NBA Western Conference Playoffs: The Best (And Worst) Thing That Could Happen For Each Team
Did you enjoy the NBA regular season? It was about six months long. We’ve got the NBA playoffs coming up. They take about two months. So if the thing you liked about the NBA regular season was that it took awhile, you’re gonna love the dog days of the first and second rounds, when teams like the Hawks and Rockets force a Game 5 and extend this extra season even further and make you wonder why you stayed up late to watch.
Only the NBA’s best and the Bucks are still standing. Now what? What can we expect from each of the 16 teams engaging in this second season? Will they boom? Will they bust? As we all know, even in the NBA, either is a possibility.
Let’s go through the best and worst case scenarios for each team. Yesterday we detailed the Eastern Conference, which features the league’s best team and (in)arguably its best player. Today, we focus on the West.
8. Houston Rockets
Best case: James Harden plays like the guy we saw at the beginning of the season, driving and thriving with the kind of passion only a stilted former lover can muster. Jeremy Lin’s first playoff action doesn’t devolve into a series of poor decisions. Chandler Parsons does this a few times. Houston pushes Oklahoma City to a decisive Game 7 before falling — but not before building up the confidence and momentum that will spring them into the West’s elite next year.
Worst case: Harden plays like the guy we saw in the Finals last year. Lin turns the ball over a ton. Royce White live tweets each game and notes how anxious it makes him. Kevin Martin puts the “Should the Thunder have paid Harden?” debate to rest by shooting lights out in every game. The Thunder dominate and sweep,
7. Los Angeles Lakers
Best case: The Dwight Howard Redemption Tour presses on, as the once-pariah puts yet another team on his (surgically repaired) back and carries them through the playoffs. The team’s aging backcourt withstands Tony Parker and upsets the Spurs in six games. Without a superstar to match with Howard, the Nuggets also fall in six in the second round. It isn’t until faced with the athleticism (and, yes, great skill) of the Thunder that the Lakers falter. By then, Howard will have seen enough people smiling at him to decide to stay in L.A. and inherit the team.
Worst case: Typical 2012-13 Lakers dysfunction begins anew in the playoffs. Tony Parker slices up the Lakers D. Dwight Howard pouts. D’Antoni refrains from making any sort of adjustment until late in the fourth quarter of Game 4 — perfectly summing up the season. Spurs sweep. Kobe retires out of sheer frustration.
6. Golden State Warriors
Best case: In their second postseason appearance in two decades, the Warriors pour on the points in the first round, running up and down the floor with the Nuggets. Cumulative scores for each game are in the 250-range. Relatively healthy, the Warriors dominate both on the block and on the perimeter. Bursting with enthusiasm, they even manage to win a couple of games in the second round before succumbing to the Spurs.
Worst case: First year coach Mark Jackson is simply outclassed by likely Coach of the Year George Karl, who sets his athletic perimeter players on Stephen Curry, bullying him into a disastrous performance. Andrew Bogut disintegrates into bone powder. Oakland residents show up to Game 4 waving brooms instead of wearing yellow t-shirts — and yes, it is a sweep.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
Best case: The Grizzlies would be a one seed if the Clippers, Nuggets, Spurs and Thunder didn’t exist — know what I mean? Memphis’ brutal defensive intensity shuts down the Lob City offensive assault, while Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol dominate on both ends of the court. After taking out the Clippers in six games, they upset the Thunder in seven by neutralizing Westbrook and Martin, forcing Durant to shoulder too much of the offense. Youth outlasts wisdom in the Western Finals — the Grizz take out the Spurs in seven games and meet the Heat in the Finals. They are subsequently eaten alive.
Worst case: The opposite — the Clippers’ offense overwhelms the Grizz defense, ousting them in five games. Memphis sits around all offseason wondering how they’re going to get better than the four teams ahead of them in the conference. Maybe they ship out Tayshaun Prince and sign O.J. Mayo instead — or some other move that will make a negligible difference next season. This trend continues until Marc Gasol signs somewhere else and Memphis blows up the team. All is lost.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
Best case: Another team that has the unfortunate fate of playing in the same era as much better teams, the Clippers battle past the Grizzlies in seven games, thanks to the play of Chris Paul and homecourt advantage in Game 7. They play a respectable six game series against the Thunder that ends with a close loss at home. Billy Crystal is there, at least.
Worst case: Out-muscled and outplayed by the Grizzlies in six games, the Clippers realize that for all their regular season success, they’re still not any better than the Lakers. Every player spends the summer battling an existential crisis that requires medication. Paul signs with the Hawks, signaling the end of a cute but ultimately disappointing era in Clippers basketball — punctuated by Blake Griffin spending much of the next season sporadically jumping in the air, looking for a lob that just does not come. Billy Crystal dies of a broken heart. Ryan Hollins gets an extension.
3. Denver Nuggets
Best case: Denver rallies around the “team” concept, blowing past the inexperienced Warriors in five games. In a battle of the league’s two best coaches, Karl’s young guns overwhelm Gregg Poppovich’s creaky wheels in seven. In an epic West Finals matchup, Nuggets are ousted in seven games by Thunder, but not before Ty Lawson establishes himself as an elite guard and JaVale McGee gets enough quality footage for his new reality show.
Worst case: After barely getting past the Warriors in the first round, the Nuggets buckle under their lack of Danilo Gallinari — not to mention lack of transcendent superstar. They lose in five games to the Spurs, and become yet another team out West wondering how they will ever get past the conference’s top two. Everyone gets high, eats snacks, comes back to camp out of shape.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Best case: The Spurs cruise into the conference finals to meet Oklahoma City. Duncan turns back the clock, posting monster games that include passionate dunking. Manu Ginobili wins the battle of sixth men over Kevin Martin and proves to be the difference in the series. In the Finals the Spurs — as one of only two teams that knows how to beat LeBron James in the NBA Finals — win in seven. Gregg Popovich viewed as national hero, still does a three second postgame interview because dawwwww that’s Pop for ya!
Worst case: See: Lakers, best case. The Spurs once again experience a crushing first round lost. Everyone on the team looks old as hell. After first round loss, Parker fights Drake.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Best case: A return to the Finals. A matchup with the Heat. A chance for redemption, bolstered by last year’s experience tasting defeat. Durant makes like LeBron and reaches the next level. Like their opponent, OKC feeds off the previous year’s loss and turns the tables on Miami, vanquishing the Heat in seven. Durant and Westbrook establish themselves as the next Jordan-Pippen — or even James-Wade. Jubilation. Victory.
Worst case: A loss to the Spurs in the conference finals, which would constitute a major step backwards. Durant has sweaty, sweaty dreams all summer. The Thunder realize they are the 2010s version of the 1990s Jazz. Good — very good — but not good enough.
Thunder over Nuggets in six.
Images via Getty