBA writer predictions for the West this season, plus our Finals picks (our East predictions came out yesterday).

Kurt Helin

Regular Season standings
1. Jazz
2. Suns
3. Lakers
4. Mavericks
5. Warriors
6. Nuggets
7. Clippers
8. Trail Blazers
9. Grizzlies
10. Pelicans

Playoffs first round:
Jazz over Trail Blazers
Suns over Clippers
Lakers over Nuggets
Warriors over Mavericks

Playoff second round:
Lakers over Suns
Jazz over Warriors

Western Conference Finals:
Lakers over Jazz

NBA Finals
Nets over Lakers

The Lakers and Nets are the best teams in their conferences when healthy, but when you look at the age and injury histories of their stars and rosters, it seems unlikely that both will make it through the marathon of the NBA season and be 100% ready to go in the postseason, but if they do those are the teams to beat. Fully healthy, I’ll take Kevin Durant over LeBron James for Finals MVP and the Nets over the Lakers.

The Jazz and Suns have the talent and ability to knock off the Lakers if they stumble at all. Utah brings back the same roster that had the best record in the West last season. While some pundits write the Jazz off in the playoffs after the Clippers took them apart a year ago, I believe if Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley are healthy (unlike a season ago) they are a threat to come out of the West. I think a Bucks-like leap is possible for them this season.

The Nuggets (if Jamal Murray gets healthy and is his old self again) and the Warriors (if Klay Thompson returns, plus some young role players like James Wiseman step up) could be threats to come out of the West. But these teams don’t have any margin for error, things need to fall perfectly in line for them.

Dan Feldman

Regular Season standings
1. Jazz
2. Suns
3. Lakers
4. Warriors
5. Nuggets
6. Trail Blazers
7. Mavericks
8. Clippers
9. Grizzlies
10. Timberwolves

Playoffs first round:
Jazz over Clippers
Suns over Mavericks
Lakers over Trail Blazers
Warriors over Nuggets

Playoff second round:
Jazz over Warriors
Lakers over Suns

Western Conference Finals:
Lakers over Jazz

NBA Finals
Nets over Lakers

The Lakers, Jazz, Suns and Warriors all look like they have realistic championship chances. The Nuggets, too, if Jamal Murray gets fully healthy. Ditto the Clippers with Kawhi Leonard.

If actually matched up in the second round, I’d favor the Warriors over the Jazz. But this prediction reflects my higher faith in the Jazz to make the Western Conference finals.

So much could go wrong for the Lakers and Nets. I don’t feel great about picking that NBA Finals matchup. But if naming only one team from each conference, it’s hard not to give benefit of the doubt to Los Angeles’ and Brooklyn’s premier top-end talent.