If you have missed the first post of my predictions, you can find it here. Today, we will focus on more exciting teams, which should make it to the playoffs in the strongest Western Conference ever. I don't see any of these 4 teams winning the league, but if we are to expect surprises, they will probably come from those four clubs.
8. New Orleans Pelicans
I had expected so much from the Pelicans last year, but Cousins' injury changed the narrative of the season. The Pelicans still managed to beat the Blazers in the playoffs and even got one victory against the Warriors, but I do believe that they could have achieved way more if Cousins could play. This season, Cousins has joined the Warriors (that's getting boring), so the Pelicans will have to fully rely on Anthony Davies again. However, Anthony Davies is the guy you want to rely on. If I had to build an NBA team around one player at the moment, it would either be Anthony Davies or Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Of course, the Pelicans have a few more players we cannot forget and Jrue Holiday is one of them. Jrue Holiday is at his peak of the career, and I do expect a lot from him. I was somewhat skeptical about Jrue's ability to be a leader, but he proved me wrong a couple of years ago when Davies was injured and had to miss a few months. This year, I hope to see both Holiday and Davies fit and their duo should be enough to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Other guys like Mirotic and Moore are also pivotal for the Pelicans success. Mirotic was never my favorite player, but he knows how to get things done, and he already showed last season that he could be clinical even during the most important games of the season. That is important. However, I still don't think that the Pelicans have what it takes to compete for a higher spot in the Western Conference. Anthony Davies will have his bad runs (he might also get some small injuries) and I expect the Pelicans to lose their position during those periods. To be honest, the Pelicans are probably the most unpredictable team this season. They might have 10-0 streaks which get followed by 0-10 collapses.
Final prediction: The Pelicans will barely make it to the playoffs only to lose against the GSW in the first round.
7. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz became the biggest surprise of the last season. No one expected the Jazz to make it to the playoffs, not to mention beating the OKC in the first round. Donovan Mitchell raised to the occasion and played like a veteran during the playoffs. I believe that he deserved the rookie of the year award more than Ben Simmons, but the NBA has decided to award Simmons. Joe Ingles also played like a superstar last season, which is not something you get to see often. He even showed some defensive skills. Talking about defensive skills, Ruby Gobert shined bright like he always does. However, one of the most underrated players in the Jazz roster last season was Ricky Rubio. In my eyes, he was one of the reasons why this team started winning. Rubio, even though his shot technique looks terrible, finally learned to shoot from a distance. With that ability, he becomes one of the best point guards in the league because we already know his ability to dish assists and force opponents to lose the ball.
I couldn't say a bad word about the Jazz last season. However, I don't think that they will be able to maintain such a high level throughout the upcoming season. It feels like some of the players (eyes on Joe Ingles) will get back to their normal forms. After all, it is impossible to keep overperforming all the time. I expect the Jazz to get back to their usual defensive game style, which is perfect for a team which has the DPOY on their roster. I don't see the Jazz making any more surprises this year, but I don't think they will fail as well. In my eyes, the Jazz will be one of the most stable teams in the league, winning against weak opponents and losing against stronger sides. I also don't think that Donovan Mitchell will get much better this year (he is already a world-class player, though).
Final prediction: The Utah Jazz will finish 7th in the Western Conference and will have to face the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. I guess we all know how it will end.
6. The San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are starting a new era this year. Manu Ginobili has retired, Tony Parker is in Charlotte, and Tim Duncan... well, he is long gone already. However, the Spurs still have their main icon - Gregg Popovich. I don't expect miracles from Pop, but he sure knows how to lead his team to the playoffs (21 years in a row and counting). Of course, the Spurs are not as dominant as they used to be in the early 00's but they are still strong.
DeMar DeRozan never wanted to leave the Raptors in the first place, but now when all the drama is gone, I think DeRozan might be happy about this trade. He will get a chance to play in one of the best organizations in the NBA, which value their players and create an unbelievable atmosphere. Also, I doubt that any player in the world would ever reject Gregg Popovich as their coach. That said, DeRozan will have to adapt to Popovich's schemes and start playing for the team rather than being a hero who tries to carry the team on his own shoulders. That will take some time, so I don't expect the Spurs to start the season strong.
Also, the likes of Aldridge, Gay, Gasol, Mills, and Belinelli will make the Spurs one of the most experienced teams in the league. Even though Gay and Belinelli are not necessarily the most mature players, they have a lot of experience. As for Pau Gasol, I believe that he is one of those rare players who are true leaders both on and off the court. Pau is already 38 years old, but he still finds ways to compete against younger and stronger players.
With such a roster, the Spurs would be able to finish in the top 4 in the Western Conference on any other year. Sadly, we are talking about the 2018-19 season, which might be remembered as one of the toughest seasons in the NBA's history.
Final prediction: The Spurs will be able to finish in the 6th position in the Western Conference and might even steal a couple of games from the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, but I don't see them going any further.
5. Denver Nuggets
I predict that the Denver Nuggets will be the dark horses of the season. Many people see them finishing outside of the playoffs, but I cannot disagree more. It is now or never for the Nuggets. Signing Isaiah Thomas was a huge risk as he became a new Derrick Rose with all those injuries. However, even if Thomas fails to deliver, the Nuggets have enough players to compensate that. In my opinion, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic will be the guys who will determine the Nuggets' direction this season.
Jamal Murray is only 21 years old and is already proving to be one of the leaders of the Denver Nuggets. He is a very underrated player, who can do it all on the court. Also, his shooting skills are impeccable. I don't see a reason why he couldn't be the leading scorer for the Denver Nuggets next season. That said, the real leader of the Nuggets is and will be Nikola Jokic.
Nikola Jokic is the closest player to Arvydas Sabonis, the Hall of Famer from Lithuania. I would argue that Nikola Jokic is the best center in the league at the moment, but he still needs to improve his defense to claim that title. However, when it comes to attacking, Nikol Jokic is a monster. He can pass the ball as good as any point guard in the league, he can dribble the ball a little, and he can shoot from any position of the court. At the age of 23, Nikola Jokic is already an all-star. If he keeps working hard in practice, I do not doubt that Nikol Jokic will one day become a true contender to the MVP title.
Also, the Denver Nuggets will use Paul Millsap's maturity on the court, especially during the clutch moments. Even at the age of 33, Millsap can still be a handy player. On top of that, the Nuggets have Gary Harris, a natural born scorer. Other guys, including Beasly and Barton, can also become leaders on any given day, making the Nuggets one of the most complete teams in the league. They might not have any huge superstars, but they do have enough potential to beat any team in the league.
Final Prediction: The Denver Nuggets will finish 4th in the Western Conference and will face the OKC in the first round of the playoffs. I do believe that 7 games will be needed to determine the winner. Sadly, at this point, I do think that the OKC will be able to prevail as the Nuggets need a couple more years for Jokic and Murray to mature.