Following our preview of the Eastern Conference, our basketball traders have taken a look at the Western Conference ahead of the NBA playoffs. Can the Warriors make it without Durant? Will the Rockets reach the final? Read on to find out.
Golden State Warriors
The warriors are 11-5 since Durant went down with injury but they are on an 8-0 run so they have adjusted. KD is expected to be ok by the time the first series begins - with him in full stride the Warriors possibly have the best starting five ever. Without him, they certainly look like they can be challenged.
Stephen Curry: One of the greatest shooters of all time who opens up the floor for the Warriors other offensive weapons.
Draymond Green: Green is one of the top defenders in the NBA who can guard multiple positions and fills up the stat sheet. His consistent high level of energy and toughness make him the key to the Warriors championship drive.
San Antonio Spurs
The superlatives (15-3) are endless when assessing Coach Popovich - this year is a fresh testimony to his greatness. The Spurs aspire to their first Tim-Duncan-less championship and with Kawhi Leonard leading the way, they have every right to imagine they have a shot.
On the other hand, they have not gotten past the second round in the last few years and unless they capture the first seed they are on course to face the explosive Houston Rockets in the second round.
Kawhi Leonard: One of the most dangerous two-way players in the NBA, Leonard is widely regarded as one of the top 4 players in the game today.
Lamarcus Aldridge: Aldridge is a big body who is a threat on the low block and from medium distance.
Thanks to the perfect paring of Coach Mike D'Antoni and this year’s MVP favourite James "The Beard" Harden the Rockets (15-6) have played at a consistently high level while being tremendously entertaining.
The big question on the minds of many is whether a juggernaut offense with an average defense can reach The Finals. Championship drives are typically measured as much by defensive success as they are by offensive star power.
James Harden: Harden runs the show in Houston, and it’s quite a show. This year D'Antoni has inspired him to translate his ball handling skills into sharing the ball at a league high assist rate.
The Jazz are struggling down the stretch with a 10-10 record. They have struggled during the season with poor starting five continuity and in some ways the team seems a bit tired. You can still feel Coach Snyder’s imprint of toughness, which runs through all-star center Gobert and to the rest of the team.
Rudy Gobert: Rim-protector extraordinaire is long and athletic. Few can match up with what he brings.
Gordon Hayward: Deadly scorer from different spots on the floor with a high IQ.
George Hill: A defensive minded point-guard who is also an excellent playmaker.
Clippers are 8-5 lately when their big three players are in. While they are solid enough, they have lacked the sort of force and consistency which they will have to find in order to have any chance to avoid another frustrating Playoff finish.
Chris Paul: The commander of the ship, Chris Paul can disrupt defenses with both his passing and scoring. CP3 is up there in age, but still a fine defender with quick hands.
Blake Griffin: Great in the post and has developed a good midrange jump shot.
De Andre Jordan: Athletic and long center who owns the boards.
The Thunder (10-6) are running up a hot 16-2 record at home at the moment. The one man band of Russell Westbrook has kept the Thunder viable even in the wake of Kevin Durant’s departure. Westbrook’s barrage of record-threatening triple-doubles understandably has kept him in close competition for MVP all year long.
Russell Westbrook: Even the oldest NBA analyst will say there have never been a player that attacks defenses as relentlessly.
The Grizzlies are 6-8 since the break and will be entering the playoffs somewhat on fumes.
Mike Conley: A great point guard that does a good job involving his teammates.
Marc Gaso: One of the best passing big men in the game with an above average jumper that now extends to the 3-point line.
Their latest 12-3 run is due to the resurgence of Damian Lilliard and the elevation of their defense to adequate from bad.
Damian Lilliard: Elite scorer, great ball handler and undeniable team leader.
C.J McCollum: Good secondary ball handler who can hurt opponents from any distance.
The Nuggets (9-6 of late) are restoring the historic franchise altitude advantage with a 13-4 record home mark when they have been at full health. It has taken time but it would seem that with a little bit of fortune coach Malone has created a quality of team he deserves.
Denver has survived its fair share of injuries but are now the healthiest they have been and run a solid nine deep. Should they get the eight seed they have no chance to win more than a game or two in the first round but it would be good for them to get a taste of that experience.
Nikola Jokic: The emerging star and fan favorite of Denver is posting averages of 16 points and 9 rebounds. At 22 years of age, he already displays great mobility and passing for his size.
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