NBA: Western Conference Preview

by Will Rogers

Southeast Division

You’ve got three playoff teams and two non-contending teams here. I’m not exactly certain who will win the Southwest, or if that team even finishes top four in the Western Conference. In the mix are: Memphis (49.5 wins), Dallas (48.5 wins) and New Orleans (44.5 wins). My gut says the Mavs finish first among the three as the Grizzlies definitely won’t match last season’s 56 wins, but the key is do you think they will regress by seven or more games? With several teams in the West now better than they were in 2021-22 and the Grizz losing a few pieces, the chance for heavy regression is there. I think I’m talking myself into the Mavs, who lost Jalen Brunson but should get a MVP caliber season out of Luka Doncic. 

The Pelicans started horribly last year, but then were basically a .500 team the rest of the way. How much will Zion Williamson play though after sitting out all of last season? Whereas the books are calling for 6.5-win regression from Memphis, they are also calling for 8.5 game improvement from NO. That’s kind of a lot, even if you think Williamson ends up playing in a majority of the games. 

San Antonio has been a playoff mainstay for two decades, but this season they are a lock for the lottery and (they hope) a top three pick. Both the Spurs and Houston are projected for only 23.5 wins, tied with two other teams in the West + Indiana for fewest in the entire league. No value on playing either win total for me. 

Northwest Division

The Northwest is similar to the Southeast in that you have two teams competing for the top, one clearly in the middle and two clearly at the bottom. At the top, you’re talking Denver and Minnesota. I think the Nuggets finish first and they should be a top four seed in the West pretty easily. Under Michael Malone, the Nuggets have dominated sub-.500 opposition the last two years, going 54-16! Such domination goes a long way towards a successful regular season. Interestingly, Denver and Minnesota were the two top Over teams (in terms of totals) in the league last year. The Timberwolves added Rudy Gobert to a team that more than doubled its win total. Not sure they can crack the top six in the West and I give the Nuggets a clear edge at winning this division.

Portland lost both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to injuries last season and they were absolutely atrocious down the stretch as a result (lost last 11 games). Can they get back to 42 wins, which is where they were two years ago? Probably not. But the win total is set at 39.5. If they hit that number, then they are probably in the play-in round. The Blazers were dead last in the league ATS last season at 32-50. 

Oklahoma City continues to rebuild and Utah, a top three team in the West each of the last two seasons, is set to join them in that process. I like Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, but the Thunder lost a game by 70 points last season. Utah lost Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, thus no team is expected to fall harder. I can actually see both OKC and the Jazz exceeding their win totals, but not by much.

Pacific Division

This star-studded division is absolutely loaded with three teams projected for 51+ wins, one of them the reigning NBA Champs (Golden State), another the team that finished with the best regular season record last season (Phoenix) and the third being the favorite to win the 2023 NBA Finals (Clippers).

Golden State’s win total (53.5) seems high considering they don’t have a lot to prove coming off another championship season. Plus, you just had Draymond Green beat up Jordan Poole. Not optimal! 

Phoenix (52.5 wins) is a lock to regress this season. But that’s built into the win total. I’d say no value there.

With Kawhi Leonard returning, the Clippers are now favored to win the NBA Title. I certainly won’t be betting them to accomplish that feat, at least at this juncture, but finishing with the best regular season record is a distinct possibility. Go Over on 51.5 wins.

Oh yeah, what about the Lakers? They win 70% of the time when LeBron James and Anthony Davis both suit up. Problem is, that didn’t happen very often last season. They are projected for 44.5 wins this season. If you think James and Davis can stay healthy, bet the Over as Lakers will then finish in the top six and that’s certainly going to require at least 45 wins. 

Poor Sacramento. They are doomed to last place and have a projected 33.5 wins. With the Seattle Mariners making the MLB playoffs this year, the Kings now have the distinction of longest postseason drought in all four major sports. Does making the play-in round count as snapping it? I’ll allow you to make an official ruling, but the Kings should battle the Blazers for the final play-in spot and I’d go Over on this win total. 


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