Denver Nuggets (57-25)
The Nuggets surprised everyone with their incredibly successful 2018-2019 campaign. They finished second in the Western Conference with 54 wins and were one game away from the Western Conference Finals. While Nikola Jokic was outstanding last year, I expect him to take his game to the next level. Hopefully he becomes a more consistent scoring threat (regaining his three-point shot in the process). Also, it would be excellent if Jamal Murray could finally score 20+ points per game. Again, they’re a super young team that has already experienced success keeping in mind the litany of injuries they had last year. If healthy this year, I see no reason they shouldn’t have the best record in the West.
Los Angeles Lakers (55-27)
I promise, this isn’t the LeBron fan in me overrating the Lakers. The hate they’re getting from those in and out of the league is actually ridiculous. This is not the same team as last year. They have a driven LeBron who is the most rested he’s ever been, an Anthony Davis who is still the best big man in the game, Kyle Kuzma who is a talented piece, and a very deep, solid supporting cast THAT CAN ACTUALLY SHOOT! I do think it will take some adjustment, but not as much as last year’s team. Additionally, I view the Dwight Howard signing as low-risk, high-reward, which can only help the team. I’d have them finishing first if I didn’t expect the Lakers to rest LeBron and AD about 10 games each.
Los Angeles Clippers (54-28)
On paper, the Clippers might have the best team in the league, featuring the two-headed monster of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with sixth-man extraordinaire Lou Williams and the best bench in the game. However, Paul George is coming off shoulder surgery and may not be ready for the start of the regular season. Any delay in his debut will only extend the team’s gel period. Many have pointed out that the team has a lot of continuity, but this will be the first time in a while that Lou won’t be the de facto go-to guy in the clutch and I think the team will need to work that out. But once this team gets it going, they will be deadly.
Utah Jazz (51-31)
Outside of LA and Brooklyn, the Utah Jazz had the best offseason. Upgrading from Ricky Rubio to Mike Conley is huge; Conley is a near perfect point guard to place alongside Donovan Mitchell since he can score, facilitate, and defend. The addition of Bojan Bogdonavic is also key as he provides wing scoring the team couldn’t get out of Jae Crowder. What happens when you pair that with a still ascending Rudy Gobert and one of the league’s best defenses? You have a very solid roster that can hopefully not get off to a slow start and rack up wins.
Portland Trailblazers (50-32)
I feel like we’ve established a pattern with Portland: we come into the season underestimating them, they quietly have a great regular season, and we see them have home court in the first round of the playoffs. I don’t expect much else to change this year. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are still one of the top backcourts in the NBA. Additionally, Hassan Whiteside has the chance to rehabilitate his image with Jusuf Nurkic injured. Throw in solid role players such as Rodney Hood, Zach Collins, and new addition Kent Bazemore, and the Blazers should be on pace for another 50-win season.
Houston Rockets (48-34)
I will be the first person to state that while the Rockets got “more talented” with the Russell Westbrook trade, I do not think they got better. Two years ago, people questioned the fit of Chris Paul and James Harden in the same backcourt, but at least for one year, that worked very well. This is a totally different beast; Harden and Westbrook have posted some of the highest usage ratings in NBA history. I find it very difficult to see them share the court in total comfort with their level of ball dominance. Add in that they’re also turnover machines and the team still lacks a solid wing defender outside of PJ Tucker, I don’t see how this team is apart of the Western Conference elite.
Golden State Warriors (46-36)
I’m not going to lie; I tried my best, but I truly couldn’t think of 8 teams that would be better than the Warriors. Despite Kevin Durant leaving, Klay Thompson returning near the end of the year with a torn ACL, and losing key depth during free agency, this team will still have 3 All-Stars in their starting lineup come opening night. Let me be clear: this is not the same Warriors team we witnessed pre-KD. However, I do expect slight performance increases from Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, and D’Angelo Russell should help them out offensively until Klay returns. The Dubs do have several questions to answer such as “What will they do with Russell this year?” as well as “Which role player will step up to replace Iggy?”
Dallas Mavericks (44-38)
It was a Texas Toss-Up between who I gave the eighth seed to, but I decided to go with the Mavericks over the San Antonio Spurs. In a league of duos, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are better suited than DeMar Derozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. After a stunning rookie campaign, many expect Luka to take a jump in terms of both production and efficiency. While we haven’t seen Porzingis in nearly two years, when healthy, he’s a force to be reckoned with and he has the perfect partner in Luka. The Mavs also boast two 7’3 players; it doesn’t really help my argument, I just think it’s cool.