UTAH JAZZ

NBA Western Conference Cheat Sheet Preview

Dec 22, 2020, 5:00 PM
Steph Curry - Golden State Warriors - Coronavirus Q&A...
Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors stands on the court during their game against the LA Clippers at Chase Center on October 24, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The NBA season begins tonight as the Golden State Warriors travel to face the Brooklyn Nets. The battle for Los Angeles is the nightcap in the league’s double-header as the Lakers face the Clippers in a matchup between the West’s two best teams last season.

With the league back in action and the Utah Jazz facing another gauntlet in their chase for a spot in the playoffs, this is a quick cheat sheet breakdown on each team in the Western Conference.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

After winning the championship, the Lakers were able to extend the contracts of LeBron James and Anthony Davis this offseason.

After trading wing Danny Green, the Lakers signed former Jazzman Wesley Matthews, former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, and last year’s Sixth Man of the Year award winner Montrezl Harrell.

The Lakers will be the favorites to repeat as champions once again.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

While the Clippers lost Montrezl Harrell to the crosstown Lakers, they were able to replenish their frontcourt depth by adding Serge Ibaka.

The Clippers traded for Luke Kennard on draft night and extended the contract of Paul Geroge in the offseason. Nicolas Batum also joined the Clippers roster after being waived by the Charlotte Hornets.

The team will still only go as far as Kawhi Leonard and George can carry them.

3. Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets were surprising losers when free agency opened after losing both Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant to the Detroit Pistons.

However, the Nuggets signed big man JaMychal Green to fill the void and will rely on Michael Porter Jr. to carry a bigger load this season.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray remain one of the most formidable duos in the NBA.

4. Houston Rockets

Outside of James Harden, the Houston Rockets are nearly unrecognizable from last season.

The franchise replaced coach Mike D’Antoni and vice president of basketball operations Daryl Morey. It also traded Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for All-Star guard John Wall.

The Rockets have abandoned their small-ball approach by adding Christian Wood in the offseason and will remain dangerous as long as Harden is playing at an NBA level.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder are the odds on favor among last year’s Western Conference Playoff teams to fall out of the playoff picture.

After trading Chris Paul to the Phoenix Suns and Steven Adams to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Thunder entered full rebuilding mold this offseason.

They still have talent in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Al Horford, but will likely try to move Horford during the season.

6. Utah Jazz

The Jazz checked off their top offseason goals by extending the contracts of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell while bringing Jordan Clarkson back on a four-year contract.

The return of Derrick Favors should stabilize last year’s shaky second unit, and the Jazz should once again have one of the most talented rosters in the Wes if they can stay healthy.

7. Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks had one of the quietest offseasons in the NBA, but they can afford to do that with budding superstar Luka Doncic on the roster.

Kristaps Porzingis’s health will be key for the Mavericks’ growth this season, but they should be playoff contenders as long as Doncic continues to play like a future MVP.

8. Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers were active during the offseason as they tried to improve their roster after a disappointing 2019-20 campaign.

The Blazers added versatile wings Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. to ease the load on superstar Damian Lillard and his running mate CJ McCollum. Rodney Hood returns to the rotation after missing most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon,

Former Jazzman Enes Kanter returned to the Blazers in a trade during the offseason.

9. Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies narrowly missed the playoffs last year after being eliminated by the Blazers in the play-in tournament.

Outside of the draft, the Grizzlies largely stood pat during the offseason preferring to allow last year’s Rookie of the Year Ja Morant and the team’s young core to develop naturally rather than skipping steps.

10. Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns are expected to be the big winners of the offseason after acquiring Chris Paul in a blockbuster trade with the Thunder, then signing former Jazzman Jae Crowder in free agency.

The Suns’ young talent needs to continue to grow for the team to reach its potential, but they’re expected to make the postseason after drafting in the lottery last season.

11. San Antonio Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs were expected to embark on a rebuild this offseason until guard DeMar DeRozan bypassed free agency by opting into the final year of his contract with the team.

Now, the Spurs are stuck with good, but not great veterans, and a young core that needs an opportunity to develop. It’s an awkward concoction of players, and they should be looking to move DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay throughout the season.

12. Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings were winners in the draft seeing Tyrese Haliburton slip out of the top 10 and into their laps in November.

However, allowing restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic to leave the team with no compensation in return was head-scratching. De’Aaron Fox is a star, but the Kings don’t have enough winning talent around him for it to matter.

13. New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans had a busy offseason extending the contract of All-Star Brandon Ingram, trading cornerstone Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks for Eric Bledsoe, and acquiring Steve Adams.

The Pelicans need to see Zion Williamson stay healthy and develop into a premier frontcourt player in the West. If he does, they’ll compete for a playoff spot in the stacked West.

14. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves won the NBA Draft lottery and rafted Anthony Edwards with the number one overall pick in November. Now he needs to prove that his high scoring ways translate into wins, which wasn’t the case at Georgia.

The Timberwolves added former Jazzman and longtime Minnesota fan-favorite Ricky Rubio back to the roster which would provide a veteran presence they need, but they will likely fall short of the postseason once again.

15. Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors not so subtly tanked games last season to earn the number two overall pick which they used on Memphis standout James Wiseman.

However, the Warriors’ championship plans took a major hit when wing Klay Thompson suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the offseason which will cause him to miss another full season in San Francisco.

But, between Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Kelly Oubre, and Wiseman, the Warriors should be back in the playoffs in the West.

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NBA Western Conference Cheat Sheet Preview