Three key talking points entering the NBA Western Conference postseason | Basketball News

EditorLast Update :
Three key talking points entering the NBA Western Conference postseason | Basketball News

The NBA postseason begins on Tuesday night with the play-in tournament.

The top six teams from each conference have already qualified for the playoffs while seeds seven through 10 enter the play-in tournament for an opportunity to qualify for the final two playoff spots in each conference.

Here are three key Western Conference talking points ahead of the NBA playoffs:

1. Can anybody beat the defending champions Denver?

The Nuggets were the only team in the NBA regular season that looked like they were in cruise control for large chunks of the season with an additional gear available when needed.

Here are some compelling reasons why Denver should repeat as Western Conference champions:

They have the NBA’s Most Valuable Player (MVP). Nikola Jokic is an odds-on favourite to win his third MVP this season, placing him in illustrious company. Incredibly, the centre almost averaged a triple double for the entire season (26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9 assists), but Jokic doesn’t care about stats – only winning.

They win when it matters. Since early in the season, many experts have predicted a Boston vs Denver matchup in June’s NBA finals. In their two meetings this season, Denver swept the league-leading Celtics, controlling the games in the pressure-filled final minutes to win both contests.

NBA’s best starting lineup. Depending on how one rates Denver’s lineup, they also have the league’s best starting five with Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon. They are talented, they have great chemistry and each player clearly understands their role during crunch time.

West’s best number two. NBA TV commentators aren’t exaggerating when they call Jokic’s teammate Murray “Playoff Murray”.  In the 2023 playoffs, the point guard averaged a scintillating 26.1 points, 7.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 20 games en route to his first NBA championship. When healthy, Murray has been nearly unstoppable from the perimeter during his playoff career and relentlessly attacks the teeth of the defence to score from close range.

Murray’s only weakness is his frequent injury history – and it’s perhaps the only thing that could derail another Western Conference title charge for Denver.

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, right and teammate Nikola Jokic.
Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, right, confers with centre Nikola Jokic against the Atlanta Hawks on April 6, 2024, in Denver [David Zalubowski/AP Photo]

2. Can the ageing greats from the Los Angeles Lakers or Golden State Warriors make one last run in the West Conference postseason?

The two superstar faces of the league – LeBron James (Lakers) and Stephen Curry (Warriors) – will have to fight their way out of the NBA play-in tournament just to take part in this year’s playoffs.

The Lakers (17-9) and the Warriors (19-10) have been impressive since the All-Star break, but with so many strong Western Conference teams already ahead of them in the standings, they were unable to chase down a top-six seed to automatically qualify for the playoffs.

Now, they will have to do it the hard way.

But if recent history is any guide, there might be some cause for optimism for these two league icons. Last season, the Lakers clawed their way out of two play-in eliminator games and all the way to the Western Conference finals.

To climb the Western Conference mountain again with evergreen 39-year-old James playing heavy minutes may be too big an ask, even for the “King”.

But incredibly, James has added an extra dimension to his game in his 21st season: super-efficient three-point shooting, making 41 percent of his attempts and becoming a legitimate threat from beyond the arc.

Curry, meanwhile, has endured a frustrating “what could have been” type of season with the Warriors, thanks namely to the volatile actions of key teammate Draymond Green.

Green made headlines during the season for all the wrong reasons, getting suspended twice for a total of 17 games related to two aggressive on-court incidents: putting Minnesota Timberwolves centre Rudy Gobert into a chokehold in November and striking Phoenix Suns player Jusuf Nurkic in the face in December.

Curry used the Green adversity as a rallying cry to reclaim their season, and now the Warriors postseason success or failure will ride on the shoulders of the 35-year-old guard, considered by many to be the best shooter of all time.

Fans around the world – not to mention the NBA itself – will be hoping James and Curry progress out of the NBA play-in and deep into the Western Conference playoff fold.

With such a loaded conference, these stellar four-time NBA champions will likely need a little luck to top the West.

Stephen Curry (30) and LeBron James (23) talk on court.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) talk during an NBA game in Los Angeles on March 16, 2024 [Ashley Landis/AP Photo]

3. Are the Dallas Mavericks now the main challenger in the Western Conference?

Despite finishing in fifth place in the Western Conference, no team comes into the postseason with more momentum than Dallas.

A clear case can be made for the Mavericks to make a deep playoff run in the Western Conference. Prior to their meaningless final season game blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night, Dallas had:

  • The league’s best win-loss record in the last month of the season (13-3).
  • The NBA’s best offence in the last 10 games.
  • The NBA’s best defence in the last 10 games.
  • Arguably the league’s best (or second best) player in Luka Doncic, who finished with season averages of 33.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 9.8 assists per game.
  • Guard Kyrie Irving is once again playing like an All-Star, finishing in the top 15 in scoring with 25.6 points per game.

The Mavs made a huge gamble back at the 2023 trade deadline, acquiring Irving from the Brooklyn Nets to provide an electrifying 1-2 offensive combination with Doncic.

That gamble didn’t pay off last season – they missed the playoffs – but this season, Doncic and Irving, plus a cast of reliable role players, have the Mavericks primed to do something special this postseason.

The most unexpected reason why the Mavericks could win the West lies with the one thing they are least known for: defence.

In the final month of the season, the Mavs were the NBA’s number one defensive team.

If their defensive intensity holds up in the playoffs, coupled with Doncic and Irving’s scoring masterclass – averaging a combined 59.5 points per game – it’s going to be awfully difficult for anyone to deny Dallas in the Western Conference.

Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving celebrate a victory.
Dallas Mavericks guards Luka Doncic, left, and Kyrie Irving celebrate their win over the San Antonio Spurs on March 19, 2024 [Eric Gay/AP Photo]