A controversial take and a power ranking based on a lot of unknowns. This is the most 2020-article ever!
I realize it’s not a popular opinion, but it’s impossible for me to envision a scenario where this seasons NBA Champions aren’t forever tethered to an asterisk. Believe me when I say that the winners and fans of the winning team will not agree, and that’s OK. But, in a season where teams will enter the playoffs having not played the same number of games, playoff games will be played on a neutral field without fans and teams will be able to add players after a two month layoff things are so off center an asterisk is mandatory.
Now, again, I don’t think that is a bad thing, just a reality. Whoever lifts the Larry OB at seasons end will have one a legitimate Championship, albeit under extraordinarily odd circumstances.
When the season stopped on March 11 the LAPB Western Conference SOS Power Rankings had the Lakers on top. The Clippers were second followed by the Nuggets, OKC, Jazz, Rockets, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Kings, Trailblazers, Spurs, Suns, Timberwolves and Warriors. It speaks to the dominance of the Western Conference that of the 22 teams invited to Orlando, 13 are from the West. Only the Timberwolves and Warriors will be staying home.
Our Power Rankings are based on SOS. You can read the detail here, should you be so inclined. We started the Power Rankings three seasons ago in an effort to take opinion out of the equation. Too many Power Rankings were based on what the writer thought of a win, or a loss. Sometimes a team could go 3-1 in a week and drop two spots because the writer felt the wins lacked value or some team ranked lower had wins the writer thought were more impressive.
In short, those Power Rankings were subjective and it bothered me!
So, the LAPB SOS WCF Power Rankings were born. Now, I don’t care which Power Rankings you are reading, they are wrong. All of them. Including the one I am about to present to you. They are wrong because there is no chance any of us know exactly what teams we are going to see in Orlando. We don’t know who is healthy, what the rosters will look like, how the teams will react to empty stadiums and how this long delay is going to impact players.
We. Have. No Idea!
But, prognosticators have to prognosticate. It’s what we do. So with apologies, here are the re-start of the season Western Conference Power Rankings from 13 to 1.
#13 – The Phoenix Suns
They have youth on their side, which I think will be a plus to start the re-start of the season. You may see the Suns win their first and even their second game, which would cause a lot of excitement in the Valley of the Sun, but while cream rises to the top – the opposite is also true. The Suns are going to be happy to have been invited, but thats about it.
#12 – The San Antonio Spurs
I admit to having written of the Spurs several times over several years. Each season Coach Popovich does some kinda voodoo to get a team with no real business in the playoffs, into the playoffs. A staggering 22 straight seasons this franchise has made it to the playoffs. To say that’s impressive doesn’t do it justice. But, despite what will likely be a relatively easy eight game schedule for the Spurs they will fall short this season. No Aldridge doesn’t help, and no amount of Pop voodoo is going to change that.
#11 – Sacramento Kings
I like the Kings. I love their fan-base and I really like De’Aaron Fox. But, there will be no fans in Orlando to root on their team and Fox is still waiting for a supporting cast. If this franchise can get this right this is a team with a bright future. Just not a bright 2020 re-start playoff future.
#10 – New Orleans Pelicans
When discussion turns to teams that disappointed in the 2019-20 season most talk about the Blazers in the West and the Nets in the East. Personally, I thought the Pelicans would be better than they are. I like their coach Alvin Gentry and I thought he would be able to get a young team focused and ready to compete. Of course, the injury to Zion WIlliamson didn’t help. In fact, we all witnessed what a special player WIlliamson is after he came back from that injury. This young team is going to do some damage in their eight games and will battle, but in the end, they will end the season on the outside looking in.
#9 – Memphis Grizzlies
Now things start to get interesting. The Grizzlies are really good and really fun to watch. Ja Morant is the likely Rookie of the Year and as great as Kings fans are, Grizz fans are better. This is the type of franchise and team I would adopt if I had an inclining to root for a team. When Gianni and I discussed the coming playoffs on a recent podcast, Gianni picked the Grizzlies to win the 8th seed. Honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked if they did. There isn’t a lot separating the 10th seed from the 8th seed. I just think that Morant, as good as he is, is still too young to lead his team forward this season. His time, and this teams time, will come. Just not now.
#8 – Portland Trailblazers
Damian Lillard made his opinion known as the executive team leading the Association were deciding how to best restart the season. Lillard said that if his team didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs, he wasn’t going to play. I cant help but think his opinion matter to the decision makers. It’s not like the Blazers were far out of contention, they were only 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the eight seed before the season was suspended. The Blazers wanted a legitimate shot at catching the Grizz and now they have it. While youth will likely rule to start this re-start, experience will dominate it. The Blazers have the experience and they will take the eighth spot.
#7 – Dallas Mavericks
While I have faith that the pairing of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will have long term benefits, in the short term, they just aren’t clicking. I mean, they are good, but they don’t look great and in order to win big in the Association you need greatness. Porzingis will return to the form that saw him excel in New York in time, and Doncic is great already. All he needs is a great running mate. Porzingis will be that, next season. The Mavericks will be fun to watch and have some great games and will earn the seventh seed.
#6 – Utah Jazz
No team is coming into the re-start more banged up than the Utah Jazz. First, they lost Bojan Bogdanovic. That is a physical bang up that will be hard to recover from. But worse than that the Jazz and coach Quin Synder will have to deal with the odd dynamic between star Donovan Mitchell and defensive stalwart, Rudy Gobert. I don’t blame if you had forgotten, because it feel as if it happened years ago, but Gobert was not particularly careful at the onset of the pandemic and ended up passing the virus to Mitchell. Mitchell was not happy. That is an emotional bang up that may be harder to overcome. The Bogdanovic loss is a punch to the gut, the Mitchell/Gobert dynamic could be the knock-out blow.
#5 – Houston Rockets
The combination of James Harden and Russell Westbrook is deadly. The Rockets small ball experiment had some flashes of success. One concern for the Rockets is the well being of coach, Mike D’Antoni. The virus that caused the suspension is known to target the older generation of which D’Antoni, at 69 years of age, is a member. I have no doubt the Association will do a great job protecting the players and coaches, but the very threat of a possible infection could be troubling to the team from Houston.
#4 – OKC Thunder
Easily, the biggest surprise in the Association. Chris Paul was washed up and would take minutes from Shai Gilgeous -Alexander while simultaneously thwarting his growth. This was going to be a re-building season as the team prepared to enjoy the fruits of multiple trades. Instead, CP3 looks revitalized, SGA looks like a future All-Star, near future All-Star and the Thunder and rolling. Might this be the season and the team that CP3 finally gets to the Western Conference Finals with. Well, no. That will not happen, but the Thunder will make some noise in these playoffs and are well positioned for the future.
#3 – Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets are an interesting team. Holden said it best on a recent podcast, while most teams focus on shooters, the Nuggets are built around a center. You remember them? They are an odd bunch that prefer shots worth only two points instead of three. I know, it makes no sense. Shockingly, it works for them though. Thats thanks to the fact that Nikola Jokic is actually really good at being a center. The Nuggets have other good players around them, enough for them to earn the third spot, but not enough to make it to the Western Conference Finals.
#2 – Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers depth will be in full effect in the season re-start. The Clippers only real concern, and its a minor one, is having the Nuggets catch them for the second spot. They have no chance of catching the Lakers, so the main goal for the LAC in the eight games leading to the playoffs will be integrating Joakim Noah (maybe), building timing (definitely) and staying healthy!
#1 – Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are back in the playoffs! Better yet, they are back as the #1 seed. I have no problem admitting that I did not think this team would be this good this season. I felt Dwight Howard would be a shell of his former self, not an energy player off the bench. I thought it would take a while for LeBron James and Anthony Davis to gell. Instead, the two have looked like they have been playing together for years. Kuzma still lacks consistency and James is 35 years old, but the Lakers are the #1 seed, so how bad could it be!