With only one day left, the 2022-23 NBA regular season is about to conclude. It has been a crazy road once again, especially in the Western Conference, where they lived up to the annual ‘Wild, Wild West’ billing.
As one of the signs, the top three seeds were only locked days ago. It will be consisted of the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Sacramento Kings, respectively.
Unlike years past, however, the West isn’t top-heavy. The fourth-seeded Phoenix Suns are the lone high-seeded team that you can really feel sure about. It’s hard to think otherwise for now sincee Chris Paul, Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, and the recently acquired Kevin Durant are all top guys in their positions.
While talent hasn’t diminished, it has now actually gone to a point wherein the East are arguably talented and better-rounded. It will be a very long debate, but you can’t deny there’s a significant change compared to 5-10 seasons ago.
In any case, seeds one through three out West shouldn’t exactly wow anyone. Here’s why:
#1 Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets are number one for a reason. Denver is home to the two-time reigning NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic, and he is backed up by a deep supporting cast. He has high-scoring and sweet-shooting point guard Jamal Murray as his sidekick, and their supporting cast covers varying needs – Aaaron Gordon is a an athletic and sizable forward, Michael Porter Jr. is a big forward with inside-out capabilities, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a textbook ‘3 and D’ guy, and Bruce Brown is an all-around, serviceable hustle player on both ends.
But then, they showed holes in their game beginning early March – Jokic’s lack of defense, for one, is now causing bigger problems than usual. The group has simply slowed down and haven’t fully recovered. They are an abysmal 6-10 since March 7th (Manila time), and suffered defeats against losing teams, most notably the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls, both of which smoked them for 20-plus points.
Head coach Mike Malone called them “soft” following that embarrassing performance vs. Houston, and no one stepped up:
“I just called our team ‘soft,’ and I dared someone to challenge me. No one did, because we as a group were soft tonight. I’m not saying we are soft, but tonight, we were.”
It’s still a capable bunch, but all that generates a good amount of concern. Such sudden mediocrity just makes you think that this is far from a traditional No. 1 seed.
#2 Memphis Grizzlies
The young, explosive, and in-your-face Grizzlies. They are a fun team for the most part, and they got some dogs in there, led by All-Star Ja Morant (whatever you think of him, he’s an All-Star stud that can go downhill on any defense), other All-Star Jaren Jackson Jr., the likely Defensive Player of the Year winner, and Desmond Bane, a reliable shooter and improving scorer overall. The role players are reliable too.
Unfortunately, they will be without two guys in the rotation: Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke. Both are out for the season, and it will prove to be a huge loss soon enough as they play a significant part in the Grizz’s hustle, especially in helping take some load off JJJ in the paint. Everyone’s style and grit gets tested heavily in the playoffs, and due to the injuries, that challenge will be a level harder for this Memphis team.
#3 Sacramento Kings
There’s a lot to like about the Kings. They are the lovable underdogs who finally made the playoffs after 17 years, and they own the number one-rated offense in the league. Then, there’s a pair of All-Stars, speedster and clutch performer De’Aaron Fox and versatile big man Domantas Sabonis, leading the offensively sound group.
Here’s the big “but,” though: they are the new kids on the block. While they have a formidable squad, playoff newbies who are on the higher seeds are naturally prone to get upset by a more experienced opponent. Sabonis, along with co-starters Harrison Barnes and Kevin Huerter all have postseason mileage, but team-wise, the postseason stage is still new.
The 5-8 seeds
Teams in the fifth to eighth seeds won’t be fully finalized until the play-in games are done, but it’s looking like those four will be consisted of a variation between the LA Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Oklahoma City Thunder.
It’s a wild list. You got the defending champion Warriors who will have Andrew Wiggins Back, the deep Clippers with two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard with Paul George nearing a return, the revitalized Lakers, the three other teams with no shortage of firepower.
Anything can really happen and the West’s top three seeds are more vulnerable than ever.