Ones to watch: the rest of the west

As NBA playoff basketball edges closer, it is easy to spot the real favorites for this year’s championship. From the LA teams in the west to the Bucks and Raptors in the east, every pundit, player, and fan agrees these stand an exceptionally good chance of getting their hands on that trophy. However, the league is particularly competitive this season, and it is easy to forget how close some teams have been to the top tier. A few of these stand a solid chance of going deep into the playoffs in the Western Conference.

OKC Thunder – After the loss of former MVP Russell Westbrook and MVP candidate Paul George in what was a devastating offseason for Oklahoma fans, head coach Billy Donovan has managed to make due with the likes of Chris Paul, Steven Adams and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who have led them to a current fifth spot in the west. With the second best record on the road in the conference they have turned into a force to be reckoned with, especially considering this could be one of Chris Paul’s last runs in the playoffs. Championship odds – 70/1

Dallas Mavericks – The constant improvement of sophomore player Luka Doncic isn’t the only thing leading this team to the most effective offense in NBA history. The return of Kristaps Porzingis and the excellent shooting form the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr and Seth Curry have also been major keys to Rick Carlisle’s Mavericks. This roster is overflowing with incredibly efficient players, and is fully healthy for the first time since the start of the season, meaning a surprise run into the playoffs is not only out of question but quite likely.

Portland Trail Blazers – While they began the restart outside of the playoffs, Terry Stotts’ Portland Trail Blazers had been improving before the sudden stop of the season, and if they can pick up where they left off, another playoffs run isn’t out of the question. Led by superstar Damian Lillard, along with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, CJ McCollum and center Hassan Whiteside, the Blazers have a real chance of going way further than expected. The return of Jusuf Nurkic to the team is also a major factor for their chances. The Bosnian returned to action in recent scrimmages after a year long wait. There is no doubt about this team’s potential, however, the real question is whether they can gel together fast enough for the full eight games.

New Orleans Pelicans – An exciting team filled with talented young players with a sky-high potential, the New Orleans Pelicans have been a different beast since Zion Williamson’s return to action prior to the season being put on hold. Combining with Brandon Ingram, who is enjoying a break-through season, and with the likes of JJ Reddick, Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday all healthy, the Pelicans have a real shot at making the eighth seed. This team has their young stars, along with a chemistry that has been in constant improvement, leaving Pelicans fans with a lot to be looking forward to in this push for playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies – Another exciting young team that has been pleasantly surprising this season. There are no words left to describe Ja Morant’s incredible rookie season, combining with a steady improvement of Jaren Jackson Jr, Dillon Brooks and the rock-solid center Jonas Valanciunas. Currently sitting in the last playoffs spot which so many will fight for in the next few weeks, the Grizzlies have a chance to end a magnificent odds-defying season with a playoffs run with the youngest squad of all 22 teams in Orlando. Recent scrimmages have shown just how hard this group can fight, and their playoff chances rely only on themselves.