Community Shootaround: Western Conference Playoff Race

While the Celtics have built an eight-game lead over the No. 2 seed in the East, no such separation exists over in the Western Conference, where the top four seeds are all within four games.

Entering play on Sunday, the Timberwolves (40-17) narrowly hold the conference’s top spot over the Thunder (39-17), with the Clippers (37-18) and Nuggets (38-19) in tight pursuit.

It’s an unlikely top two. Minnesota has made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, but needed a play-in victory both times and didn’t make it out of the first round in either 2022 or 2023. After finishing with a 42-40 record last season, the Wolves are poised to blow by that win total with several weeks to go in 2023/24. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, hasn’t finished above .500 or made the playoffs since 2020, but the addition of Chet Holmgren to a rapidly improving core has helped accelerate the team’s rise up the standings.

Both the Wolves and Thunder lack postseason experience compared to the Clippers, whose three stars – James Harden, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard – have appeared in a combined 405 playoff games, and the Nuggets, who are coming off a championship run a year ago. While neither of those clubs holds a top-two seed for the time being, both Los Angeles and Denver look like legitimate contenders to come out of the West.

A few games back of the top four seeds, another quartet of Western teams is separated by a single game from Nos. 5-8. The Pelicans (34-23) currently top that group, followed by the Mavericks (33-23), Kings (32-23), and Suns (33-24).

New Orleans has no shortage of depth or star power – led by forwards Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram – but is another young team that lacks postseason experience, having made the playoffs just once in the past five seasons. Sacramento is in a similar boat — Domantas Sabonis, De’Aaron Fox, and the Kings snapped a lengthy postseason drought last season, but didn’t make it out of the first round.

The stars in Dallas and Phoenix are a little more playoff-tested. While he hasn’t won a title like teammate Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic has already appeared in 28 total postseason games and won a pair of playoff series in 2022. For the Suns, Kevin Durant is at two-time NBA Finals MVP, while Devin Booker came within two victories of a title in 2021. Even Bradley Beal compiled 45 playoff appearances during his time in D.C.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that those eight teams will be the ones that ultimately make the playoffs out West. A pair of title hopefuls are lurking further down in play-in territory, with the Lakers (31-27) and Warriors (29-26) filling out the top 10 in the West.

While both clubs won playoff series last spring – with the Lakers advancing to the Western Finals – neither has looked as dangerous so far this season. But Golden State is certainly heading in the right direction as of late, having won eight of nine games over the past three weeks as head coach Steve Kerr finally found a series of lineup combinations he liked. And Los Angeles can’t be entirely ruled out as a contender as long as LeBron James and Anthony Davis are healthy and available. views the Western race as relatively wide open. The Nuggets and Clippers (+240 each) are considered the favorites, but the Thunder (+650), Suns (+750), and Timberwolves (+800) aren’t far back in the betting odds, with the Mavs (+1200) and Warriors (+1400) lurking as well.

We want to know what you think. Which eight teams will ultimately make the playoffs in the West? Which club will claim the top seed? How many teams have a legitimate chance to come out of the conference, and which one would you pick if you had to choose a Western winner today?

Head to the comment section below to share your two cents!

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