The 2021-22 NBA season will get started on October 19. We are coming off one of the wildest years in recent memory, as no one had the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks pegged to meet in the NBA Finals this past summer. Once again, the Western Conference is expected to be tougher than the Eastern Conference, and the Los Angeles Lakers are seen as the team to beat despite their first-round loss to Phoenix in last year’s playoffs.
Injuries played a huge factor in last year’s playoffs, and the Los Angeles Lakers dealt with more injuries than most teams. Anthony Davis was injured in Game 4 of the Lakers’ first round series against the Phoenix Suns, and LeBron James wasn’t at 100% either.
If the Lakers can stay healthy, they are seen as the frontrunner in the West this season. However, that’s a big “if” considering this team is easily the oldest in the NBA. Davis is still in his prime, but James is at the tail end of his career, and new addition Russell Westbrook will turn 33 in November. The Lakers also have Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard, so there’s a lot of well-known names on this roster. The lack of youth has a real chance of hurting this team as the season goes on though.
Phoenix brought back Chris Paul and will essentially run it back with the same roster we saw win the West last summer. Paul was able to stay healthy and play at a high level, while Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges took their games to the next level. This team has a strong rotation with Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet coming off the bench, and they have a good chance to win 50 games if Paul is still playing at a high level alongside Devin Booker.
The Golden State Warriors are ready to contend once again. The franchise that won five straight Western Conference titles from 2015 to 2019 had their last two seasons sunk by injuries to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but they should have both guards back and at full strength. They have a few wild cards though in James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins, and Draymond Green. Wiseman could be a star in this system given his physical gifts.
Utah is seen as one of the other contenders in the West. The Jazz have been a good regular season team for each of the last five seasons, but they have yet to make it past the conference semifinals. Rudy Gobert’s game just hasn’t translated to postseason success, and Mike Conley isn’t getting any younger at 34. This team hasn’t had what it takes to win in the playoffs, and it’s hard to believe it will change this year.
Longshot to Watch
Reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic is the type of big man that thrives in today’s league. Denver’s postseason hopes were submarined when Jamal Murray suffered a torn ACL in April, but the Nuggets could be this year’s Suns. Michael Porter Jr. is a real difference maker, and Aaron Gordon could thrive in his first full season with the team.