Today ESPN released its Western Conference forecast. The projection is the aggregate result of a panel of about 210 ESPN NBA contributors. While this projection may very well be an aggregate of essentially Western Conference power rankings, ESPN would like to remind you of the forecast's track record (albeit from 2013).
The playoff seeds and their respective records came out as:
1. Golden State Warriors (60-22)
2. San Antonio Spurs (57-25)
3. Houston Rockets (56-26)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)
6. Memphis Grizzlies (51-31)
7. New Orleans Pelicans (47-35)
8. Dallas Mavericks (41-41)
The most relevant portion is that the Clippers are considered the 4th seed in the Western Conference. While disappointing for Clippers fans to see, this projection is probably fair. Golden State remains atop the heap. Even a projected 7 game regression won't keep the Warriors from being a 60 win team. That's amazing. The Spurs got deeper (and older). The Rockets addressed their key need by adding Ty Lawson. The Thunder expect to have a healthy Kevin Durant. In the end, There are the top 6 teams in the West and then everyone else. The records of these 6 teams are frankly interchangeable and the upcoming season will be tight.
Another story line emerging this year is that the Western Conference is no longer as deep as it was before. To be clear, there are about six teams in the Western Conference that could compete for a NBA title. However, ESPN's panel projects the 8th seed Dallas Mavericks as being a .500 club. Compare that recent years when teams could win 45+ games and still miss the playoffs. The 2013 to 2014 Phoenix Suns won 48 games, but missed the playoffs. Last year's Oklahoma City Thunder won 45 games but missed the playoffs. This year the Western Conference could very well see its first sub .500 playoff team since the 1996 to 1997 season when your very own Los Angeles Clippers secured the 8th seed with a 36-46 record.