Preseason Picks: Familiar Faces Among the West’s Best

October 11th, 2018 | by Steve Godfrey

The usual suspects will top the Western Conference, our Steve Godfrey predicts. (Game still)

In just under a week, the Utah Jazz will start their season against the Sacramento Kings and their promising rookies Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles. News flash: those rookies aren’t leading a playoff push next spring, but the Jazz will be. On the cusp of an 82-game slate, it’s a good time to consider the offseason moves of Western Conference teams and predict a pecking order in the quest for a golden trophy.

Here are my predictions on the eight teams that will earn a shot to vie for a championship in the 2019 Western Conference playoffs.

Sure Things: the Homecourt Teams

In life, there are a few sure things. The sun will rise, and a bowl of sugared cereal in the middle of the night will satisfy your hunger. Yes, you can count on death and taxes, and on a teenage boy to spend too much time playing Fortnite.

And, obviously, it’s a sure thing that the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets, the Utah Jazz, and the Oklahoma City Thunder will make the playoffs in April 2019. Those four teams will hold home court advantage and be seeded in that order.

Health could deepen the Jazz’s advantage over OKC, the team they defeated 4-2 in a first-round playoff series last spring. Russell Westbrook may miss a game or two to start the season (underwent a knee scope in the offseason) and guard Andre Roberson is out for the first two months after suffering a setback in his left knee injury recovery.

The Jazz have the luxury of playing 13-14 winnable games in the first two months (Sacramento three times!) and they have the fire power and continuity to start the season strong. The Jazz need to take advantage of the schedule and OKC’s injuries to get a head start on win-loss records. In addition, should hiccups occur along the Jazz journey this season, the team has depth, especially at the wing positions, to make it through.

Also: Donovan Mitchell.

King of LA

In 2005, Lance Armstrong rode the Tour de France, winning his seventh race before retiring. At that point Armstrong was a hero, an icon, and a purportedly steroid free. That same year, the iconic Batman trilogy debuted with Christian Bale reprising the comic book hero in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.

Oh, and in 2005, the NBA saw a playoff without LeBron James.

It is highly improbable that 2019, fourteen years later, will see a playoff without its best player participating in postseason play.

Sure, the Lakers are young, but on the other side of the coin they are ready and eager to run and hoop. Yes, the Lakers have a roster of inexperienced players, but they are also talented and full of potential. LeBron is a teammate and leader who will maximize his opportunity to shape and mold his younger teammates (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart) into winners. The only thing holding this team back is questionable depth with all the kazoos that sit on the bench. Do you trust any lineup with JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson?

Me either.

The Last Three

The Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, and San Antonio Spurs have talented teams and winning ways, but only three more get to participate in playoff basketball. 

Minnesota is in a Jimmy Butler volcanic pit with eruptions and explosions bubbling to a surface. They’re out.

Greg Popovich is a basketball god, but Tony Parker left the team because DeJounte Murray was ready to take over starting point guard duties. Murray then tore his ACL. Their prized rookie Lonnie Walker IV will join Murray in street clothes for the next six weeks due to a torn meniscus. They lost Kawhi Leonard in the offseason and have DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol midrange jumpers to lead them to the ninth seed. I’m sorry, Pop.

New Orleans and Portland make the cut and get in behind their All-Stars talents. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum form a backcourt that catches fire enough times a season to keep the Blazers in postseason play. For New Orleans, Anthony Davis is a top-5 player that is only scratching the surface of his potential. Once Davis gets a system, coach, team, and organization that builds around him appropriately it’ll be time to watch out. As for now, his talent is still surely good enough to get the Pelicans a seventh or eighth seed.

Denver gets the last spot. Last season, they barely missed the cut, after being eliminated on the final night of the season. But they have a rising star in Nikola Jokic, a healthy Paul Millsap, and a great collection of complementary pieces in Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Will Barton and now former All-Star Isaiah Thomas.  This team has been building and progressing together for a few years now, adding pieces like Millsap along the way, and should take that next step forward in 2019.

If you are keeping score at home, that’s four Northwest Division teams making the playoffs, just like last year. This proves the Jazz not only live in the toughest conference but also its toughest division.

Rudy Gobert & Co. are ready to take it all on. 

Steve Godfrey

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: http://www.thetorturedfan.com/. He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.

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