NBA Preview - Western Conference

The new NBA season is almost upon us, and after a long off-season and plenty of big trades changing the landscape of the Western Conference, the teams are ready to go again for the chance to reach the Finals and even win the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy.

Steph Curry led the Golden State Warriors to a spectacular championship last time around, their fourth championship in eight years. However, they have lost key personnel such as Otto Porter Jr. and the fan-favorite Gary Payton II, and other Western Conference teams are licking their lips at the chance to dethrone the dynastic Warriors.

So let’s find out where the Western Conference teams are, what moves they have made, and what their chances are to taste glory this time around.

Dallas Mavericks

After a strong finish to last season, which included knockning out the Utah Jazz to the fourth seed and making the Western Conference Finals (albeit losing to the Warriors in 5), big things were expected from Dallas this summer. Surrounding generational talent Luka Dončić with the pieces needed to really challenge for a chip should have been the priority, but the off-season hasn’t gone as smoothly as they would have liked.

The acquisition of the blossoming Christian Wood from the Houston Rockets was a terrific start, adding another scorer and playmaker that seems like a perfect fit into the Mavericks’ system. However, losing the consistently impressive Jalon Brunson to the New York Knicks was a real blow, and while Dončić is expected to be one of the frontrunners for league MVP this season, it’s hard to see Dallas having the necessary firepower to get past the better teams in the Western Conference.

Chances of winning: +2500 @ BetMGM

The Dallas Mavericks complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Denver Nuggets

With superstar center Nikola Jokić winning his second MVP (back-to-back, I might add) last season after a superb campaign, the Denver Nuggets might have thought they were well placed to at least put up a fight against Steph Curry and Golden State in the first round of last year’s Western Conference playoffs. However, injuries to key players Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. left Jokić with a lack of help and Denver lost in five.

This offseason hasn’t been a particularly notable one in terms of trades, the only major pickups being Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Will Barton and Monte Morris. However, getting Murray and Porter Jr. back from their respective injuries is going to be a massive boost to their chances. Probably not enough to get to the finals, but expect to see the Nuggets being a lot more competitive in the Western Conference.

Chances of winning: +1900  @ BetMGM

The Denver Nuggets complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Golden State Warriors

Victorious last season after one of the most remarkable championship runs in recent years, Golden State Warriors reclaimed the throne they thought they had lost after Kevin Durant moved to the Brooklyn Nets and ‘Splash Brother’ Klay Thompson missed two and a half years to career-threatening injuries. The core of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and the returning Thompson managed to turn back the years to beat the dangerous Boston Celtics after running through the Western Conference, and their eyes are set on a possible second repeat of this dynasty.

However, the depth that they used to such great effect last year is not the same after a chastening summer. Losing key role players Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II, and Nemanja Bjelica was not ideal, and while Donte DiVincenzo is a great fit for the Warriors, he is not enough by himself to replace all of that talent. The hope is that a second-season breakout from Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga will fill the gaps, and that former number two pick James Wiseman can have an injury-free season to really push on. They are still the favorite to make it out of the Western Conference, but definitely more vulnerable than last year.

Chances of winning: +600  @ BetMGM

The Golden State Warriors complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Houston Rockets

Things have gone downhill fast for the Houston Rockets since losing superstar shooting guard James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in early 2021. From perennial playoff contenders to dead last in the Western Conference two years running, Houston’s hopes for the next few years lie with getting lottery picks and drafting well, while developing their young talent. Former number one pick Jalen Green along with the exciting Kevin Porter Jr. show glimpses of what the Rockets can achieve, but it’s a few years down the road.

This summer, Houston drafted another exciting young talent, Jabari Smith, at number three in the NBA Draft, and their young core should be at least fun to watch this season, even if they are still expected to be amongst the worst teams in the Western Conference.

Chances of winning: +50000  @ BetMGM

The Houston Rockets complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Los Angeles Clippers

After a difficult season last year with the huge injury to star small forward Kawhi Leonard, along with their chastening losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and the New Orleans Pelicans in the play-ins, the Los Angeles Clippers are back with a point to prove. When Leonard and star point guard Paul George were signed in 2019, much was expected of the Clippers, but they have underdelivered so far. This could be the last chance this version of the team has to win the championship, with trade rumors swirling around the two stars.

This offseason has been a generally positive one for the Clippers, who have acquired former max player John Wall in free agency, in hopes that he will be able to contribute in similar levels to his former ability before his run of injuries. The team looks strong and runs deep, and Leonard’s return could just be the boost the Clippers need to fulfill their postseason potential.

Chances of winning: +700 @ BetMGM

The Los Angeles Clippers complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Los Angeles Lakers

It was an incredibly disappointing year last year for the pre-season favorites Los Angeles Lakers. The ‘Big 3’ of all-time great LeBron James, former number one pick Anthony Davis, and former league MVP Russell Westbrook failed miserably, missing out on the playoffs and even the play-in tournament. James and Davis struggled with injuries, and fitting in Westbrook alongside those two and the rest of the team proved to be difficult.

With James entering his 20th year in the NBA and the Lakers not being able to find a trade for Westbrook, the chances look slim for the Lakers to reclaim the title they won in 2020. Trading for the Utah Jazz’s Patrick Beverley for Talen Horton-Tucker adds some veteran savvy at the guard position, but more is needed for the Lakers to improve their chances.

Chances of winning: +1800 @ BetMGM

The Los Angeles Lakers complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies had an outstanding year last season, pushing the Golden State Warriors harder than any other team during their championship run, despite losing star point guard Ja Morant to injury mid-way through the series. The Grizzlies are a tough, athletic, young team that had some stunning victories in the regular season, and their status as second seeds in the Western Conference was well deserved.

This year looks set to be more of the same, with no major moves in the trade market, but keeping their roster intact and with one more year of experience under their belt. The oddsmakers have their chances of winning the chip as quite low still, but expect to see another strong run in the playoffs for this talented Grizzlies team.

Chances of winning: +2000 @ BetMGM

The Dallas Mavericks complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Despite going down 4-2 to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last year, the Minnesota Timberwolves had a surprisingly strong end to the season, and the organization can be quietly optimistic of a further improvement this year. Former number one pick Anthony Edwards took his game to another level last year, and the 21-year-old is expected to make another leap in 2022/23 alongside the brilliant Karl-Anthony Towns and the rejuvenated D’Angelo Russell.

The Timberwolves also went all out to acquire multiple Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert in the hopes of solving some of the defensive deficiencies that plagued them last season, and Minnesota have quietly built a strong, well-balanced roster. Watch out for them this season.

Chances of winning: +3500 @ BetMGM

The Minnesota Timberwolves complete schedule on TV and stream here.

New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans have had a mixed few seasons, with the drafting of generational talent Zion Williamson in 2019 not having worked out as they would have liked, with injuries plaguing Williamson since his rookie season. The Pelicans made it to the first round of the playoffs, but were beaten relatively comfortably by the number one seeded Phoenix Suns. Brandon Ingram’s rise was a high point of the season, but it was clear work had to be done to progress in a tough Western Conference.

It has been a quiet summer for the Pelicans, with no major moves being made. However, with a whopping ten first-round draft picks available to them over the next seven years, the Pelicans are almost certainly going to be a factor in trade talks for the next few years. They could be waiting for a superstar to team up with Williamson and Ingram, which, along with the relatively recent acquisition of former Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, would make their team look very promising for a playoff run in the future. Not quite yet though.

Chances of winning: +4000 @ BetMGM

The New Orleans Pelicans complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Oklahoma City Thunder

It has been a couple of quiet seasons for the Oklahoma City Thunder since the Paul George trade to the Los Angeles Clippers and then the Chris Paul trade to the Phoenix Suns. The Thunder only finished above the Houston Rockets in the standings last year, and this year looks like another season filled with losses as Oklahoma City continue to bide their time as their raft of first-round picks come into play in the next few years.

The Thunder selected Chet Holmgren with their number two pick in this year’s Draft, and despite not making any more major moves, their focus is firmly on the future and on developing their current core of young players. If they draft well, they will be a force to be reckoned with in a few years, but most likely Western Conference whipping boys this year.

Chances of winning: +50000 @ BetMGM

The Oklahoma City Thunder complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Phoenix Suns

The number one seeded Phoenix Suns had a playoff run to forget last year, with the Luka Dončić-led Dallas Mavericks destroying them in game seven of their Western Conference Semifinals match-up, and destroying their very real championship aspirations along with it. However, despite the criticism that flew their way after the damaging defeat, it should not be forgotten how well they played during the regular season, with All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker and the legendary ‘Point God’ Chris Paul leading the Suns to the best record in the NBA. Their playoff performance was worrying, but the Suns reached the Finals in 2021 and are still a dangerous team.

This summer has been dominated by Deandre Ayton’s contract situation, with many predicting the Suns to lose the seven-foot center. Phoenix ended up signing Ayton to a four-year deal, and apart from the recent worrying trade request from experienced wing Jae Crowder, the bulk of the team are staying on for this upcoming season. The Suns definitely have a chance, make no mistake about it.

Chances of winning: +1000 @ BetMGM

The Phoenix Suns complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers have had somewhat of a transitional couple of years since their last Western Conference Finals appearance in 2019, when they were swept by the Steph Curry-led Golden State Warriors. Superstar point guard Damian Lillard’s heroics have largely been in vain, and CJ McCollum’s trade to the New Orleans Pelicans marked the end of an era in Portland, and the beginning of a rebuild. The Blazers finished 13th in the Western Conference last year, with only the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets finishing below them.

However, Portland have had a positive off-season, signing the popular Gary Payton II in free agency following his stellar year with the Warriors. Power forward Jeremi Grant was acquired from the Detroit Pistons, and it feels that the Trail Blazers have the most balanced team they have had in a while. Whether that’s enough to propel them into the playoffs is another thing, considering how much the other Western Conference teams have strengthened, but they have an outside shot.

Chances of winning: +8000 @ BetMGM

The Portland Trail Blazers complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Sacramento Kings

It has certainly been a consistent few years for the Sacramento Kings, with the last time they even made the playoffs being the 2005/2006 season, when they lost in the first round. The small-market team have had their recruitment issues over the years, and last year they finished 12th in the Western Conference, four games below the 10th-placed San Antonio Spurs.

Sacramento have made some positive moves in the summer though, drafting exciting prospect Keegan Murray at number four in the Draft, along with signing Malik Monk and trading for Kevin Huerter from the Atlanta Hawks. However, they had to give up Justin Holiday to get him, and it doesn’t look like the Kings are going to progress much this season, instead looking to continue drafting well over the next few years.

Chances of winning: +50000 @ BetMGM

The Sacramento Kings complete schedule on TV and stream here.

San Antonio Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs have had a difficult time since Kawhi Leonard’s trade request and subsequent trade to the Toronto Raptors in 2018, slowly sliding down the Western Conference table and missing out on the playoffs completely in 2020 for the first time since the 1996/97 season. They are in somewhat of a rebuild, and even though they made the play-in tournament last year by finishing 10th, just above the Los Angeles Lakers, they were easily defeated by the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Spurs have traded All-Star guard Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks for some draft picks this summer, which indicates a desire to build for the future as opposed to trying to get pieces to challenge now. It’s going to be a long few seasons for San Antonio fans as they build towards getting their long-lasting dynasty back on track.

Chances of winning: +50000 @ BetMGM

The San Antonio Spurs complete schedule on TV and stream here.

Utah Jazz

Following strong runs in both the regular season and the playoffs the last few years, many Utah Jazz fans hoped they would progress even further last season, and perhaps reach the NBA Finals for the first time since losing to the legendary Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in 1998. What followed was the complete opposite, finishing a disappointing fifth in the Western Conference and being downed 4-2 by the rampant Dallas Mavericks, led by the fantastic Luka Dončić, in the first round of the playoffs.

After this crushing loss, few expected the Utah Jazz to go the direction they did, trading away multiple Defensive Player of the year Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They received five players in return, including Malik Beasley and Leandro Bolmaro, and a whopping four first-round picks, indicating both a desire from the Timberwolves to go all in on the group they have, and a desire from the Jazz to start to rebuild. Trade rumors around Donovan Mitchell have been rife the last few weeks, and Mitchell was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, signifying the end of this iteration of the Jazz, and the beginning of the long rebuild. Don’t expect to see them challenge this year.

Chances of winning: +50000 @ BetMGM

The Utah Jazz complete schedule on TV and stream here.

So there you have it, there are a number of teams fighting for the top seeds in the Western Conference, with another few teams rebuilding for the future and probably not posing much of a threat to the top teams. Exciting times in the West, and the season ahead already looks to be a blockbuster.