This is probably the biggest and toughest challenge in predicting what might occur in late April: Who will make the Western Conference Playoffs?
The Western Conference is easily the toughest because we have probably 11 teams that could go over 40 wins this year. I think it will be a long road for these teams, but here is what we have.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: I have picked the Lakers to place first in the regular season and I'm sure many others have also. They seem to be the most all-around team in the NBA and arguably have the best player in the NBA.
2. Denver Nuggets: I know a lot of people don't have Denver in the second spot, but I think that they've had an excellent team the past couple of years and have only got better in the off-season. They didn't even have their Hall of Fame coach last year in the playoffs!
Another thing I think what most people forgot was that when Kobe demanded a trade and didn't get traded, he took his team to the NBA Finals that year. I believe the same thing will happen with Melo: I think that he can take this team deep into the playoffs (maybe not the finals), but deep in the playoffs.
3. Dallas Mavericks: I don't think that the Mavs will go far in the playoffs, but they will end up being the third best team in the Western Conference. They have a great leader in Dirk and a solid supporting cast. They have the veteran experience to lead the team into the playoffs, but I don't know if it'll be enough to get them past the Lakers.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder are an excellent team and in the next 3 years I believe that they will have championship rings. My only issue with them is the bench depth. James Hardin and Serge Ibaka are great off then bench, but to be a great playoff team you need to have your 8th and 9th men step up and be great in the playoffs. I don' t think the Thunder quite have that sort of talent yet.
5. Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers are another great team with a lot of potential. They have a superstar in Brandon Roy and an excellent supporting cast. They even have a couple of underrated guys like Pat Mills and Rudy Fernandez.
6. San Antonio Spurs: I think that this is the last year the Spurs can really contend in the Western Conference. They're not getting worse: everyone other team is getting better. I like the Spurs here because of experience and the consistency they bring from October to April.
7. Utah Jazz: They have a good team and the starting line-up is very solid. Beyond their first 5, I don't think they have what it takes. Deron Williams is the 2nd best PG in the league, and he is even better in the playoffs. The question is: Can he really lead this team?
8. Golden State Warriors: The Warriors would have made the playoffs last year in my book, if all the injuries didn't happen. Now with David Lee, Monta Ellis, and Stephan Curry leading the way, the Warriors look to fight off teams into the playoffs.
I think that the towards the end of the Western Conference, it will be a dog fight. You can't count out teams like the New Orleans Hornets, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings. I think they all have a shot at the 7 or 8 seed. I think any of these five teams could get the 7 seed, 8 seed, or no seed at all. It will be a fight, but these teams are what I think we'll be seeing in April.