Who’s Next in Line in NBA’s West?

It was June of 2021. After putting together a shortened season (due to COVID), the NBA Finals were already underway. The youthful, status-rising Phoenix Suns held home-court for a 2-0 lead over the veteran Milwaukee Bucks. The Suns parlayed their torrid finish in the 2020 NBA Bubble into a full campaign of fast maturity. The Bucks finally broke through the glass ceiling that previously impeded them from the top of the Eastern Conference's hierarchy.

I remember that a lot of the momentum was behind Phoenix. They had young stars and were led by one of the most celebrated veteran point guards in the history of the league. People were warming to the fact that it was Chris Paul's time to finally get his title. On the other side, the narrative was beginning to build that Milwaukee, led by two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, would fall short of glory once again.

The Bucks' front office learned from previous postseason letdowns. They bolstered the roster to get beyond the label of being a one-man show. It backed up Giannis' stellar efforts in three of the next four games in the series and provided the big lift in the other outing (Khris Middleton's 40-point effort in Game 4). The 4-game victory streak broke the stigma around whether a Giannis-led team could take the final steps they needed to.

Two years later, a similar storyline has arisen. In that 2020-2021 season, a new name topped the Association in terms of value. No one really knew about Nikola Jokic when Denver selected him in the 2nd round of the 2014 Draft. The Serbian center served notice steadily and quickly. Since his second season in the league, he's imposed his will on the scoreboard and the glass. The passing prowess has grown to the point that he nearly averaged a triple double this season. The Joker overtook Giannis' run, achieving MVP status the last two seasons ... and he's the frontrunner for a third straight award. Now, the big question that hounded Antetokounmpo follows Jokic. Can he lead a team to the ultimate victory?

The Nuggets have done quite a bit to build their squad. They were on the come-up in the Orlando Bubble. Behind Jokic and Jamal Murray, the team worked their way into the semifinals (that season's Western Conference Finals). Plus, they had the potential of Michael Porter, Jr. coming into the fold once he got healthy. Over the next two seasons, though, Denver just couldn't get right. While Jokic was winning those back-to-back MVP trophies, Murray found the injury bug ... and Porter couldn't shake that same bug.

This season, and especially this postseason, that seems to have changed. For the first time since this triumvirate came together, they're healthy. During their series win over Minnesota, Jokic, Murray, and Porter averaged more than 35 minutes of floor time. The trio accounted for 69.8 ppg, 26.2 rpg, and 16.6 apg. Plus, Aaron Gordon is now in the mix to bolster Mike Malone's crew. With this kind of support, the Nuggets do have the firepower to get out of the West.

Lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy won't be an easy task, however. Up next for the top seed will be a Phoenix outfit that's looking for its own magical run, thanks to the addition of Kevin Durant. Hey ... come to think of it, the Bucks bumped into Durant during their championship run. Will this Western Conference semi turn out the way that 2021 Easter Conference semi did? We'll see if kismet will let another two-time MVP best a team led by K.D. (on the way to a title).

Leave a Comment

Featured Site