The NBA trade deadline is over. This means that, for the most part, how teams look now is likely how they'll look entering the postseason. Because of this, sorting out who will be where once the postseason rolls around has started to gain focus and plenty of hype. Last year, the Miami Heat made an unpredictable run to the NBA Finals having come out of the Eastern Conference as the 5-seed.
Which two teams in the Western Conference could make a similar Miami Heat-esque run this year?
Heat Candidate #1 – Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are 27-18 this year and currently sit right in the middle of a tightly packed Western Conference. Damian Lillard has been doing his thing all season long, averaging 30+ points per game while delivering in the clutch as he has his entire career. What's working best in the Blazers favor is the fact that they are getting right and getting healthy at the perfect time.
CJ McCollum missed more than half of the season to date due to a fractured foot. He's back and hasn't skipped a beat since his return. Jusuf Nurkic injured his wrist which led to surgery back in January. He has now returned to Portland's lineup as well. And to top it all off, the Blazers acquired Norman Powell at the trade deadline from the Toronto Raptors. In his first game with Portland all Powell did was pour in 22 points on 7-13 shooting. The Blazers are getting all the pieces put together at the right time.
This is a Portland team that has many of its main pieces still on this squad that was a part of the 2019 team that made it to the Western Conference Finals. Given where things currently stand, the West could be more open entering the playoffs than what was initially thought.
The Lakers are currently playing without LeBron James and Anthony Davis and while both are expected to return, it's unlikely the Lakers will have all their ducks in a row entering the playoffs. The Clippers added Rajon Rondo at the deadline but it's unknown whether or not that is even close to enough. The Utah Jazz sit atop the West but there are questions about the legitimacy of what the Jazz have been able to do this year.
All of this means it could make for a wild and unpredictable Western Conference playoffs with huge Heat upset potential. Enter the Blazers.
Portland has the studs in Damian Lillard and McCollum. They have the bigs in Enes Kanter and Jusuf Nurkic. They got the boost in Norman Powell at the deadline. They have the scoring machine off the bench that is Carmelo Anthony. All that's left is to roll the ball out and see what kind of run Portland can make in the postseason. They appear to have all the makeup of a team that can duplicate what Miami did in the East last year.
Heat Candidate #2 – Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets are less of a sneaky, under-the-radar team now, having been to the Western Conference Finals a year ago and having what could be the MVP in Nikola Jokic. They almost got far enough to face the Heat in the Disney Bubble themselves. But given the landscape of the West, all the headlines go to the Lakers, Clippers and the first place Jazz and then everyone else falls in line after that. So the Nuggets have been able to stay off the radar of many up to this point. It's time to take notice.
Denver made a big splash at the trade deadline, adding Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee. McGee is a really good pickup and will be expected to produce as a rim protector off the bench for the Nuggets. The gem piece though is Gordon, who was rumored to be going anywhere from Boston to Minnesota before ending up in Denver.
Out of the immediate assets that were given up for Gordon, the Nuggets sent out seldom-used rookie RJ Hampton and the seemingly always injured Gary Harris who once again was battling injuries this season. In return they get Aaron Gordon who's arguably having the best season of his career and brings a freakish athleticism and an extended shooting game to the Nuggets.
Teaming Gordon with Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap and others could be the final needed piece of the puzzle for the Nuggets. There's no reason to think they can't make a run right back to the Western Conference Finals and then take another leap forward with a Heat-like run into the NBA Finals.
The Lakers will likely be the odds on favorite to win the West entering the postseason, regardless of what their seed is. The Jazz are the feel good story that people are pulling for. The Clippers are trying to claim L.A. as theirs. The Suns have taken a massive jump forward and the addition of Chris Paul has done wonders. This is all great.
But don't sleep on the Blazers and the Nuggets.