Western Conference upset special: LeBron and the Lakers are still lurking

Los Angeles Lakers, NBA Playoffs

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Which bottom-four playoff team in the West has the best chance of making a Cinderella conference finals run?

The West, as always, is a certified Thunderdome. Emerging as the conference’s representative in the Finals will be like plowing through a 10-acre field of barbed wire.

Some legit title contenders will fall early and perhaps the probability of that happening are higher following this not-totally-normal season. With how the standings shook out, it honestly wouldn’t be surprising if every lower seed pulled first-round upsets.

We went over the laurels of the East’s underdogs and praised the new play-in format. Now, let’s break down each of the bottom-four in the West and their chances of winning two rounds. As a reminder, the below percentages represent each team’s *highly scientific* odds of getting to the conference finals:

No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies: 9.2 percent

Make no bones about it, nobody wanted to go against Steph Curry and the Warriors. He might have just had his most impressive season yet, especially considering the cast around him pales in comparison to years past.

But in edging out those Warriors, the Grizzlies overcame the odds and showed they shouldn’t be taken lightly either. The Jazz, despite boasting the league’s best record and typically staunch defense, have to overcome the demons of past playoff failures, limitations and Donovan Mitchell’s balky ankle. Add it all up and it’s easy to see why they have doubters.

Memphis, on the other hand, is a spitfire with nothing to lose. Their success this year came in fits and starts and they’re probably a year away from being a true threat to the West. They do, however, have endless moxie, a young dynamo in Ja Morant and no expectations — which makes them all very dangerous people.

Winning Game 1 on Utah’s home floor only amplified the feelings around both teams.

No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers: 153.8 percent

As a triple-visioned LeBron James launched his rainbow 30-footer over Steph Curry with the shot clock expiring to secure the 7-seed, don’t the Lakers feel inevitable?

He may not be at the height of his physical powers anymore but then he returns after missing two months with an ankle sprain and casually does this:

His ankle injury from March should have proven LeBron may, in fact, be human. But he clearly used that to throw us off the scent. I sprained my ankle 11 years ago and it still feels funny if I sleep in the wrong position.

After toiling for the last decade, the Suns broke through with a revelatory season. But isn’t this the perfect upset scenario? A young up-and-comer, inexperienced from the postseason pressure cooker (aside from Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, of course) going against the reigning champs whose record is artificially deflated from injuries and integrating new pieces?

Yes, the Suns took Game 1. Yes, Anthony Davis played soft. And sure, the Lakers have some frontcourt adjustments to make but who doesn’t? Three words: Le. Bron. James. He’s dug out of way worse predicaments with way worse teammates. Rising from the 7-seed will just be another feather in his illustrious cap.

No. 6 seed Portland Trail Blazers: 24.6 percent

I’d feel much better about Portland if Charles Barkley didn’t Mush their chances by picking them to win the West at the beginning of the season. (To be fair, I may have Mushed them as well.)

Bottom line, anytime you have Damian Lillard on your side, you have a chance at something special happening. Plus, the addition of Norman Powell and Carmelo Anthony accepting his role as a super-sub might’ve made it the best team Lillard’s played with yet.

Their road to the WCF won’t be easy though and that starts in squaring off against the brutish Nuggets. The contrasting size and styles make for a fascinating matchup. Although, Denver lost its second-best player in Jamal Murray and there’s documented proof the referees hate the Nuggets.

If the Blazers get past them, they’ll have to deal with the likes of the Suns or in all inevitable likelihood (see above), the Lakers. Woof. But so far, so good for Portland.

No. 5 seed Dallas Mavericks: 24.7 percent

Take everything I just said about Lillard and insert Luka Dončić’s name. Luka’s excellent surface numbers faded ever so slightly from the bubble season but he upped his efficiency in the process. He’s only 21-years old and projects to be in the MVP discussion over the next decade. Slapping up a triple-double in a Game 1 victory fortified all that.

Dallas may not have the supporting cast that puts the fear of God into opponents, but they make sense on paper and Kristaps Porzingis, for the moment, is healthy. They also wrapped the season on an 8-2 run to avoid going to the play-in wildcard.

Now, they get a date with the Playoff Power Ranking darling Clippers. However, seed-tanking karma, decades of ineptitude and Paul George’s postseason woes — which already showed its ugly face — all move the needle toward the Mavs. Getting past the first round provides them with a marginally more palatable prospect of facing the Jazz or Grizzlies instead of the Suns or Lakers.

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