The Western Conference is going to be tougher than ever before, with the Clippers, Lakers, Warriors and Rockets all looking different this season. Projections of how this year will play out are here with over/unders for all 30 teams. The Open Floor podcast considers those predictions and more.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Ben Golliver: Now in terms of the top of the West and which one of these guys you really feel like betting on. It’s really tricky to talk yourself into any of the teams that are sort of pegged to be above 50 wins, like Houston at 54.1. That sounds really high to me too. How do you feel on the Rockets?
Andrew Sharp: I’m a believer in what they’ll be able to put together in the regular season, and I think for a lot of the reasons that we’ve discussed their playoff ceiling is going to be more interesting and more complicated. But regular season wise, I just trust them to put together mid-50 in wins basically every year at this point. I think one of the things in the Russell Westbrook conversations that was sort of taken for granted is the idea that James Harden is just going to continue to be able to be at this MVP level every single year.
He’s basically been superhuman the last three seasons, and I don’t know how long that’s going to continue. But I think if that continues, that will give them a pretty high baseline and make that 55-win mark attainable. But by the same token, you could also convince me that all these teams are just going to beat the crap out of each other for six or seven months, and the team that wins the West is going to have like 53 or 54 wins and the Rockets will land somewhere in the middle of that mix.
So, I wouldn’t feel great betting against them. But I also wouldn’t feel great betting on them, and that’s kind of how I feel like the Clippers at 54.5. If Paul George is going to come back within the first month of this season and Kawhi is going to play most of the season and of course the Clippers can hit the over there. But there’s also all kinds of load management questions and for all the reasons that we’ve outlined like the interior defense, they need more depth that the guard spots. The Clippers could sort of plateau during the regular season and be much scarier in the playoffs so like that’s another wildcard.
The one team in the West that I am feeling fairly confident in is the Los Angeles Lakers.
Golliver: No surprise there. Love the big-market teams. Let me guess, you’re going over on this Celtics over on the Lakers. Big shock.
Sharp: I think I am over on both the Celtics and the Lakers, and I was shorting Lakers stock very, very hard at this time last year so it’s not like I’m Mr. Laker or anything. But at 49.5 I think if they can get to 50, 51, 52 wins with Anthony Davis and LeBron James being healthy for most of this season, and that’s the one team in that glut of kind of contenders at the top of the West that I see and feel pretty good about. The other one is like the Warriors. I’m high on what’s possible for them in the playoffs once Klay Thompson comes back. But right now, they are at 49.5 and I would probably take the under on that one.
Golliver: It’s tricky. So first of all, I agree in general what you’re saying about pretty much all these teams that are at the over 50 markets. It’s really easy to kind of talk yourself into the everybody beats up on everybody else factor. With Harden for example, they won 53 last year. He had essentially perfect health for almost the fifth straight season. He had one injury during his MVP yearn that knocked him out for like 10 games, but he averaged 36, seven and eight last year. We shouldn’t be taking that for granted, and we probably didn’t give that enough attention on this show because we were like really wrapped up in the Giannis rise. Those are absolutely obscene numbers and he was out there every single night playing pretty big minutes.
So if the argument is let’s bet against that because that wasn’t enough to get over the 54.5 number and there’s been a lot of changes around him, and they tend to go through these fits and starts as an organization, where one month they look amazing and play better than everybody at the next month they’re again off to a slow start. I just don’t see the consistency factor from Houston coming through. So, I would go under with them.
Now the Warriors one is really interesting because it came out a lot lower than I expected, and remember the Spurs just kind of like grind it out 50 wins no matter what year after year, didn’t matter who the pieces were, they just had like that streak of 50 win seasons that went on forever. I think that Golden State has so many of the same principles as those Spurs teams did where like you know even with the injury to Klay, the rest of the town that’s still there, even with the departure of Kevin Durant, even with Andre Iguodala not being there anymore, Shaun Livingston. They’re losing a lot of institutional knowledge but the core figures that created their culture are all going to be there. To me if you’re going to draw the Spurs comparison with them, it should be that they’re going to just find a way to get 50 we should just pencil them in as over 50 no matter what. If they’ve got an MVP candidate in Steph, a high-level All-Defense type guy in Draymond Green, it should be able to get to that number.
That being said, I’ve been wrong on the Warriors going over for a couple seasons in a row, but I think this is a little bit of a different year obviously. I just wonder have the expectations for them changed too much, and I actually think on that same point the Lakers to me they came out real hot in early July being considered a team that was going to be a championship favorite that should be the favorites right up there with the Clippers. It seems like that has faded a little bit, and I was surprised honestly that their number was like significantly lower at 49.5 than say the Clippers at 54.5. That seems like less optimism on behalf of the Lakers than we usually see.
Sharp: There’s no question about it. And that to me means that Vegas is even lower on the Lakers, because the Lakers are generally like a public team whose win total will be inflated by two or three wins every single season. And so maybe Vegas sees them at like 46 or 47, and they’ve been beat up to 49.5. Honestly, I have no idea how any of this odds-making works.
Golliver: I think you’re right. I always subtract like three or four words from that number just because of the Lakers fans bounce. But this year if you do that you get to a number that feels a lot more attainable if you have both LeBron and AD.
Sharp: Right, and I just feel like there has been an overcorrection on the Lakers front, and they will be able to make it to that sort of low-50s zone, where they’re going to finish third or fourth in the West and be in good shape headed into the playoffs.