1. Houston Rockets – Harden and Paul
The leaders of this Rocket team are without a doubt, Chris Paul and James Harden. The reason I have them listed as the biggest factors for this team is that of the history of troubles these two have had once they enter the playoffs. Both James Harden and Chris Paul have had their moments in which they have either not showing up for a playoff game (Harden) or continually fall short of expectations for themselves and their respective team in the playoffs (Paul). In order for the Rockets to finally be the team to make it, let alone win a championship other than the Warriors or Cavs, then that will be dependent on if Harden and Paul continue their stellar play of this regular season into the playoffs, which they are more than capable of doing.
2.Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry’s Health both physical and mental
The Golden State Warriors are the defending champion which makes them a bigger target for every team they will face these playoffs. The Warriors have been struggling of late and Steve Kerr has gotten on his team for it. They are a noticeably different team when Steph Curry is not out there leading them at a point. So that makes Steph Curry’s health the deciding factor on if they repeat. Steph will likely be able to come back the second round of playoffs where they would likely play either the Trail Blazers or the Pelicans. Not only do the Warriors need Steph’s physical health to be there but mentally as well. Meaning that he must have the mindset and willingness to want to lead this team to a repeat because teams that have not yet won a championship such as the Rockets and Thunder have the drive and hunger for a championship that the Warriors may not possess to their degree.
3. Portland Trail Blazers – Roleplayers
The Portland Trail Blazers have locked up the 3 seed led this season by their phenomenal backcourt in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. In years past when the Blazers have made the playoffs Lillard specifically has shined, I also believe CJ McCollum will flourish this year. Other than these two the Blazers will also need their supporting cast to step up and make a name for themselves if they want to make a run this year. Whether that be Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, or Shabazz Napier another player will have to step up and be the third fiddle for the Blazers because I do not believe their backcourt can carry them through the West.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder Big 3
Why not Westbrook, Melo, and Paul George as the reason; if the Thunder expects to make a run these playoffs? I mean their whole team runs through Russ so if this team is going to go far he will likely be why. Teams will do their best this playoffs to try and slow down Westbrook. Which is why Carmelo and George will also have to play to All-star level, which they are definitely capable of doing. That will consist of primarily hitting threes which they both are great at doing. They will also have to create open shots for themselves especially down the stretch of ball games when the game is tight and teams start to double Westbrook.
5. Utah Jazz – Quinn Snyder
The Jazz may be the most surprising team in the Western Conference playoffs. You can thank a couple people for that; Donavon Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and the one that may not come to many peoples head right away head coach Quinn Snyder. Quinn Snyder has done a great job this year leading this team in the second half of the season to the playoffs. In the first round of the entire playoffs, this may be the most exciting matchup. The one area where I believe the Jazz have a clear advantage is the head coach. Even though Billy Donavon is a good coach, Snyder is by far a better one. With that being said Snyder will have to make that known to those watching this series if the Jazz wants a chance of moving on to the next round.
6. New Orleans Pelicans – Rajon Rondo
Playoff Rondo is a real thing. Ever since his days in Boston, Rondo thrives in the playoff spotlight. Last year Rondo’s 8th seed Bulls almost pulled off the upset on the 1st seed Celtics until he got injured. This year the Pelicans will face the Trail Blazers in the first round meaning Rondo will be matched up with the Blazers star player Damian Lillard. The Pelicans are the 2nd worst team in opponents ppg so Rondo will have to step up to try to change that in the playoffs. The likely road this team will have to make it to the finals will be through Lillard’s Blazers, Curry’s Warriors, and then Harden’s Rockets. With the point guard play the Western Conference has to offer the Pelicans will need Rondo at his best if they want to be taken seriously this year.
7. San Antonio Spurs – Kawaii Leonard
The San Antonio Spurs will be playing the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. But just like last year it seems as if the Spurs will be playing most of this series without Kawaii. Even though the Warriors will be without their star Steph Curry and the Spurs do have one of the greatest coaches of all time, the Spurs need Kawaii if they expect to pull off this upset and make a run in the West. Kawaii is one of, if not the best two-way players we have in the league today and in a tough Western Conference, the Spurs need more star power than LaMarcus Aldridge if they want to make it far or even possibly out of the West.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves – 3 pointers
The Minnesota Timberwolves have the privilege of playing the #1 seed Houston Rockets in the playoffs, and if you have been paying any attention to basketball in the past 3 years you’d know that the Houston Rockets are pretty good at shooting the 3. My point is if Minnesota wants any chance to advance to the next round they will have to start to shoot the 3 at a somewhat good rate. The Timberwolves ranked last this year in 3 pointers made while the rockets ranked first. The Rockets also beat the Timberwolves almost as bad as they have beaten any opponent this year. So the Wolves need a lot of things to go their way but I would say the first need to concentrate on limiting the Rockets 3’s and make some of their own if they want a shot.
Stats and Info Courtesy of espn.com and basketball-reference.com hoopsstats.com
Image via: rocketswire.usatoday.com