NBA Western Conference preview: Can champions Denver Nuggets go back-to-back?

The Denver Nuggets won their first-ever NBA Championship last season
The Denver Nuggets won their first-ever NBA Championship last seasonProfimedia
The NBA season draws ever nearer, and one major question lingers in the Western Conference: Can anyone stop the world's best basketball player Nikola Jokic (28) and the Denver Nuggets?

There's no two ways about it - the Nuggets romped to the NBA title last season. Two-time MVP Jokic spearheaded a powerhouse team to victory, as they coasted past the Miami Heat 4-1 in the Finals.

An efficient and relentless side, chances are Denver get even better with more confidence and experience. This is also the case with Jamal Murray (26). The guard solidified himself as an NBA superstar with his performances in the playoffs, and in his second season back from ACL surgery, nothing is stopping him from showing even more improvement.

His partnership with Jokic last season was virtually unplayable. The Serb is a force of nature; a scary talent redefining the centre position. It feels like he can win games at will.

However, they will miss Bruce Brown (27), who signed with the Indiana Pacers during the offseason. Brown was a key player for the Nuggets during their run to the Championship, but opted for a massive (and deserved) pay rise by moving to Indiana.

So who are their closest rivals in the West? It might just be the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns are blessed with some sensational attacking talent. Already possessing Kevin Durant (35) and Devin Booker (26), they acquired Bradley Beal (30) from the Washington Wizards to form a trio as good as any in the NBA.

Over the course of the regular season, they will undoubtedly be towards the top of the Western Conference, but are they defensively strong enough to make a deep run in the playoffs? Frank Vogel will have a few months to work that out.

The LA Lakers and Golden State Warriors are tussling with time, but still have plenty of quality to mount a charge. 

LeBron James (38) will be desperately searching for another championship ring, and the Lakers have improved their role players by acquiring Taurean Prince (29) and Gabe Vincent (27). If big man Anthony Davis (30) can stay fit, they have one of the best players in the league, and he should be looking to take his game to the next level.

The Warriors bought in Chris Paul (36) to support Steph Curry (35), but the question remains whether they can cope when their sharpshooter isn't on the court. They will need Klay Thompson (33) to step up, who hasn't found his best form since injury.

Paul will line up alongside Curry this season
Paul will line up alongside Curry this seasonProfimedia

The Memphis Grizzlies have a really talented side, even without Ja Morant (24) for 25 games due to controversial social media posts. Jaren Jackson Jr (24) was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2023, and alongside Desmond Bane (25), Marcus Smart (29) and Derrick Rose (35), they certainly have the quality. However, their performances in the postseason mean they have yet to totally convince when push comes to shove.

The Dallas Mavericks are an interesting proposition. After a dismal end to last season and missing out on the play-in tournament, they have recruited well. In Luka Doncic (24) and Kyrie Irving (31), the Mavs have one of the strongest backcourts around, but defensively, they are suspect.

However, in the offseason, they acquired Grant Williams (24) and veteran Richaun Holmes (30), as well as highly-rated rookies Dereck Lively Jr (19) and Olivier-Maxence Prosper (21). If they can find the right defensive balance around Luka and Kyrie, Dallas could become a formidable unit.

Last season's surprise package the Sacramento Kings should have another good year, with Domantas Sabonis (27) and De’Aaron Fox (25) at the forefront. A place in the playoffs would be another great achievement.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are going to be really exciting. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (25) is a phenomenal player, becoming one of the best in the NBA. He was rewarded for his performances by being named in the All-NBA First Team in 2023.

SGA has solidified himself as one of the best in the NBA
SGA has solidified himself as one of the best in the NBAProfimedia

With Chet Holmgren (21) returning from injury and set to take his place in the side, the Thunder could be ready to do some real damage.

The LA Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans are in the same boat. Both teams could be contenders, but only if their star players keep fit - which has proven to be a virtually impossible task.

The Clippers just can't rely on Kawhi Leonard (32) and Paul George (33), while the same can be said for the Pelicans with Zion Williamson (23) and Brandon Ingram (26).

The Minnesota Timberwolves - led by Anthony Edwards (22), Karl-Anthony Towns (27) and Rudy Gobert (31) - and the Utah Jazz will be battling it out around the play-in tournament positions, while the Houston Rockets will be hoping that the signings of Fred VanVleet (29) and Dillon Brooks (27) can propel them into that conversation.

The San Antonio Spurs will be one of the best teams to watch this season, purely because of the generational talent and freakish build of Victor Wembanyama (19), who is ready to take the NBA by storm. They are unlikely to make any sort of impact though, as they continue their rebuild.

The Portland Trail Blazers acquired the incredibly talented Scoot Henderson (19) as the third pick in the 2023 draft, but after losing Damian Lillard (33), they will also be going through a rebuilding season. Not too much will be expected of them.


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