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Los Angeles Clippers Forward Kawhi Leonard looks on before a NBA preseason game between the Nuggets and the Clippers. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
February 5th, 2024
An exciting race for the top seed in the Western Conference looms over the final 10 weeks of the NBA regular season, as defending champion Denver, the Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Oklahoma City Thunder are separated by only a game in the standings.
The regular season concludes on April 14, and the top six teams by win percentage in each conference are guaranteed a playoff berth. The teams with the seventh- through the 10th-highest win percentage will take part in the NBA Play-In Tournament on April 16-19.
Let’s examine contenders in the Western Conference.
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After a three-year playoff drought, the Thunder have established themselves as serious title contenders this season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads a young, talented squad with size and depth — Oklahoma City ranks in the top five when it comes to scoring offense, scoring defense, shooting percentage, and opponent shooting percentage — and with a stockpile of draft picks, Oklahoma City will look to add pieces by Thursday’s trade deadline.
Anthony Edwards brings a dynamic presence, Mike Conley still excels at point guard, and their size presents a problem for opponents, as the Timberwolves lead the league in scoring and shooting defense. Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert have kept things together so far, but depth is a concern. Minnesota reportedly will look to boost its postseason hopes by adding bench help before the trade deadline.
Their big four of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden didn’t jell immediately, but the Clippers came together and won nine straight in December to put themselves on the right track. L.A. has the right formula — top 10 in offense and defense — and if it can acquire help at the forward position by the trade deadline and stay healthy, the Clippers will be a serious threat come postseason.
Defending champs very much in the mix behind Nikola Jokic, listed as the +450 second favorite to win the NBA title at DraftKings, and the Nuggets would improve their chances by upgrading the bench via trade. Denver has been outstanding at home (21-4), but it needs to be more consistent on the road.
The Kings don’t receive much national attention, but they’ve built a winning culture in Sacramento and must now win playoff series. But that’s a tough task given the competition. They bring it offensively, but the metrics aren’t favorable on the defensive end, and Sacramento has bench limitations.
⭐️ DEVIN BOOKER ⭐️Congrats, Book, on being named a 2024 NBA All-Star! 👏 pic.twitter.com/QyflKWipix— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 2, 2024
⭐️ DEVIN BOOKER ⭐️Congrats, Book, on being named a 2024 NBA All-Star! 👏 pic.twitter.com/QyflKWipix
Injuries have contributed to a disappointing campaign, and the Suns must start winning more games to guarantee themselves a spot in the top six. They don’t lack offense with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, but Phoenix has been too inconsistent. The Suns would love to add a contributor before the trade deadline, but they may lack the draft picks/salary-cap flexibility.
If Zion Williamson is healthy, New Orleans has the playmakers to be competitive with most teams. But he’s struggled to stay healthy, and the Pelicans have been inconsistent over the last month. New Orleans needs to regain its edge to be relevant this April.
After being a plodding team in recent seasons, the Mavericks committed themselves to a faster pace and became one of the higher-scoring teams (ninth best), but they’ve had too many injuries and defensive shortcomings (25th-ranked).
The Lakers orchestrated multiple roster moves before last year’s trade deadline, making the conference finals from the play-in, and they need the same magic by Thursday’s deadline because their current roster lacks the depth to adequately complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Not many people expected the rebuilding Jazz to compete for the playoffs, but the Jazz began to jell in late December and are reportedly in the market for Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray, which would help their chances of holding onto a play-in spot. Utah plays fast and its offensive efficiency numbers are favorable, but the Jazz have struggled outside friendly home confines (9-19 road mark).
After picking up Steven Adams, the Rockets are reportedly making a push for more players before the trade deadline, and Houston is a team on the rise. After losing 122 combined games the last two years, the Rockets got a shot to make the play-in with their fine nucleus of young talent.
Steph Curry remains one of the best players, and the Warriors will provide glimpses of what they used to be at times, but Chris Paul remains injury-prone and Golden State lacks the roster to make a serious playoff push if it manages to earn a play-in spot.
2023-2024 NBA Western Conference Playoff Update
2023-2024 NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Update
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