With all the changes in the NBA’s Western Conference because of free agency moves, Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers might still be the team to beat during the playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joined forces. LeBron James got his superstar teammate in Anthony Davis. Russell Westbrook reunites with James Harden in Houston. With all that happened in the offseason, what are Lillard’s thoughts on the new-look Western Conference?
What Damian Lillard thinks about the new-look West
In an interview with The Athletic, Lillard praised some of the moves the Trail Blazers’ conference foes made during the offseason:
“The West is still super competitive. Everybody has firepower. At first, everybody was calling the Clippers a tough team, they played hard, and now they’ve got Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. And now Anthony Davis plays for the Lakers and New Orleans has all this young talent that is going to be able to compete. You know, I don’t think people give them enough credit. And then Utah picked up all these guys. So it might look more balanced but it probably got tougher to win in the West because every team is good now.”
Damian Lillard is a confident, cold-blooded assassin on the basketball court, so to see him praise the competition is a bit out of character, but he might be right about the competitive balance.
Is Anthony Davis the next great Lakers big man?
When you think of Los Angeles Lakers centers, we are sure a few famous ones come to mind. Kareem, Wilt, and Shaq, to name a few.
When he is healthy Davis is easily a top-5 player, capable of putting up MVP caliber numbers. His time in New Orleans was full of poor roster management, but we think Davis will have a new life in Los Angeles.
Pairing him up with one of the games greatest passers in LeBron James, and a tough point guard in Rajon Rondo should help Davis have a career year in 2019.
How good can the Clippers be?
The Clippers were a scrappy, defensive-minded team that took the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors to six games. All they did was trade a promising rookie, a veteran forward, and a bunch of draft picks for the reigning Finals MVP and the player who finished third in the MVP voting this year.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the two best perimeter defenders in the NBA, so combining them with Patrick Beverley could make this the best defense in the NBA. We fully expect them to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Will Houston be a legitimate threat?
James Harden and the Rockets have failed multiple times in the playoffs the last few seasons. We can say the same for Russell Westbrook, who can’t seem to shake off the 3-1 deficit the Thunder gave up to the Warriors in 2016.
Will they be able to find success together? Westbrook’s physical attributes are declining, and he had a poor year in 2018, if you can call averaging a triple-double for the third consecutive year poor.
We think Harden and Westbrook will mesh well in the backcourt, but don’t think the Rockets will be a threat to get out of the second round.
Where does Portland stand?
The Trail Blazers made the Western Conference finals without center Jusuf Nurkic, who should be back in time for the 2020 playoffs. Until then, newly-acquired Hassan Whiteside will handle the middle, and it gives the Blazers an excellent defender to protect the paint. With Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in the frontcourt, it could be enough to get Portland in the playoffs as it aims for another deep postseason run.
Who do you think will win the West?
Are you picking the Blazers to win the West? It should be an excellent regular season, and we think Damian Lillard can have another great year for the Rose City. We are standing by our pick of the Los Angeles Clippers winning the west, but a matchup between them and the Blazers could be a Western Conference Finals showdown.