NBA Playoffs: Western Conference sleepers, stars and predictions

Author’s note: Check out my preview of the Eastern Conference playoffs at this link.


Relative to the East, the Western Conference is similarly cut and dry: As exciting as the NBA playoffs always are, there is rarely much that knocks you out of your knickers in terms of surprises. Translation: buckle up for fun, but there are no 10 seeds making a deep run. Ever. It’s not March Madness.

Most of the West’s intrigue lies at the top, where the loaded San Antonio Spurs have prevented at least some people from canonizing the Warriors on their way to another title. The top is heavy. The middle is cushy. The bottom is hanging on by threads.

The Favorite

Golden State Warriors

A more obvious answer there could not be.

What to make of a team that sets a single-season win record and dusts off the conference’s No. 2 seed — a No. 2 seed with 67 wins — TWICE in the last week en route to doing so? That said, 73 is utterly meaningless unless the deed gets finished. Just ask this New England Patriots fan about great regular season accomplisments being footnotes in the end (*throws something at the wall, still in disgust*).

The path this year is more rugged than it was last year, particularly in the end, because the Spurs were on the “off year” of their contention calendar (they never win much the year after they win a title) and this year, they should be starving again.

The Best Challenger

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are that quiet guy you don’t pay much attention to until you host a party, and then all of a sudden he always rolls in with a keg in the back of his pickup and free whiskey for all.

The team should be well rested — it gave a stab at playing with the Warriors late, but Gregg Popovich mostly rested guys outside of those games. Kawhi Leonard needs to be huge. Tim Duncan needs to just do what he does. The pressure is really on LaMarcus Aldridge, who came to the Alamo City as a rare high-priced free agent to win these sorts of things. Hopefully, this matchup with Golden State happens in the Western Conference Finals.

The Sleeper

Dallas Mavericks

Old, forgotten, and basically a garage sale of NBA spare parts around Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas has veteran savvy and Rick Carlisle’s black magic — they were fully on display in getting this roster to the Western Conference playoffs.

How many people would have predicted this club would finish with a better record than a healthy Houston Rockets team? At any rate, the Mavs get the Oklahoma City Thunder; tense black clouds seem to always follow them, in the form of Kevin Durant’s impending free agency. It’s unknown how Billy Donovan will acclimate to NBA playoff basketball, and even though the Mavs stunk against the Thunder in the regular season, they could make noise here because of the coaching matchup.


Round 1

Golden State over Houston

Los Angeles Clippers over Portland

Dallas over Oklahoma City

San Antonio over Memphis

Round 2

Golden State over Los Angeles Clippers

San Antonio over Dallas

Western Conference Finals

Golden State over San Antonio