After the opening stretch of the NBA season, the Western Conference is, to no one’s surprise, completely packed. Specific to the Blazers, the Northwest Division is especially clustered. Oddly, divisional standings have no true impact on either the schedule or playoff seedings. With that being said, how are each of the Blazers’ rivals in the Northwest division stacking up as potential threats to the division crown?
Photo by Sean Meagher/Staff
Entering the season, the Nuggets were projected as a high powered offense, with the potential to make the playoffs if their defense improved to average. The Nuggets have surprised most by not only providing elite offense, but ranking second in defensive efficiency (teamrankings.com). The Nuggets have the ability to maintain their great start, especially if previous defensive minuses Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic continue to maintain average defensive ratings at worst. Especially if you take into consideration that the team is awaiting the returns of Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas, this is most probably the Blazers biggest challenger to a top four seed.
AP Photo/Craig Mitchell
Utah opened the year as one of the most hyped teams to take the next step. With an elite defense, and a budding superstar in Donovan Mitchell, the team seemed to be a lock for the playoffs. However, the rule changes on player movement have resulted in an adjustment period for Utah’s physical defenders. Coupled with their already mediocre offense, and it has led to a slower start for Quin Snyder’s team. As the season progresses, expect the Jazz return to their place as a pest within the playoff picture who could land as a middle seed. However, unless the team rattled off another historic finish to the season, do not expect them to challenge for the divisional title.
Oklahoma City Thunder
(AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
High expectations were set for the Thunder to start the new year. With a potent 1-2 duo in Russell Westbrook and Paul George, continuity with much of the team, especially defensively, and an improved bench, OKC was also one of the teams who were expected to challenge for a Western Conference Finals berth. However, what many people, including myself, failed to account for was the lack of consistent shooting on the team. This lack of shooting, coupled with Russell Westbrook’s injury, led to an atrocious start to begin the year. The Thunder have since settled down, but the shooting problems still persist. The Thunder have the ability to be the 2nd best team in the tightly packed West, but unless Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo find their shot or the team makes a trade for a sharpshooter, expect them to stay in the middle of the pack, both in the conference and divisional standings.
Jeffrey Becker / USA TODAY Sports
This might most accurately describe the Timberwolves’ month of October. The Jimmy Butler saga has engulfed the team in drama, and has destroyed any promise that the team showed last year before Butler injured his knee. If you look at the team overall, you see flashes of hope as a potential playoff team, especially with an improved bench led by Derrick Rose, who is emerging as a legitimate 6th man of the year candidate. Now that Jimmy Butler has been traded to the 76ers, the hope is that Robert Covington and Dario Saric provide some much needed 3 point shooting and Karl Anthony-Towns starts receiving the touches that he deserves. While the team has the talent to contend for the playoffs, their mental makeup exposed by Butler is a massive concern going forward.
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