NBA

Warriors preview: Ranking the Clippers and other Western contenders

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The Western Conference hasn’t changed much since the Golden State Warriors fought their way through and won the 2022 NBA Finals. On paper, it mostly looks the same.

There are changes, that’s for sure. The Utah Jazz shipping three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves turns the latter into a star force (though still a long way off, in my eyes), and pushes the former towards a rebuild. Jerami Grant’s trade with the Portland Trail Blazers – and the massive contacts distributed to guard Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkić – indicate that the PNW are still trying to compete.

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Trade demand for Kevin Durant briefly upset the prospect of the Phoenix Suns – his preferred destination – but now all is quiet on that front. And speaking of calm, all is well on the Los Angeles Lakers front after Kyrie Irving opted for his deal with the Brooklyn Nets – although talks continue to sprout over a potential Irving trade for Russell Westbrook.

With the dust settled (for now, at least), it’s time to take stock of the Dubs’ competition out West.

There’s always a chance a team will make a leap – a healthy New Orleans Pelicans team would be scary, the Wolves could make things work brilliantly, etc. – but, as it stands, I see six teams that could bring down a healthy Warriors in the west.

Not will. But could. The Dubs are, in my eyes, the Western Conference favorite going into the season, and I can only see one other team with a legitimate claim to being the favorite.

But here, listed in order, are the six teams I think could challenge the Dubs for their crown.

Why they can challenge the Warriors: It’s been so long since we’ve seen the healthy Clippers that it’s easy to overlook some things. Namely the superstar that is Kawhi Leonard and the brilliance of LA when he and Paul George are healthy.

The Clippers have a strong claim to being the best duo in the NBA, and despite the weaknesses of “Pandemic P,” both players have proven themselves in the playoffs – especially Leonard. They reconnected with John Wall, who may have a lot more gas in the tank than we realize, and they have a huge core of role players, in addition to one of the best coaches in the league.

It turns out paying for good players helps — the 2022-23 Clippers have the third-highest payroll in NBA history … behind only last year’s Warriors and this year’s Warriors.

Why they might struggle: Leonard is injury prone. George is injury prone. Beyond that, Wall is injury prone and some of their cast are older. The Clippers have the chance to absolutely cruise the league in the playoffs, but they missed the playoffs last year, and there’s still capacity for that to happen.

Why they can challenge the Warriors: The Dubs’ first-round streak with the Nuggets might have been their easiest playoff streak, but it still wasn’t easy. And it was a Nuggets team that was missing its second- and third-best players.

If — and it’s a huge “if” — Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are healthy, the Nuggets are a stacked team. They’ll also be deceptively good defensively… the Nuggets had a surprisingly good defense in 2021-22, but it crumbled in the playoffs because Nikola Jokić had to carry such a huge load he struggled at the other end of the game. ground .

Why they might struggle: Relying on two players who played nine games combined last year isn’t exactly a foolproof plan.

Why they can challenge the Warriors: Golden State has seen with its own eyes just how dangerous this Grizzlies team can be. And with nearly all of their key players at an age where they should be stepping forward next year — plus a healthy dose of playoff experience now — the Grizz will be scary.

This may seem like too high a ranking for Memphis, but they play the Dubs very hard.

Why they might struggle: The Grizz are still young. Ja Morant is still trying to figure out how to play defense and how to make teams pay when they fire him and pack the paint. They had some injury issues. Losing Kyle Anderson hurts.

4. Phoenix Suns

Why they can challenge the Warriors: Phoenix was the best regular season team in the NBA by a wide margin last year. Three of their top four players (Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges) continue to improve. Their fourth (Chris Paul) continues to challenge Father Time.

I don’t think their playoff struggles point to anything other than getting hurt at the wrong time.

Why they might struggle: They get hurt at the wrong time! Do you really expect Paul to be healthy in May and June? And if he’s not, do you really expect the Suns to compete with the Warriors? Paul is a bit of a snake-biter in this regard. He managed to stay healthy this year, but Booker couldn’t.

Why they can challenge the Warriors: Even though Golden State crossed paths with them in the Western Conference Finals, the Mavs were a terrifying team. Mainly for one reason: Luka Dončić. Luka continues to improve and is clearly the type of star who can be the best player in a Championship side. He might be able to get the best out of Christian Wood, and a healthy Tim Hardaway Jr. would go a long way.

Why they might struggle: We just saw the Warriors send them off with relative ease, and then Dallas’ biggest blow this offseason was losing their second best player, Jalen Brunson. They need a lot to not only overcome this loss, but become a better team.

6. Los Angeles Lakers

Why they can challenge the Warriors: Does this give the Lakers too much credit? Absolutely. Are they more likely to miss the playoffs again than to win the West? Without a doubt.

But the Lakers are only two years away from being champions and have the same star duo. I’m still not comfortable betting against LeBron James in the playoffs, and if – again, big ‘if’ – he and Anthony Davis are both healthy, it’s a scary team, despite their glaring weaknesses and laughable dysfunctions. And there’s a non-zero chance that Irving will somehow find himself on their team, inspired and ready to play.

Do I expect the Lakers to upset the Dubs? Absolutely not. But if I squint, can I see how this could happen? Yeah.

Why they might struggle: LOL you don’t need me to answer you.

Survey

Which Western team has the best chance of upsetting the Warriors?

  • 43%

    Los Angeles Clippers

    (82 votes)

  • ten%

    Denver nuggets

    (20 votes)

  • 28%

    Memphis Grizzlies

    (54 votes)

  • 0%

    Dallas Mavericks

    (1 vote)

  • 1%

    Los Angeles Lakers

    (3 votes)


188 voices in total

Vote now

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