In each of the last five NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors have represented the Western Conference.
This year, that will surely not be the case, and a different team will represent the West for the first time since the San Antonio Spurs in 2014.
Golden State was barely playing like a playoff contender with Stephen Curry on the court in the first few games of the 2019-2020 season, starting out 1-3 with all three of those losses by double-digits.
The Warriors were dealt a huge blow after the Oct. 30 matchup against the Phoenix Suns, as it was revealed that Curry had broken his left hand and was going to be sidelined for at least three months.
This effectively ended the Warriors’ hopes to be a playoff contender, which were already in question as they came into this season knowing they’d most likely be without Klay Thompson for the duration of the year as he recovers from an offseason ACL surgery.
The Warriors have been a nearly unstoppable force in the Western Conference the last five years, so several teams in the West will be looking to finally get their opportunity to win the conference.
Shocking offseason trades and maneuvering of star players all over the NBA this offseason has created many new, star-studded lineups across the NBA this season, and the Western Conference is packed with new-look teams with exciting, fresh lineups.
However, three teams stand above the rest and have the best chances to reach the NBA Finals from the Western Conference this season.
The Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers shocked the world in the offseason when, in one historic night, they acquired Kawhi Leonard as a free agent and Paul George via a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In one night, the Clippers made themselves the favorites in the Western Conference by acquiring two of the best two-way players in the NBA.
Leonard and George are both prolific scorers and good defenders, with Leonard being possibly one of the best, defensively, in all of the NBA.
Pairing these two players with one of the better perimeter defenders at the point guard position, Patrick Beverly, will allow the Clippers to have three outstanding defensive players and possibly become one of the toughest defensive teams in the NBA.
Leonard and George can also simply flat-out score, making the Clippers the probable favorites to win the West this season.
The Los Angeles Lakers
Year one of the LeBron James era with the Lakers was a disappointment, as James battled injuries and only played in 55 games, the least in his entire career, and the Lakers missed the playoffs.
The Lakers organization addressed the lack of star power around James this offseason by trading for Anthony Davis, who is the best player James has ever played with.
The Lakers certainly have two of the best players in the NBA now, but the depth around them had to be sacrificed to acquire Davis, including Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart all being sent away in the trade.
The Lakers were able to keep Kyle Kuzma, one of the best pieces of their former young core, and sign Danny Green as a relatively affordable piece to wrap up their starting lineup and hopefully hit some three pointers.
They will rely on players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dwight Howard to provide a spark off the bench, the latter of whom came in with very few expectations from most, but can still provide value if he can focus on his role to play good defense and grab offensive rebounds.
The one-two punch of James and Davis has to put the Lakers in serious contention to win the Western Conference, but they are going to have to make a huge jump with a completely new starting cast filled with tons of veteran players after not even being a playoff team last year.
The Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets also have to be thrown in the ring as a contender this season.
Their starting lineup has a surprising new look this season, with Russell Westbrook sliding into the point guard position, replacing Chris Paul, and joining their core of James Harden, Clint Capela and Eric Gordon.
They have a good mix of skill-sets on offense, with Harden, Gordon and others able to shoot a lot of threes, and with Capela being a polished low post scorer and offensive rebounder.
Russell Westbrook adds a new element to their offense this season, with his ability to drive to the basket and score in huge amounts.
However, Westbrook and Harden playing together at the two guard positions creates a bit of an interesting dynamic, as they are two of the most ball-dominant players in the league and may be at odds over who is touching the ball more on offense.
If Westbrook and Harden can play cohesively together and Westbrook is able to kick the ball out to their three point shooters, the Rockets’ offensive attack could be scary.
Janssen can be reached at [email protected].