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3 Western Conference Outsiders That Could Win the NBA This Year

The 2023/24 NBA season is reaching its apex, and the playoffs are just around the corner. Scheduled to get underway on April 20th, the postseason always throws up classics and, the occasional shocker. Last season, the writers of the Cinderella story were the Miami Heat.

Inspired by the clutch showings of Jimmy Butler, the Floridian eight seeds managed to knock off Giannis Antetokounmpo's top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs in one of the greatest upsets of all time. And they didn't stop there. Despite blowing a 3-0 series lead in the conference finals, the Heat managed to hold their nerve to down the heavily favored Boston Celtics - at the TD Garden no less - to punch their ticket to the finals.

This term, both the Bucks and the Celtics are the frontrunners once again. The two heavyweights have sat atop the Eastern Conference standings all year long and they look deadset on locking out the top two spots once more. But this year, it is the latter who have climbed to the summit, winning a mighty 57 games already this term, a form that has seen NBA odds list them as the +210 favorites for the Larry O'Brien this season.

Over on the West Coast, however, there is a new look at the top of the standings. While the hard-hitting reigning champion Denver Nuggets currently tops the pile, there is a whole host of underdogs right behind them in the pecking order. And plenty of them have championship aspirations.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder has been one of the most intriguing stories of the season. Throughout the 2010s, a star-studded roster containing Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook took the team to the brink of a first championship since 1979 and the first since the franchise relocation from Seattle. However, it wasn't to be, lost in the NBA Finals to the Heat in 2012 as well as lost the conference finals in 2011, 2014 and 2016. In the years since, OKC has known nothing but pain, finishing way down in 14th place in the standings in both 2021 and 2022.

However this season, a young roster brimming with potential has exceeded expectations and positioned themselves as a dark horse in the playoff race. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been the standout star for the team in recent campaigns however this term, his leadership on the court has come to the fore. He currently leads the league in steals per game while he is in third place in terms of points, just behind Luka Doncic and the Greek Freak.

Additionally, the development of players like Josh Giddey and Luguentz Dort has added depth to the team. While the Thunder may lack the experience of their more illustrious counterparts, their youthful energy and resilience make them a formidable opponent capable of upsetting the odds. They are currently tied for second in the standings, just one win behind the Nuggets and finishing as high up the standings as possible will be crucial for their championship hopes.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been another surprise package this season. With Karl-Anthony Towns leading the charge, the Minneapolis side has demonstrated a well-polished attack that has troubled even the best defenses in the league. Anthony Edwards has continued his upward trajectory, emerging as a reliable secondary scorer and a clutch performer in critical moments. The addition of veteran leadership in the form of French defensive supremo Rudy Gobert has also aided their charge, with the 31-year-old second in the league in terms of rebounds.

The Wolves are without a postseason series victory in two decades and didn't even make the postseason for 14 years between their Finals appearance in 2004 and their first-round exit in 2018. This season, however, that could all be set to change. They are currently level with the aforementioned Thunder in the standings and they will be doing everything in their power to overthrow both them and Nikola Jokic's Nuggets. Should they manage that, then a favourable tie in the opening round of the postseason awaits, and who knows where beyond there.

Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks have always been considered Luka Dončić's team, and this season has been no different. The Slovenian sensation has been in MVP-caliber form, single-handedly winning games for the Mavericks with his scoring, playmaking, and leadership. He currently tops the league in terms of points, a mighty 3.2 ppg clear of his closest rival Giannis. That comes courtesy of him dropping a whopping 73 on the Atlanta Hawks earlier in the season, the fourth-highest total all time and the biggest score in Mavs history.

However, what makes this season's Mavericks team more interesting is the supporting cast around their main man. Players like Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith have stepped up, providing the Mavericks with much-needed consistency and defensive grit. The Mavericks have also been one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league, a testament to their offensive firepower. While consistency has been an issue, if the Mavericks can find their rhythm come playoff time, they have the star power and depth to go all the way.

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