NBA

It's Going to Be a Heck of a Battle in the Western Conference

Annie Nader
Annie Nader@ANader33

With just two months left in the NBA's regular season, the playoff landscape will soon solidify.

Out West, there are innumerable eligible teams who could make a run to the Finals this year. To offer some insight as to how competitive the Western Conference is in comparison to the Eastern Conference -- the current 8 seed in the West sits just 7.5 games out of first place while the 8 seed in the East sits 13 games behind first.

It will be all systems go from here on out as teams look to secure advantageous playoff seeding.

Let's check out the Western Conference odds -- courtesy of the NBA odds at FanDuel Sportsbook -- and see which teams are the best bets to represent the West in the NBA Finals this year.

NBA Western Conference Odds

Team
NBA Western Conference Winner Odds
Denver Nuggets+220
Los Angeles Clippers+230
Oklahoma City Thunder+800
Phoenix Suns+800
Minnesota Tumberwolves+800
Dallas Mavericks+1500
Los Angeles Lakers+2500
View Full Table

Denver Nuggets (+220)

When our Zack Bussiere checked in on this market one month into the regular season, the Denver Nuggets had identical Western Conference odds as they do today.

The lack of movement from the market makes sense. Denver, for the most part, hasn't been affected by injuries, they were silent at the trade deadline, and Nikola Jokic continues to wow night in and night out.

While the reigning champs have every right to own the shortest Western Conference odds, their path to the NBA Finals will be tougher this time around.

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Nuggets are in fourth place in the West, though they sit just 3.0 games out of first.

They had homecourt advantage throughout last year's playoffs, which proved quite fruitful as Denver went 10-1 at home during its run to a title. This season, they own a lackluster 15-14 road record. If their seeding for this year's postseason forces them to win multiple big games on the road, it will be a new challenge.

As of this writing, the Nuggets have a +3.3 net rating, which is identical to their net rating last season. Last campaign, this rating was good for the second-best in the West. But this season, four other teams in the West tout a better net rating.

While the competition is stiffer and the road to the Finals is less cut and dry, it's hard not to have faith in the team that walloped their way to a banner just last year and is mostly the same team this season.

Los Angeles Clippers (+230)

No team's stock has risen more than the Los Angeles Clippers'. In late November, their Western Conference odds stood at a mighty +1300.

But after a rough start to the James Harden era, the Clippers found a starting lineup and bench rotation that works for them, leading them to an overall 36-17 record and sitting pretty as the West's 3 seed.

Now just two games behind first place, the Clippers have emerged as one of the league's biggest threats. They own the fifth-best net rating in the league, and Kawhi Leonard would be (should be?) in the MVP conversation if not for the astronomical offensive numbers that have been put up by some of the league's best bigs.

Leonard, Harden, and Paul George have been playing team basketball, translating to their stellar record. But I'm most encouraged by the fact that these three all rank in the top 10 of plus/minus.

Their strength of schedule for the remainder of the regular season is no joke -- seventh-toughest, according to Tankathon -- but a difficult homestretch could have them in perfect shape to compete once it really matters.

Despite featuring plenty of talented players in franchise history, the Clippers have yet to compete in the Finals. The stars on this team can be quite injury-prone, and I don't know that their Western Conference odds should be this close to Denver's. But with that said, Leonard is a winning player, and it seems something is in the air with the Clippers this year.

Oklahoma City Thunder (+800)

It's hard not to love the Oklahoma City Thunder, but I'd be a little surprised if this young team wins the West this year.

Their 37-17 record (third-best in the league) and second-best net rating give credence to just how talented this team is, but there are too many talented and experienced teams in the West to justify me siding with OKC at the third-shortest (tied) odds.

Three seasons have come and gone since OKC's leader, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, last appeared in a playoff game. And if we check out the Western Conference standings, it's not out of the question that the Thunder could be served with a first-round matchup against either the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Lakers.

To be clear, the Thunder have far more to show for their season than either the Lakers or the Warriors do. But the average age of an OKC starter is a mere 22.6 years old, which might not hold up well against experienced champs such as LeBron James or Stephen Curry.

If I'm already concerned about the possibilities of the Thunder's first-round matchup, then I can't say I would lay their Western Conference odds at +800. This team should be very exciting for years to come, but this doesn't seem to be their time just yet.

Phoenix Suns (+800)

While the Clippers' stock has skyrocketed since the aughts of this season, the Phoenix Suns have seen their stock plummet. In late November, the Suns had +280 odds (second-shortest) to win the Western Conference.

Injuries -- namely to Bradley Beal and (at times) Devin Booker -- have left some things up in the air for the Suns, but they can still go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the league.

Phoenix currently has the league's ninth-best (tied with Denver) net rating. Both Booker and Kevin Durant have competed in the Finals before, so experience is on their side.

A 33-22 record has the Suns sitting as the West's current 5 seed, 6.0 games out of first. Their remaining schedule is as tough as it gets, including a pair of matchups against the Nuggets, Thunder, Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics, and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Given this arduous schedule and the competitiveness in the West, I wouldn't be surprised if the Suns see their seeding fall below where it stands now. Depending on how the market moves, they could emerge as an even bigger underdog as we inch closer to the playoffs, so I'm keeping my eye on them.

Minnesota Timberwolves (+800)

Things are ramping up in Minnesota. The T-Wolves own the number one seed in the West as of this writing, and a smooth upcoming schedule could result in solid playoff positioning.

According to Tankathon, Minnesota's remaining schedule is the 11th-easiest in the NBA. But even still, three regular-season matchups remain between this team and the Denver Nuggets, all of which will come in the final month of play.

If the T-Wolves can capitalize on some of their easy matchups and steal a game or two from Denver -- they've already defeated the Nuggets once this season -- they could be granted homecourt advantage for the duration of the Western Conference playoffs.

Only one other team in the league (Boston) has fewer home losses to their name than Minnesota does.

The last 12 NBA championship teams finished their regular season in the top 6 in each of of Player Impact Estimate (PIE), effective field goal percentage (EFG%), and net rating. Minnesota currently ranks second in PIE, third in net rating, and seventh in EFG%. Only two other teams in the league rank in the top 7 of all of these metrics -- the Celtics and Clippers.

With Minnesota boasting the best defensive rating in basketball and some bigs who could give Nikola Jokic a tough time should they meet in the playoffs, I'm intrigued by the Timberwolves.


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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.