How the West Was Won: The Push for Playoff Contention in the NBA’s Western Conference.
Updated: Mar 2
The NBA playoffs are roughly 50 days away and we've hit the stretch where all eyes are on team seedings. The Western Conference has long been held in higher regard than the Eastern Conference. However, even though the scales of power are starting to balance out, it's clear the strength of the associate still lies West.
With teams jockeying for position and attempting to bolster their roster for potential post-season matchups, we broke down the current moves made by each team in playoff contention. While some teams made big moves to cash-in now for a win, others took a more low-key approach. Only time will tell which team made the right decisions with their personnel.
Who they've added: Willie Cauley-Stein, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
What it means: The Mavericks tried to corner the market on players with hyphenated last names. They also entered the season with an already thin frontcourt. When starting center Dwight Powell's season ended with an achilles injury, they had to act fast.
This team's timeline has been accelerated and with the playoffs a near guarantee, they went with two low-key moves intended to beef up their big man rotation. Neither addition will move the needle too much, however both players provide rotational minutes behind Kristaps Porzingis, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Maxi Kleber. Both players are also in need of a fresh start to their careers, hopefully they find it in Dallas.
Let's just hope for the sake of the Mavericks, MKG can be a plus on the defensive side.
Who they've added: Keita Bates-Diop, Jordan McRae, Noah Vonleh.
What it means: The Nuggets decided to shake things up a bit, but the moves were small. While none of the players they added are better than Malik Beasley, who they sent out, what they did accomplish was shoring up their rotation.
Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris will project more minutes, which is a good thing for Denver. Morris is a playmaker who did well in a limited role last season, but was victim to a team with overwhelming depth this season. MPJ has all the tools to be a high-impact player, however, he needs minutes to prove himself. This team is going to live or die by Nikola Jokic's play, but he's surrounded with depth.
Thankfully for Denver fans, Jokic has shaken off his sluggish start and looks to be in top form.
Who they've added: Robert Covington, Bruno Caboclo, Jeff Green, DeMarre Carroll
What it means: The Rockets are putting all of their eggs into the smallball basket. So far, it's a job well done. James Harden and Russell Westbrook have been playing incredibly well together lately, which means everyone else just needs to know their role and execute it.
With Capela missing significant time, the Rockets decided to go into win-now mode by making the deal for Covington. Covington has been a good defender who slides into a forward position and plays within the system well. Green and Carroll provide decent veteran bench support, where both can rotate in and out of the frontcourt spots when P.J. Tucker needs to sit.
In the words of the Houston Rockets, Covington has been throwing a block party, but you probably hope your team isn't invited.
Los Angeles Clippers
Who they've added: Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson.
What it means: This is a case of the rich getting richer. The Clippers are going all in to win it this season and they absolutely should. Before making any moves, they were already one of the deepest teams in league and they only got deeper.
Marcus Morris provides another layer of toughness for one of the toughest teams in the league. With the Knicks, Morris was a 45% 3-point shooter and a capable defender. Jackson will look to provide point guard relief behind Patrick Beverly, who was the teams only real point guard option. No team should want to face the Clippers in the post-season.
Hopefully at some point we get to see one Morris twin have to defend the other one.
Los Angeles Lakers
Who they've added: Markieff Morris.
What it means: The road to the finals for Western Conference teams runs through Los Angeles. The Lakers sit atop the standings for a reason, they are really, really good. Because one Morris twin went to LA, it only makes sense that the other one would also go to LA.
Markieff isn't going to be tasked with too much with the Lakers, which is probably a good thing. He'll be behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the depth chart and will just need to play well in limited minutes. He was nearly a 40% 3-point shooter in Detroit, so if he can provide some firepower off the bench, the Lakers will be happy.
Word is they may not be done adding to their roster either.
Who they've added: Justise Winslow, Gorgui Dieng, Jordan Bell
What it means: This move wasn't necessarily about making roster improvements for the post-season, but more so about getting rid of Andre Iguodala right now. No one expected the Grizzlies to be in this position at this point in the season, probably not even the Grizzlies. This move does help down the line, but probably not so much right now.
Winslow is the prize here and he's missed most of the season. There is also no real clear idea of when he's going to be ready to contribute. They're currently the 8th seed and they'll be without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke for a couple of weeks. There's a real threat that they fall out of the playoff race. However, playoffs this year for Memphis is all about gaining experience.
What we do know is, that this Grind City team isn't backing down from anyone.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Who they've added: Isaiah Roby
What it means: Absolutely nothing. If Roby is a part of the rotation, then that means things have gone terribly in OKC. This isn't a knock on Roby, he's just not a rotational player at the moment.
The Thunder have also far exceeded expectations for this season. They also sit on a throne of draft picks to surround rising-star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. While it would surprise many if they made a deep playoff run, this is not going to be an easy team to get past. They have a good mixture off seasoned vets ready to battle and young guns ready to prove themselves.
The CP3 & SGA backcourt has been a surprisingly effective NBA marriage.
Who they've added: Jordan Clarkson, Rayjon Tucker
What it means: The Jazz were one of the first teams to pull the trade trigger this season. This has allowed them to work Clarkson in sooner, rather than later. Clarkson has been a big boost off the bench, however the Jazz have deeper problems lately.
With Mike Conley still struggling this late in the season, Jazz fans may be ready to push the panic button. Then there was the weird scenario where Conley was being moved to the bench, then he wasn't, and everyone was still confused. That sums up the Jazz season to date. If they can figure out the rotation, this is a deep team capable of going far.
Let's just say, no one in Utah is going to be napping anytime soon.
On the Bubble
New Orleans Pelicans
Who they've added: No one
What it means: The Pelicans are content with riding out this year. After working through various injuries that looked to derail a promising season, things finally seem to be back on track. One of the better NBA storylines to watch over the next few weeks will be if the Pelicans can rise up through the standings and take the 8th seed.
Zion Williamson has so far lived up to the billing that many thought he'd be. The former-Lakers castaways, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart have also been playing well this season too. They've been one of hotter teams since the All-Star break and if they didn't have such difficult start to the season, they most likely would be in the top-8, with another team on the outside looking in.
Zion may just very well dunk his team into the playoffs.
Portland Trail Blazers
Who they've added: Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel, Caleb Swanigan
What it means: The Trail Blazers have been on the cusp of a playoff birth all season. Everyone wants to see Damian Lillard in playoff mode, well... except for opponents. The moves made highlight the fact that Portland's management also wants to see Dame in the post-season.
You could add Carmelo Anthony in the additions, but he was added so early in the season, we'll just leave it as is. Ariza has been a steady presence since joining the team and beefs up the starting rotation that was desperate for another helping hand. Swanigan gets reunited with the Blazers and provides some much needed frontcourt depth. This team still has some big question marks, especially defensively.
If Jusuf Nurkic can find a way back this season and get into shape, this team could make some waves in the playoffs.