Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conf. Update: Mar 24-Apr 5

We still have no idea what the playoffs will look like, as three teams can get the No. 1 Seed

Posted on April 6, 2024


  By Aidin Ebrahimi, SuperWest Sports

With March behind us, the final month of the regular season is upon us.

Nonetheless, we still have no idea what the playoffs will look like, as three teams can realistically get the No. 1 Seed while the other seeds are up for grabs as well.

As always, here is my update on the status of NBA Western Conference teams, as well as a look at the previous two weeks’ best team and MVP.


Will the Real MVP Please Stand Up?

Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)

Another year, another MVP controversy. Last year it was a three-way race between Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

This year it’s a duel between Jokic and Luka Doncic.

Jokic is still the favorite to win the award for the third time in four years, but Mavericks fans (and the team itself) have been pushing for Luka as their MVP.

I’m here to look at the cases for both men. Let’s start with Jokic, who is having yet another historic season.

This year, Jokic is averaging 26.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 9.0 assists a night while shooting 57.9% from the field.

With five games left in the Nuggets’ schedule, they’re half a game away from the Timberwolves after Jokic missed the game-winning shot against the Clippers.

Jokic scored 42 pts vs the Spurs | Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

That loss must have hurt, but it was just their fifth loss after the All-Star break, which shows how much Jokic’s presence impacts winning.

Need more proof? Look at his advanced stats: 15.7 Win Shares, 13.5 Box Plus/Minus, 10.1 VORP, and a ludicrous +20.3 Plus/Minus Net per 100 Possessions.

But as always, there are arguments against him winning the MVP. The first one is voter fatigue, which is what caused Jokic to finish second last season.

The next is his advanced stats compared to his last four seasons. His true shooting percentage (64.7%) is elite but ranks last among his previous four seasons.

The same goes for his PER (31.0) and Win Shares per 48 (0.294), although both marks lead the entire NBA.

And of course, fans of other stars like Embiid and Giannis will continue pushing for other players for MVP when it’s clear that their favorite player won’t win the award.

Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)

That leads us to Luka Doncic’s case for MVP.

The Slovenian superstar is averaging 33.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 9.8 assists a night while shooting 48.6% from the field and 38.2% from three this season.

Luka is taking (and making) more threes than ever before, and that has led to him averaging the most PPG by a player in a season since James Harden in 2019-20.

Luka’s advanced stats are great too, such as his 28.1 PER, 11.2 Win Shares, 7.6 VORP, and 10.0 Box Plus/Minus. But obviously, they’re nowhere near Jokic’s advanced stats.

Doncic had 25 pts and 12 rebs vs the Hawks | LM Otero/AP

That fact and the Mavs’ record (46-30) are the main reasons against Doncic winning MVP. This is reminiscent of the 2018-19 MVP race.

Giannis had the best-advanced stats and record in his conference, while Harden averaged the most points in the league. Giannis won MVP that year.

And if the voters have the same mindset as they did in 2019, Jokic should walk away with his third MVP in four years, and deservedly so.

Doncic tried hard this year, but he’s just 25 and will have the chance to win this prestigious award later on in his career.


End of a Heroic Effort

The Houston Rockets (38-38, 4-3)

The Rockets were the 12th seed at the start of March, and then they lost Alperen Sengun.

Their season looked to be over, but then they went on a heroic 11-game winning streak, which was capped off by a one-point win over the Jazz to knock them out of playoff contention.

They were just one game behind the Warriors for the last Play-In spot. Still, unfortunately for the Rockets, they lost their next three games, including a devastating 23-point loss to the Warriors which essentially ended their season.

However, the Rockets should be proud of themselves for this late push. They were without their biggest star and their young guns balled out.

Rockets vs Jazz | Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Jalen Green finally played well after a rough start to the season, averaging 27.4 points a night while shooting 48.4% from the floor and 40.6% from deep over his last 14 games.

Jabari Smith Jr. also played well, putting up 15.9 points per game on elite efficiency during this stretch.

The Rockets’ 2023 first-round picks both showed a lot of promise, as well.

Amen Thompson has put up 14.1 points and 8.7 rebounds, while Cam Whitmore has averaged 15.0 PPG over his last 21 games despite struggling with some injuries.

With another lottery pick on the horizon, the future looks bright in Houston.


All for Naught?

The Golden State Warriors (42-34, 6-1)

Now let’s talk about the team that essentially ended the Rockets’ season, the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors have won six straight games and have gone 21-9 since February 5, but it could be all for naught.

They’re still 10th in the standings and will almost surely have to play against the Lakers in the first game of the Play-In tournament.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, since LeBron James arrived in LA, he has “owned” the Warriors and this trend could continue this year.

Warriors’ Klay Thompson | Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports

Since 2018-19, LeBron’s Lakers have had a 13-7 record over the Warriors.

That includes a win in the Play-In tournament where LeBron hit the go-ahead three-pointer with less than a minute left, and also the playoff series from last season, where the Warriors were completely outclassed.

Even if the Lakers move up to eighth or seventh, they still have a chance to face them or another great team like the Suns in the second Play-In game.

The Warriors will be tough to beat in a seven-game series, but they’ll have to be at their best to make it to the postseason, and luck will have to be on their side.


Best Team of the Previous Two Weeks

The Minnesota Timberwolves (53-23, 5-1)

The Timberwolves have shown remarkable resilience after Karl-Anthony Towns’ injury, as they are currently the first seed in the Western Conference.

They might be easier to beat in the playoffs if KAT doesn’t come back but maybe Naz Reid can continue to play well and take Towns’ place.

In the last two weeks, Reid averaged 18.3 points a night while shooting 47.1% from the floor and 42.2% from deep, while his frontcourt partner Rudy Gobert put up 15.2 points and 12.8 rebounds per game on 77.3% shooting.

Mike Conley played like his old All-Star self, which relieved some of the pressure from Anthony Edwards, who didn’t need to put up crazy stats to keep the team afloat like he did when KAT initially went down.

With wins over the Warriors, Nuggets, Rockets, and a 48-point blowout over the Raptors, the Wolves keep impressing the NBA world.


MVP of the Previous Two Weeks

Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)

Anthony Davis is a special breed like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler; players who get better when it matters most.

Davis

Despite their recent success, every game still matters for the Lakers right now, and AD has answered the call. Davis started the week by playing in 92 minutes over his first two games, showing that his conditioning is at its peak.

During his last six games, the superstar has averaged 29.0 points and 16.3 rebounds with 55.1% shooting to lead the Lakers to a 5-1 record.

They also won an extra game without Davis, bringing their win total during this stretch to 6-1. With LeBron and AD locked in, everyone should fear the Lakers as we get closer and closer to the playoffs.




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