Who’ll win the messy West?
And does it even matter?
BY DAVID THORPE
All season, the West has been an unprecedented scrum of closely matched teams. Surely, it seemed, one or two would emerge from the fight shiny and ready to dominate in the playoffs. Wrong. In fact, it seems like every West team has glaring flaws that most years would be fatal, yet an incredible seven teams have at least a puncher’s chance of making the Finals.
It’s all good news for the class of the NBA watching from the East—the Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, and Cavaliers—who got to watch a befuddled set of West contenders over the last few days:
Klay Thompson got two 3-point chances to beat the Nikola Jokić-less Nuggets, but Jamal Murray blocked his second attempt, dealing the Warriors a haymaker home loss in which Thompson and Stephen Curry hit just 17-of-56 shots. Meanwhile, the West-leading Nuggets were up 11 with two-and-a-half minutes to play and never scored again.
The once-surging Timberwolves fell to a struggling Blazers team sitting Damian Lillard and three more starters. Kevin Knox II scored 19 points, and the tanking Blazers won a game in which they shot 9-for-30 from 3 and 12-for-20 from the line.
The Grizzlies, looking to assert themselves in Chicago, got pounded 75-39 in the second half en route to a blowout loss to the Bulls.
The Kings got outplayed by a Spurs team fielding two teenagers and a fresh 20-year-old in place of their best two players. Though the Kings forced overtime late, the Spurs kicked their butts over those five minutes.
The Clippers faced similar odds against the Zion-less Pelicans, but even 40 from Kawhi Leonard couldn’t top Brandon Ingram, whose 36 points (10-of-11 free throws) and eight assists led the Pels to victory.
The Mavericks, dropping to five games below .500 and effectively off the radar, suffered an overtime loss to the Hawks in which they missed 10 free throws and hit 10-of-38 3s.
To my eyes, this year’s Finals will be won by an East team. That’s by far the most likely thing. The only caveat is that the scrap to get through the first three rounds in the East could leave the season’s best team gassed or limping. In that case, the West champs could get lucky, like the 2019 Raptors did. Champions to be sure, but the league's best team? Hardly.
So, who will win the West? Here’s what I’m thinking:
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