The NBA Western Conference playoff image looks very interesting for 2022. We could see former playoff contenders rising from their ashes. On the flip side, that means those who did it last season – especially through the skins of their teeth – might not get there this time around. Three teams that made it to the 2021 playoffs may not make it in 2022. Let’s name them and discuss the reasons.
NBA West teams at risk:
3. LA Clippers
Seeing the Los Angeles Clippers on this NBA roster might drive some of you crazy. The team was one of the best teams in the West led by Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Last year they even reached the Western Conference final. They look set to finally win the championship, but ultimately lost to the scorching Phoenix Suns in six games. While there are a plethora of reasons they were kicked out, the main reason for their loss is the absence of Kawhi Leonard.
As a reminder, the two-time NBA champion missed Games 5 and 6 of the Western Semifinals and the entire West Final due to a knee injury. Paul George and the rest of the team did a great job of filling the void, but it turned out to be a colossal task that they couldn’t complete.
It was revealed in July that Leonard had undergone surgery to repair a partially torn ACL. There is still no timeline for his return. Rumors indicate that March may be the latest. It should be noted that the Clippers and Leonard himself are very cautious in terms of health. The Clippers are known to “handle the load” of their players. Leonard, for his part, literally cut ties with the San Antonio Spurs because he didn’t trust their medics. Of course, the Clippers will easily win NBA games against teams that feed from below. But against the playoffs, they might have some problems. Hopefully this doesn’t hamper their confidence, otherwise the losses could pile up faster than expected.
2. Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers have made the playoffs for eight consecutive years. Damian Lillard has done a great job helping the team become a regular in the NBA West playoffs. Some of you may be wondering why are they on this list? Are the Trail Blazers not the mark of consistency? While this is true, we must note that while the Blazers have been a perennial playoff team, they are almost always eliminated in the first round.
In fact, in those eight years, they’ve been ousted five times in the first round. They have reached the second round twice. They made it to the NBA Western Conference Finals but were eliminated in four games by the Warriors in 2019.
Last year they reached the playoffs as the sixth seed. But then again, aside from the Warriors’ poor performance, the Los Angeles Lakers were also riddled with injuries that pushed them to seventh place. This is the big one and if. What if the Warriors and Lakers were healthy? Would the Trail Blazers make their way to the NBA playoffs again?
Another important thing to remember is that the 2021-22 NBA season will mark Chauncey Billups’ debut as a head coach. His colleagues congratulated him. And Billups seems to have a clear vision of what he wants for his team. But at the end of the day, we have to see real wins to assess its performance.
Will Billups join the ranks of former NBA players who have gone on to become legendary coaches? It is a matter of waiting. And that’s why the Trail Blazers take an uncertain path.
1. Memphis Grizzly
The Memphis Grizzlies reached the playoffs as the eighth seed last season. It broke their three-year curse and became good proof that the Grizzlies are on the right track in terms of development. They made the right choice by picking Ja Morant in the draft and then pairing him with Dillon Brooks. Making the playoffs in eighth place means that while there is tangible progress in their development, they are still in a vulnerable position. As noted, the Golden State Warriors will likely come back stronger with the return of Klay Thompson. Teams that made the NBA Playoffs last year likely will do so again, putting the Grizzlies in a very precarious situation. It would be foolish to expect the Los Angeles Lakers, given their Hall of Famers collection, to drop to the seventh seed once again.
Obviously, this is not the end of the road for the Grizzlies. Not making the NBA Playoffs doesn’t immediately mean they have to hit the reset button. The Grizzlies are only in the early stages of their rebuilding. Over time, they will become a lasting playoff team.