NBA 2021 Northwest Division Preview
Lately, the Northwest division has been a source for plenty of competition. All five teams have experienced at least some level of success in recent years, so success within the division usually leads to a postseason spot in the very competitive Western Conference.
Heading into the upcoming season, here is where each Northwest team stands:
The Jazz had a great regular season a year ago. Led by All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, Utah posted a 52-20 record, good enough to earn them the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
However, once the playoffs arrived, Utah exited in disappointing fashion. The Jazz were bested by the Los Angeles Clippers, who did not even have their best player, Kawhi Leonard, for the majority of the series.
Coming into this season, the Jazz still boast the majority of the supporting cast they had last season. Their entire starting five, as well as two key bench players in Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, all return.
This continuity could be a blessing and a curse. While Utah certainly will continue to succeed in the regular season, it remains to be seen if this group will ever find success come playoff time.
Denver was not too far behind the Jazz in the standings last year, winning 47 games, good enough to land them the third seed in the West. Unfortunately, they were soon swept by the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the playoffs.
Denver was led by the 2021 MVP, Nikola Jokic, who has continued to prove himself to be an elite talent. The Nuggets also saw guard Jamal Murray turn in a career-best season, but unfortunately, Murray tore his ACL late in the year, which harmed Denver’s chances in the playoffs.
Going into this season, Denver is going to need Jokic and forward Michael Porter Jr. to guide the team to a successful regular season while Murray recovers from his injury.
Denver will hope to get Murray back for the postseason, but in the meanwhile, it’ll need a lot of players to step up if they’re going to compete with Utah for the division title.
Portland Trail Blazers
After being eliminated from the playoffs by the rival Nuggets, talk in Portland began to center around whether or not superstar guard Damian Lillard might want to be traded.
However, with Portland hiring a new head coach in Chauncey Billups, while also making moves to improve the team’s defense, it seems Lillard will remain a Blazer for at least one more season.
The only question that remains for Portland is: can this team make the Finals?
The answer has been no for a long time, but with Billups now in town, the Blazers will hope this changes.
The Timberwolves have long been one of the NBA’s worst teams, only making the playoffs once since 2004. While Minnesota was bad again last season, winning only 23 games, there are some signs of hope.
The Wolves earned 16 of their 23 wins after Chris Finch took over as the new coach on Feb. 21, a sign that the team had improved as the year progressed.
With a variety of quality players, namely star center Karl-Anthony Towns, 2020 first overall pick Anthony Edwards and former All-Star D’Angelo Russell returning to the team, the Timberwolves could surpass expectations this season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are in rebuild mode these days, as seen by general manager Sam Presti’s affinity for trading for future first round draft picks.
Outside of budding star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, this team mostly consists of unproven young players. There is a very high chance the Thunder don’t succeed this season, and could be the doormat of the Northwest division.
At the moment, that should be perfectly fine with Presti, however.
Joe Tuman is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.