Little evokes America as vividly as the Wild West. The unpredictability of the land, the lawlessness, there is a reason this landmark of American culture was nicknamed ‘The Land of Opportunity’.

This rings especially true for the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association. Following the most dynamic and tumultuous season and summer the NBA has ever experienced, including the collapse of the Golden State Warriors, the door in the West is wide open.

So, saddle up cowboy, here are Franchise Sports shots at predicting the 2019/20 NBA Western Conference.

1) Houston Rockets

The Rockets are an unbelievably reliable regular season team. Since D’Antoni arrived in Houston, the Rockets have won at least fifty games. Fifty-five in 2016/17, sixty-five in 2017/18 and fifty-three in 2018/19. With star player James Harden coming second in MVP voting 2 of the 3 years and winning it in 2017/18.

Russell Westbrook is an incredible upgrade on Chris Paul. The last time Westbrook was on a fluid and competent basketball team, from personnel to coaching, he reached the Western Conference Finals. A lineup of Westbrook, Harden, Gordon, Tucker and Capela is one of the best starting fives in the NBA. Combine a strong supporting cast with the supersonic regular season energy of Westbrook and Harden catapults this team to number 1 in the West.

 
 
 
 

Predicted Wins: 60

2) Los Angeles Lakers

In today’s ‘load management’ NBA it is tricky to put 100% of faith in a regular season LeBron campaign. However, this is the most rest LeBron has had in close to 15 years and last season it was clear to see that James was not fully invested. Things couldn’t be more different this fall as LeBron has a completely retooled roster and a renewed focus we haven’t seen since 2016.

The biggest part of that retooled roster- Anthony Davis could be the best player LeBron has ever played with. Davis is more talented, bigger and stronger than Kevin Love and Chris Bosh ever were. It is easy to get swept up in picturing Magic and Kareem part two, and while I don’t believe that will be the case, the potential of this duo could be pretty damn close.

The only question mark surrounding this team, other than the obvious health concerns, is coaching. Frank Vogel is no Pat Riley and neither is Jason Kidd, who was ran out of Milwaukee. Although LeBron has shown in the past that he can operate without a head coach, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and have an Erik Spoelstra drawing up the plays instead of a Ty Lue.

Predicted Wins: 58

3) Denver Nuggets

Last season’s number 2 seed will see a drop off this season following the west getting tougher and the Nuggets themselves reaching their apex last year. Nikola Jokic is in the best centre in the league debate and a sneaky dark horse MVP candidate but has just come off a year playing hard in the regular season, reaching the second round of the playoffs (two game 7’s) and assisting Serbia in the World Cup.

The talent the Nuggets possess is efficient enough for the regular season, there is enough depth and shooting there to be able to plug guys in and out on any particular night. The versatility anchored down by the Jamal Murrary-Nikola Jokic duo, throw in wildcard Michael Porter Jr. and this team is pencilled in for minimum 50 wins.

Predicted Wins: 55

4) Los Angeles Clippers

While this may be the hottest team of the NBA off-season, and rightly so, I just don’t believe this team has what it takes to pull out a one seed in the west. Mainly due to Kawhi’s ‘load management’ and Paul George‘s major shoulder surgeries. George is slated to miss the first 10-20 games of the season. I just feel this team is built for those tough playoff games where games slow down and the prowess of Kawhi and George can really shine. While this team clearly has talent and solid coaching I just don’t see them going hell for leather during the regular season.

Predicted Wins: 53

5) Utah Jazz

On paper, this Utah Jazz team is one of the most solid and coherent in the NBA. A starting five of Conley, Mitchell, Bogdanovic, Ingles and Gobert is one of the most potent in the NBA. Although there will be moments of Donovan Mitchell bringing the fireworks and big plays, this team screams efficiency at me. In crunch time I believe this team has the players to keep their nerve and get the job done.

Quinn Snyder is one of the best coaches in the NBA and will finally get a chance to prove it. Point guard Mike Conley will be relishing his chance to play on a contender again after being bogged down in Memphis in recent years. Bogdanovic, Ingles, Green and O’Neal is perhaps the best wing unit in the NBA and Rudy Gobert will continue his dominance as the best defensive centre in basketball. I see no reason for this team to stumble in the regular season.

Predicted Wins: 51

6) Golden State Warriors

People keep counting out Golden State, some even say they won’t make the playoffs. While it is true that the west is loaded with talent and some teams are destined to miss out, the defending western conference champs are not one of those teams. While it is true that KD is gone and Klay won’t be back until the playoffs, Steph Curry still exists, the back-to-back and unanimous MVP. The man who changed the game of basketball forever. This season we’re going to be reminded of Steph Curry’s true greatness in the absence of Klay and the departure of KD.

Around Curry, the Warriors brought in budding all-star D’Angelo Russell from Brooklyn and are boasting a front-court of Draymond Green and Kevon Looney. There is credence to some of Golden State’s back-court defensive worries and the lack of a true wing, but Steve Kerr and Steph Curry have earned the benefit of the doubt after dominating basketball for the past five years.

Predicted Wins: 47

7) Portland Trail Blazers

I almost had the Trail Blazers missing the playoffs completely. The postseason fever dream seemed to be the best that this team has to offer. The addition of Hassan Whiteside is the equivalent of putting a plaster over a gaping, fatal .44 magnum gunshot wound.

Lillard and McCollum are another year older and won’t have sorry Billy Donovan and OKC to beat up on in the first round of the playoffs this year. Nurkic’s absence will really be felt by this team and I don’t think Lillard and McCollum have it in them to perform on the level necessary to elevate this team to a top 5 seed.

Predicted Wins: 44

8) Sacramento Kings

I wrote about the Sacramento Kings dark-horse moniker here. However, the Buddy Hield situation needs to be addressed for this team to be taken seriously this year. The make-up of this team reminds me of a Utah-lite. Anyone in the crunch time starting five of Fox, Hield, Bogdanovic, Barnes and Bagley can get a bucket. The duo of Fox and Bagley also brings to mind shades of Denver with Murray and Jokic, although I believe the ceiling is higher for Fox and Bagley.

This team has a high ceiling.

Predicted Wins: 43

9) San Antonio Spurs

This may finally be the season where the bubble bursts for Pop and co. in San Antonio. Both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge had exceptional seasons last year. DeRozan averaging 21.2ppg on 48.1% shooting whilst attempting 0.6 3pa. Aldridge with a similar stat line of 21.3ppg on 51.9% shooting with only 0.5 3pa a game. If both DeRozan and LMA can keep this efficiency up this season then the Spurs ought to do well.

On the surface, the Spurs roster does pose a few question marks but if you look deeper then there is legit talent on this team. Dejounte Murray is due to return, offering added height and athleticism to the point guard position. Patty Mills and Derrick White offer a strong back-court option off the bench. Rudy Gay is a solid veteran wing and we can all see Marco Belinelli coming off the bench to hit five 3s in a row in crunch time.

The Spurs may not set the world on fire, but they will be better than a lot of people are giving them credit for.

Predicted Wins: 41

10) New Orleans Pelicans

The team destined to miss out on the playoffs are the highly talented New Orleans Pelicans. The Kings and the Pelicans have a lot of similarities, both are young and hungry teams. However, the Pelicans are more of a question mark. We haven’t seen this group of guys play a game together yet, never mind a full season like the Kings. The Zion factor is obviously appealing here, but with the highly touted rookie missing the first few weeks of the season it may take a while for Zion to get going and this Pels team to gel.

The Pelicans may well prove me wrong, but I’m willing to give a team like the Kings the benefit of the doubt in this one.

Predicted Wins: 40

11) Dallas Mavericks

If this franchise were in the east then this would be a much different story, but they’re not so the Mavs are destined to miss the postseason yet again. There is no denying that Luka has the chance to become a special LeBron type of guy and him and KP could have their own little LeBron and Davis imitation. But the talent drop off from Porzingis as the Mavs second best player is astonishing. Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway are competing to be the Mavs third best player.

There is an opportunity for Maxi Kleber or Norman Powell to step up but I just don’t see it being enough in the west.

Predicted wins: 35

12) Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City have the potential to not be a complete dumpster fire this year. If Chris Paul stays and puts up decent numbers having full control of the offence then the Thunder could surprise a few people. An expected lineup of: Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander, Roberson, Gallinari and Adams isn’t the worst thing in the world. Gallinari offers some spacing and can be a threat on offence. The pick’n’roll between Adams and Paul could also be neat.

However, I see Chris Paul sitting out and demanding a trade by Christmas as Billy Donovan coaches this team into irrelevancy. Would someone please get Steven Adams out of there? The poor Kiwi doesn’t deserve any of this.

Predicted wins: 32

13) Memphis Grizzlies

This projected seeding won’t come as a surprise to many Grizzlies fans. There are realistic expectations of this franchise this year, they are firmly rebuilding. Rookie PG Ja Morant and second year PF Jaren Jackson Jr. are bright spots and do offer many an NBA fan the opportunity to boot this team up on LeaguePass to watch.

Predicted wins: 29

14) Minnesota Timberwolves

If a player could embody an entire franchise, or vice versa, then Andrew Wiggins and the T-Wolves are the perfect fit. Sure, Karl-Anthony Towns could single-handedly drag this team from the snowy, white oblivion they inhabit, but that I doubt severely. Expect KAT to be traded in February to the Celtics in a ‘shock’ move for a 1st, a 2nd and Jaylen Brown and then expect the proceeding uproar from Timberwolves fans… all five of them.

Predicted wins: 28

15) Phoenix Suns

Robert Sarver is a crook who has shown to be incompetent time and time again. We’re an incident of mishandling someone’s health away from Sarver fully realising his role as the Dan Snyder of the NBA. And that’s in a world where James Dolan exists! Sure, this team has talent in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton but that won’t be enough. For lack of a better word, this team has the ‘stink’ on them. Expect to see Booker’s annual 68 point performance against the Hornets or the Grizzlies this year, that’ll be your championship Phoenix.

Predicted wins: 25

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