With the abundance of unfortunate news trickling in this morning, a new favorite “by default” could now be in the driver’s seat to reach the NBA Finals in the Western Conference. This brings us to the main question – who are the new Western Conference favorites?
After suffering what looked to be a minor knee injury in Game 4 of the Western-Semis, Los Angeles Clippers superstar, Kawhi Leonard, is now deemed out for a pivotal Game 5 against the Utah Jazz with a knee sprain and his status for the rest of the series is in serious jeopardy.
2021 Western Conference Favorites
Entering Salt Lake City and winning on the road, especially in the playoffs, is a tall task in itself. Playing the game without your best player however, is an entirely different challenge. It will take some serious heroics from Paul George and the Clippers role players to pull off the upset.
The Phoenix Suns who swept the Denver Nuggets and have already reached the Conference Finals and are waiting for their opponent. What they did not expect was to hear that multi-time all-star, Chris Paul, has entered the NBA health and safety protocols.
It is uncertain yet if Paul was exposed to someone with COVID-19 or tested positive for it, however, he has already been deemed out indefinitely.
Paul’s arrival in the valley of the sun has paid great dividends for a team that has not reached the postseason in over a decade. He has led a team with very little experience to not only the second seed in the West, but he has helped defeat the defending NBA Champs, Los Angeles Lakers, in the first round, and swept this year’s MVP in the Denver Nuggets.
The news of Paul being out is extremely concerning for Suns fans. Even though he has not been 100% healthy with his shoulder injury, his presence alone has instilled confidence in his guys. Moreover, he has recently picked his spots in the 4th quarter to be more aggressive and has sealed the deal during multiple playoff games for Phoenix.
I find it very hard to believe that the Suns will be able to make it to the NBA Finals without Paul at the helm. That being said, he could just miss the first few games, it remains to be seen.
With all the uncertainty surrounding the Clippers and Suns, I have to give Utah the edge to come out of the conference until the status of Leonard and Paul are more definitive. Even though Donavan Mitchell is laboring on his injured ankle, he is still out there playing and managing the pain which will go a long way for the team. His presence alone causes issues for defenses.
Despite picking Utah by almost default, they are the number one seed in the West for a reason. I see their defense playing much better than they have in Games 3 and 4 against Los Angeles, especially with Kawhi out of the lineup. I believe their home-court advantage with their wild fanbase will also cause major issues for the Clippers and potentially the Suns if they advance to the next round.