We have already looked at which team or teams in the NBA Eastern Conference loyal Spurs fans should be rooting for now that the Spurs’ season has ended. If you didn’t get your vote in for the Eastern Conference, here is a second chance.
Choosing a Western Conference team to actually like is probably more difficult than with the Eastern Conference. While the Spurs only face Eastern teams twice per season, the Spurs play Western Conference teams up to four times. Making it even more difficult, the Spurs have had spirited playoff battles against most Western Conference teams. For instance, I don’t expect any Spurs fans to vote for the Lakers in the playoff poll below. (Checking notes...) Actually, you can ignore the last sentence.
These are my thoughts on the Western Conference playoff teams. As with the Eastern Conference, I will discuss the teams from top to bottom.
Last season I rooted against the Suns in every series they played in, especially in the Finals against Coach Bud, Giannis and a Bucks squad that had not won it all since Lew Alcindor played for them. Many had the feeling that the Suns backed into the Finals, as they beat injury-plagued Clippers, Lakers and Nuggets squads to make the Finals. This season the Suns were motivated to prove that last season’s Finals appearance was not a fluke — and they have proved it. I wrote this after last season’s Finals, comparing the Nuggets long run in the previous season’s Bubble Playoffs with the Suns’ 2021 Finals run:
What a great education for the team and all of its players. Which is why the other teams in the Western Conference should be very worried about all the playoff games the young Denver Nuggets team just experienced. This young talented team will be a beast going forward, both because of their talent and because they just spent over a month getting the best possible education in the best basketball university in the world.
You can plug the Phoenix Suns into each of those comments after this year’s playoffs — plus the Suns’ ultimate education provided by playing in the Finals. And just as the Spurs had the pain that bound them together after the 2013 Finals loss which led directly to the Redemption Finals in 2014, these Suns have the pain of coming so close and falling short. That will serve as an incentive this summer and next season.
Good prediction, right? The Suns have been the best team in the league once they overcame the Warriors white-hot start to the season. The Suns also outscored their opponents by 7.4 points per game, better than any other team — Celtics are second at 7.3. NBA coaches just named Spurs alumni Monty Williams as coach of the year for leading the Suns to 65 wins with both the best home and the best away record in the league. The Suns’ away record was better than every other team’s home record. The Suns have done all this while remaining both remarkably consistent and under the radar. I give everyone permission to root for the Suns this year, even though they still have Chris Paul.
Interesting Spurs-related fact about CP-3, courtesy of ESPN:
Should Phoenix make it back to the Finals, Chris Paul will be just one of seven players age 37 or older to start a Finals game since the NBA officially started tracking starting lineups in 1970-71, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Karl Malone and David Robinson.
Everyone who picked the Grizzlies to finish with the second-best record in the league gets free tickets from Adam Silver to Game Seven of the NBA Finals, although somehow I don’t think he will have to save any tickets for that. What a great story, led by the incredible Ja Morant. But the team is more than Ja, as proven by their remarkable record when he has been out with injury — 21 wins, 4 losses — a pace that would have beaten the Suns’ season-best record. As with several other playoff teams, the Grizz are coached by a Spurs alumni, former Austin Toros coach Taylor Jenkins.
The Grizzlies are similar to the present Spurs team in that both squads have excellent young talent. The difference is that Memphis has had much higher draft choices, leading to higher end talent — primarily Morant and Jaren Jackson, Jr. But Memphis has also hit on some lower draft picks too: Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton were second round picks, while ex-Spur Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke were late first round picks. If you want a team that is home-grown, exciting and might be good for a long time, Memphis may be your team for these and future playoffs (at least until the Spurs return to form.)
Long-time Spurs rival GSW faded from a hot start and fell into the third seed. The Warriors are an interesting mix of the old (Curry, Thompson, Green, Iguodala), the new (Poole, Kuminga, Lee) and the in-between (Payton II, Porter Jr., and “should not have been an All-Star starter” Wiggins). Not surprisingly, the “old” part of the team all suffered (or were recovering from) serious injuries which caused them to miss many games. That allowed the new and in-between guys to get significant playing time, which might make the Warriors more dangerous. But they will only be truly dangerous if the older guys are in top form. One old Warrior who seems to be returning to top form is Klay Thompson, who has averaged 28 per game over the final eight games, shooting 44% from three on twelve (!) attempts per game. Let it fly!
Other than the Death Star Warriors version which stacked the deck by adding Kevin Durant, I have always enjoyed the Splash Brothers Warriors. They are also coached by Spurs semi-alum and Pop’s good friend Steve Kerr. These residual good feelings, and the recognition that we don’t have many more years left to enjoy Steph Curry, will lead me to choose the Warriors over most of their playoff opponents.
Perhaps more than any other team, whether you will root for the Mavs will likely depend on how much you enjoy the team’s best player. Everyone recognizes Luka Doncic’s singular talent, style and court intelligence. However, the Mavs’ offensive style is ... slow (slowest in the league, in fact). The offense is also repetitive. Luka runs a pick and roll, and if that doesn’t work, he runs another. And another. And then he scores or throws a great pass. The Mavs have greatly improved their defense — and they have Boban. Like them or not, they finished the season on a 36-12 run, something we could not have predicted after they started the season 16-18. The Mavericks earned home court advantage in the first round, and may just be a sleeper contender to go much further than that — assuming Luka is healthy after he sustained a calf injury in the second half of the last game of the regular season.
Along with the Chicago Bulls, the Jazz are the only other top-six playoff team with a losing record on the road. That is a problem, because the fifth seeded Jazz will open the first round series (and probably each other series) on the road. Also like the Bulls, the Jazz have faded badly down the stretch.
That being said, there are good reasons to root for the Jazz, even if they are unlikely to go very far in the playoffs. The Jazz are coached by yet another Spurs alum in Quinn Snyder. They represent a passionate, if often obnoxious, fan base in a mid-market city which has never drawn many free agents. As a result, they (like the Spurs) are largely a home-grown squad supplemented by only an occasional free agent pick-up (e.g. ex-Spur Rudy Gay). They play smart, they move the ball, and Rudy Gobert continues to anchor a stout defense. However, it does feel like we have been saying the same thing for several years, and it is starting to get a bit stale. Rumors are that this might be the last version of this team, unless the unexpected happens, and I don’t expect the unexpected. (By definition, no one does.)
Even more so than the Mavericks, the Nuggets games “centers” around one player. Unlike the Mavs, who run the same play over and over, you never know what the Nuggets’ center/point guard Nikola Jokic will do each time down the floor. If he gets the defensive rebound, he will likely lead the break. Other times, he will seal his defender under the hoop and score over the top. He will throw dimes off the dribble, and then back down his man with the dribble before shooting a rainbow step back. He is the first player ever to have 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season. All of this led the team to a 6th place finish despite missing their 2nd and 3rd best players (Murray and Porter Jr) for virtually the entire season — Murray did not play at all, while Porter Jr. played only 9 games. The rest of the team is not very good, though Bones Hyland has a great name. Can you root for one super-duper star and a bunch of other guys? If so, Denver is your team.
Like the Grizzlies, the T’Wolves have a bunch of young players. Of those young players, they have two former No. 1 picks in the draft, (Anthony Edwards and Karl Anthony Towns) plus a No. 2 pick in D’Angelo Russell. The Wolves also have the Guy You Only Like If He Is On Your Team — Patrick Beverly. Some big wings allow switching all over the place. The first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies will be fascinating, if only to see if Russell, an indifferent defender, matches up against Ja Morant. Minnesota needs to make sure that Beverly matches up on Ja more often than Russell does. If not,, we will all see some awesome Ja-dunks. As a side note, while Minnesota led the league in scoring, Memphis was second, and better defensively by 3.5 points per game.
If the Pelicans go all the way, it will give Spurs fans a very implausible argument that the Spurs are the second best team in the NBA. So that is one reason to root for the Pelicans. Also, New Orleans has amazing restaurants. Speaking of delicious, there would be some delicious irony if the Pelicans won it all with Zion Williamson (who appears to be enjoying the local cuisine) on the sideline. All that being said, the Pelicans turned their season around after a horrendous 1-13 start. They also made a big trade for C.J. McCollum which seems to have worked well in the short-run, though they gave up a first round pick, Josh Hart and others to do so. They probably felt OK with giving up the pick because they have the Lakers’ first round pick this year. That Lakers pick turned out to be better that the Pelicans pick anyway, something no one would have predicted when the Pelicans were 1-13 and the Lakers had championship aspirations. So feel free to root for the Pelicans, just so announcers can keep bringing up that fact.
Who are you rooting for to win the West?
This poll is closed
Golden State Warriors
New Orleans Pelicans