13) Phoenix Suns (2-6)
The Phoenix Suns are lucky to be competing in Orlando, but boy will it be fun to watch up and coming star Devin Booker play. This is a team that could be one-piece or two away from making noise in the West, but unfortunately not this year. The Suns should open with a victory over the depleted Wizards, but they will then go on a four-game slide. Booker is definitely going to go off some games, and this writer believes one of those will be against Oklahoma City to pick up the win. After losing their final two games the Sun's disappointing season will be over. They will be hoping the ping pong balls go their way in a very guard-heavy draft.
12) San Antonio Spurs (1-7)
Lamarcus Aldridge will not be playing for the Spurs in Orlando and so this will be a short-lived trip for this team. Gregg Popovich is an all-time coach, but Demar Derozan and Patty Mills will not be enough to make a playoff push. Outside of a Pelicans victory in game six, it is going to be tough to watch such a well run franchise struggle. The Spurs need to get young and hopefully, the draft lottery is kind to them.
11) Sacramento Kings (2-6)
Sacramento learned that they would be without Marvin Bagley, as their young star is out once again with a foot issue. Prior to learning about that injury the kings looked primed to make a push, but sadly they will not now. De'Aron Fox and Buddy Hield will play quite well in Orlando, especially when they defeat the Spurs and Nets. Those games, however, are essentially lay-ups due to those teams' injuries so once they play real competition things will be different. Their remaining games involve the Pelicans twice and then all playoff teams and they will lose them all. Another NBA season, another playoff picture without the Kings in it.
10) New Orleans Pelicans (5-3)
The Pelicans were actually better on the road this year than at home, despite no Zion Williamson for most of the year. He is now back in Orlando and ready to go, as is JJ Redick, who is looking to keep his playoff streak alive. (you can find my interview with him here) Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram are also ready to go, so this Pelicans team will be pushing hard. After opening up with a loss to the Jazz, they will shock the world and lose to the Clippers, who will be without Lou Williams. Throw in wins over Memphis, Sacramento twice and Washington as well and this team will go above .500.
9) Portland Trail Blazers (4-4)
The player that I feel is going to have the best eight-game stretch in Orlando is Damian Lillard. He spoke out about wanting to have a shot at the playoffs so he will be giving it his all. While Damian will be great, he will not have a ton of help outside of CJ McCollum. No Ariza and Hood mean the Trail Blazers will struggle to defend on the perimeter. Teams without truly elite perimeter threats like Memphis, Denver, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia the Blazers will beat. Teams like Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, and Dallas, who all have elite perimeter players will feast.
8) Memphis Grizzlies (3-5)
The team currently holding down the eighth seed in the Western Conference was quite a surprise. Memphis, led by Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant has shocked everyone and it is great to see for the city of Memphis. Justise Winslow is injured once again and will be out the remainder of the year, so the Grizzlies will miss that production. Memphis will pick up a big win over Utah in game four and shock the world by beating Boston in game seven. Throw in a Spurs win to open up play and they will be just fine. The rest of their schedule is tough games, so they will struggle and will finish just below the .500 mark.
7) Dallas Mavericks (5-3)
Dallas finds themselves in the playoff hunt once again, led by superstar Luka Doncic. Kristaps Porzingis has been great, as has sharpshooter Seth Curry so they will be a tough out for anyone. No Cauley-Stein will be tough, but the main scoring options are still playing. They will lose to their division rival Houston to open things up, as well as to the Clippers and Bucks. But the rest of their schedule is quite weak, with Phoenix twice, Utah, Portland, and Sacramento. This is the type of team that beats the teams that they should but are not quite in the upper-echelon of NBA teams.
6) Houston Rockets (5-3)
The Rockets dodged a bullet last night when Eric Gordon's x-ray came back negative. While this team runs through James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Gordon is still this team's third-leading scorer, so don't underestimate his impact on this team. Teams with size will cause problems for this team, such as the Bucks, Lakers, and Pacers. Houston is gonna run and gun and try to outscore their opponents, which they will most of these games. Houston moves into the four or five seed heading in the playoffs, but make no mistake no one wants to face this team in the playoffs.
5) Oklahoma City Thunder (4-4)
The surprise team of the year has for sure been the Oklahoma City Thunder. How you lose two superstar talents and still make it into the Western playoff race is beyond me but this team is legit. They are very balanced, led by all-star Chris Paul, and while I like the makeup of their team, the Thunder's schedule is dicey. Only two non-playoff team games mean this team will just be looking to tread water during these games. They will knock off the Jazz, Lakers, Grizzlies, and Wizards over four of the first five games. They will finish off on a three-game losing streak, which means they will drop a spot or two in the standings.
4) Utah Jazz (3-5)
When COVID hit, there was a lot of tension between Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, after Gobert contracted the virus. While those issues appear to be squashed, one of the Jazz best players Bojan Bogdanovic opted out of the restart to have surgery. So the Jazz is hobbled and the team chemistry is in question as well, which is why they will struggle over these eight games. Wins over the Pelicans and Spurs twice will make their record not look that bad, but it will be. They will lose to all the West playoff teams and hobble into said playoffs.
3) Denver Nuggets (5-3)
The Nuggets have been sporting a rather large starting five in the scrimmages, so this should be fun to see them play in meaningful games. Nikola Jokic has slimmed down and Bol Bol is playing more minutes then he has all year. The Nuggets play a lot of teams with size, but those teams with size do not have the Nugget's depth. The Nuggets will lose to Miami, Portland, and Lakers, but will defeat all other challengers, including the Clippers and Raptors. Denver will hold down the third seed entering the playoffs, which is great to see.
2) Los Angeles Clippers (6-2)
Lou Williams created a bit of a distraction heading into these regular-season games, but this team is still scary good. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are some of the best two-way players in the league and the Clippers can go nine deep. Now, will the Clippers steamroll everyone in these games? No, because the Pelicans and Nuggets will find a way to knock them off. But the Lakers, Mavericks, and Thunder will all fall victim to Doc River's squad.
1) Los Angeles Lakers (6-2)
The top seed in the West, and my team, the Los Angeles Lakers are coming in hobbled. The loss of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo means the Lakers will face some issues defending quick guards. What the Lakers do have in their favor is two superstars in Anthony Davis and Lebron James. So yes the Lakers will drop their opener to their rivals the Clippers and one other game to the Thunder. But the Lakers will beat quality teams like Toronto, Utah, Houston, and Denver. Lebron is hungry for his fourth ring and will have the top seed in the West trying to get it.
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