On Monday, we asked which team you expect to win the Eastern Conference in 2021. As of this writing, the Nets have received about 40% of the vote, easily besting the runner-up Bucks (23%). Those results aren’t surprising — the oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag have made Brooklyn the clear favorite to win the conference and represent the East in this year’s NBA Finals.
In the West, however, there’s not really a clear frontrunner. The defending-champion Lakers (36-25) still have the best odds, per BetOnline, but L.A. has only won eight of its last 20 games, having had to play for several weeks without injured stars Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
While Davis is back now and James should be soon, the Lakers have slipped to fifth in the Western standings, four games back of the fourth-seeded Nuggets. That means their path to the Finals could involve road series against Denver, Utah, and either the Suns or Clippers. That won’t be an easy road, even if AD and LeBron stay healthy and look like their usual selves.
The Clippers (43-20) and Jazz (44-17) are considered the next-best bets to win the West. After a disappointing showing in the 2020 postseason, the Clips should be a tougher out in 2021. Kawhi Leonard is a two-time Finals MVP, Paul George has played some of his best basketball in recent weeks (30.2 PPG on .503/.427/.920 shooting in his last nine games), and Rajon Rondo has been a perfect fit in the team’s rotation so far.
Utah, meanwhile, owns the NBA’s best record, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, leading scorer Donovan Mitchell, and a pair of Sixth Man of the Year contenders (Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles). The Jazz lack a superstar wing like LeBron or Kawhi, but this is a deep, talented club that is capable of winning multiple playoff series.
The Suns (43-18) are currently the No. 2 seed in the West, and while they haven’t made the postseason since 2010, they’ve proven this season that they can hang with the NBA’s top teams. Their duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker has been the conference’s best backcourt this season, complemented by key role players like Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Jae Crowder.
The Nuggets, unfortunately, look like far less of a threat to make the Finals without Jamal Murray (torn ACL) available. But they’ve only lost once in seven games since Murray went down, as MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic has kept rolling and Michael Porter Jr. (25.7 PPG on .591/.544/.826 shooting in his last seven games) has stepped up to fill the scoring void that Murray’s injury created.
Some teams outside of the West’s top five, including the Mavericks, Trail Blazers, and Warriors, could make some noise in the playoffs if their respective stars get hot at the right time, but none is better than a 25-to-1 shot to come out of the West this season, according to BetOnline.
What do you think? Will the Lakers repeat as Western champs, or will a team with home court advantage get the best of them? Which team do you expect will represent the West in the 2021 NBA Finals?
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