West Conference – CBS Miami

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By Norm Elrod

(CBS SF / CBS Local) – The NBA playoff race begins tonight, with the Golden State Warriors at the top of the standings. They are the favorites of the NBA Finals in the West and seem almost destined to extend their series of championships. But they are not the only competitors, as Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder continue to keep pace.

The rest of the West includes many familiar faces, including the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers, but none seem capable of overthrowing a dynasty. The Los Angeles Lakers, led by LeBron James, have not missed the playoffs for 13 years. They sit in 10th place, just ahead of the starving Kings of Sacramento in the standings.

How does the Western Conference playoff race look?

>> MORE: Photo of the NBA playoffs: Eastern Conference

Stephen Curry # 30 and Kevin Durant # 35 of the Golden State Warriors in the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at the Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 08, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry (L-R) (Photo credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

candidates:

Warriors of the Golden State (41-16)

With the playoff race officially launched, the Warriors are at the top of the competition in the West. This may be their last chance to add to the dynasty, or not. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are among the top five scorers in the NBA, with 28.6 and 27.6 points per game, while Curry has an impressive 44.4% of his three. Klay Thompson added 21.9 extra points and DeMarcus Cousins ​​contributed 13.9% in minutes, the team ahead of the league score with 118.8 points per game. The Warriors have competed in the NBA finals over the past four years, winning three wins in the series. And they are favored to win everything again; Indeed, their chances are better than those of all the other teams combined.

Denver Nuggets (39-18)

The Nuggets are perhaps the biggest surprise of the West, not because they are candidates, but because they are, despite injuries. Three of the five starters, including Will Barton and Gary Harris, have missed a significant time this season. However, Nikola Jokic averages 20.4 points per game, as well as 10.6 rebounds and 7.7 assists for an attack at the height of his strength. And their bench is strengthened, time and time again. Denver only awards 112 points per game, which is worse than all the other Western Conference playoff teams, with the exception of Utah Jazz. But they are also among the best defensive teams in the NBA, giving only 107.1 points per game. The defense lost a little later (which healthy Isaiah Thomas will not be able to help), which could affect seeding. Still, the Nuggets will be difficult in the West.

Thunder of Oklahoma City (37-20)

Russell Westbrook is not quite the player he has been in previous seasons, and yet he is always special. In his 11th season, his score dropped to 21.7 points per game, one point less than his career average. But he is leading the league with 11.2 assists, two passes ahead of Kyle Lowry. And he gets 11.2 rebounds, as a leader. Paul George, second-leading scorer in the NBA with 28.7 points per game, is now the favorite player of the OKC. The points scored on the bench have been a problem with the Thunder, but the addition of Markieff Morris should help later. With a single MVP, a current candidate, and a strong team defense, Thunder could actually climb into the top two Western roster, setting a potential rendezvous with the Warriors at the Conference finals. 'Where is.

    Damian Lillard # 0 of the Portland Trail Blazers handles the ball in the second half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at the Talking Stick Resort Arena on January 24, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Damian Lillard (Photo credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Pretenders:

Portland Trail Blazers (34-23)

The Trail Blazers are in a precarious position. Climbing in a better seed seems unlikely, unless the Nuggets really erase themselves, but falling into a worse seed seems quite possible, given the blockage imposed on them in the standings. Three games separate the fourth to the eighth seed and at least one of those teams is likely to have a winning streak. The Blazers have added Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter in the past two weeks. Although Kanter will replace Jusuf Nurkic (at least in attack), the team's alignment will not improve their lot. As usual, this team will go as far as their back yard can take them. Damian Lillard is preparing another outstanding season with an average of 26.3 points per outing, while CJ McCollum is contributing 21 points more per game. Will that be enough this season? It's not before.

Houston Rockets (33-24)

James Harden is marking a crazy clip. His 36.6 points per game, if it were to continue, would exceed all but one of Michael Jordan's seasons and place him on the territory of Wilt Chamberlain. That's almost eight points more than Paul George, second-leading scorer in the NBA. The Rockets' bad start, combined with serious injuries, forced Harden to put the team on his shoulders. Counting so heavily on a single marker is not a recipe for success in the playoffs. As Chris Paul regains his spirits and Clint Capela returns this week, Harden could finally get a lot of help. The Rockets will always have to understand how to play something that looks like defense; their current defensive rating of 112.2 places them at the same level as the teams for the lottery. Without a more team-oriented approach, which involves efforts at both ends of the field, this team is not going anywhere.

Utah Jazz (32-25)

The Utah Jazz team – 109.2 points per game – is among the worst of all teams still in the playoffs. And yet they play seven games over .500 after the All-Star break. They do it with the defense; their defensive rating of 105.4 is the fourth best performance of the NBA. Donovan Mitchell is averaging 22.4 points per game in his second season, while Rudy Gobert scores with 12.9 rebounds. The Jazz will benefit from one of the easiest programs in the league and have shown they can win the games they are supposed to win. This team could easily climb into the top four seeds.

DeMar DeRozan, No. 10 San Antonio Spurs, leads the basket against DeAndre Jordan, No. 6 Dallas Mavericks second-half at the American Airlines Center on January 16, 2019 in Dallas, Texas.

DeMar DeRoza (Photo credit: Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

San Antonio Spurs (33-26)

Any team coached by Gregg Popovich has a chance, one in, the playoffs. His Spurs have qualified for the playoffs in every season of his coaching tenure, with the exception of the first. It's 21 consecutive appearances in the playoffs. Another place is far from assured, but it's hard to bet against this kind of story. DeMar DeRozan's San Antonio scores – 21.4 points per game – join his Toronto production. Similarly, LaMarcus Aldridge, with 21 points per game, remains true to form. What does not correspond to nature is the defense of the Spurs. The team's defensive rating of 111.5 is unimportant, but its 118.8 rating in the last 10 games is really atrocious. Pop's Spurs is probably not considering a series race from a low seed. But in a tight race, this kind of defense could dismiss them completely.

Los Angeles Clippers (32-27)

Only one team from Los Angeles is currently in playoffs, and this is not LeBron's Lakers. The Clippers are hooked on the eighth seed. Making the playoffs will cost them a first-round pick, and the difference could only represent a few wins. Tobias Harris, their top scorer before the trade deadline, is now part of the Philadelphia 76ers. But Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari continue to score respectively 19.9 and 18.7 points per game. The Clippers can still score and have not yet shown any sign of abandonment. They lost 134 points to the unfortunate Phoenix Suns in their last game before the break. Will the Clippers give way for the playoffs to the Sacramento Kings, who desperately want to end their drought? Or are they going to get out of the cross of the first round of warriors?