Forecasting West standings for 2017-18

The Golden State Warriors won 67 games en route to the 2017 NBA title. Assuming their stars remain healthy, is a 70-win season in the cards for the defending champs? And what can we expect from the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves, who each made splashy moves this offseason?

We asked the ESPN Forecast panel to predict the win totals for each Western Conference team. Here are the results:

Forecast: 2017-18 West standings

1. Golden State Warriors
Projected record: 66-16
Last season: 67-15

Golden State lost 15 games a season ago but that number is misleading, as many of those losses came when the Warriors were not at full strength. In fact, the last time the Warriors lost a game in regulation to a team other than the Cleveland Cavaliers when they had their full starting lineup plus super-reserve Andre Iguodala was Nov. 4. It’s entirely possible that with the league’s new emphasis on decreasing games where rest is needed, a healthy Warriors team could challenge the 70-win mark again.


2. Houston Rockets
Projected record: 57-25
Last season: 55-27

It might seem counterintuitive that adding Chris Paul results in only a two-win increase for Houston, but we’ve seen plenty of instances in recent years where superteams struggled out of the gate. Just last season, Golden State added Kevin Durant and lost six wins from its season-to-season total. And it’s not just the Rockets who are getting better; the Western Conference continues to load up on talent from top to bottom.


3. San Antonio Spurs
Projected record: 54-28
Last season: 61-21

The offseason didn’t quite go the way the Spurs had planned. They were out of the CP3 sweepstakes before they even began, the Spurs said goodbye to Jonathon Simmons and their only big addition was Rudy Gay, who is coming off an Achilles injury that has proved to be devastating to the production of even the greatest players ever. Still, our panel has faith that the Spurs will extend their seemingly endless streak of 50-win seasons.


4. OKC Thunder
Projected record: 50-32
Last season: 47-35

Just as Rockets fans are wondering how Paul could be worth only two wins, Thunder fans are likely to be up in arms about the addition of Paul George resulting in a forecasted increase of just three wins. However, that boost in the win total is, according to our panel, enough to get OKC home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which is probably more important than the actual number of wins in the end.


5. Minnesota Timberwolves
Projected record: 48-34
Last season: 31-51

Minnesota was one of last year’s projection darlings. Our panel predicted a 10-win jump for the Wolves, but they won only two additional games in Tom Thibodeau’s first season at the helm. Now the panel is calling for a 17-win jump from 2016-17 to 2017-18, one that would end Minnesota’s 13-season playoff drought. A lot of that would be due to the addition of Jimmy Butler, but could our panel be factoring in a potential addition of Kyrie Irving too?


6. Denver Nuggets
Projected record: 46-36
Last season: 40-42

Speaking of playoff droughts, the Nuggets haven’t seen postseason action since 2012-13, when they lost to the Warriors in what was, at the time, considered an upset. The NBA landscape has obviously changed wildly since then, and it looks as though putting All-Star Paul Millsap next to rising star Nikola Jokic — a superstar in the second half of 2016-17 — could be the thing that puts Denver back in the playoffs.


7. LA Clippers
Projected record: 45-37
Last season: 51-31

Generally, teams that lose a superstar see a significant drop in their win totals (see: the post-LeBron Cavs and Miami Heat for the most dramatic examples), but our panel is projecting only a six-win drop for the Clippers after Paul’s departure. Staying in the mid-40s in wins and in the playoff picture in the West would have to be considered a victory for a Clippers franchise that made the postseason just once in the 14 seasons before Paul’s arrival in Lob City.


8. Utah Jazz
Projected record: 44-38
Last season: 51-31

The Jazz lost Gordon Hayward, but our panel doesn’t see them losing out on a playoff spot this season. Thanks to Rudy Gobert, Utah was already one of the league’s stingiest defenses in 2016-17 (102.7 defensive efficiency, third in the NBA), and the addition of point guard Ricky Rubio should help on that end of the floor, as will new reserves Jonas Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh.


9. Portland Trail Blazers
Projected record: 42-40
Last season: 41-41

It’d be a tough pill to swallow in Portland if the Blazers finished above .500 but missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Of course, this projection could end up getting thrown out the window if Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum Co. can convince Carmelo Anthony to waive his no-trade clause and join them in the Rose City.


10. New Orleans Pelicans
Projected record: 41-41
Last season: 34-48

First, the good news: The panel projects a seven-win improvement for the Pelicans, which would result in just their second non-losing season in the past nine. The bad news? Those 41 total wins aren’t projected to be enough to get the Pelicans into the playoffs for what would be the first postseason action of DeMarcus Cousins‘ career. This means New Orleans might have a tough decision to make when the trade deadline arrives.


11. Memphis Grizzlies
Projected record: 35-47
Last season: 43-39

Losing Zach Randolph (and, to a lesser extent, Vince Carter) leaves a significant hole not only in the hearts of Memphis fans, but in the Grizzlies’ production as well. They’ve been playing basketball in late April in Memphis every year since 2011, but that streak looks like it could come to an end this season, especially with offseason addition Ben McLemore expected to miss the first month of the season with a broken foot.


12. Dallas Mavericks
Projected record: 33-49
Last season: 33-49

Dirk Nowitzki‘s twilight years haven’t gone quite as planned in Dallas, and things don’t look like they’re going to turn around quickly this season. In fact, the 33-win projection for the Mavs represents no movement in either direction, as they won exactly 33 last season. The addition of rookie Dennis Smith Jr., who lit up Las Vegas Summer League, definitely makes Dallas more interesting to watch, but it might be a couple of years before that pays off in the win column.


13. Los Angeles Lakers
Projected record: 32-50
Last season: 26-56

LaVar Ball guaranteed the Lakers would make the playoffs in son Lonzo’s rookie season, but his projection was not included in the ESPN Forecast calculations, and our panel sees the Lakers falling well short of postseason action — though still improving by six wins from a season ago. That incremental improvement pushes Los Angeles out of the bottom five in the NBA, which is good since the Lakers aren’t going to benefit from being bad: They’re finally conveying their 2018 first-round pick (to Philadelphia or Boston) no matter what.


14. Sacramento Kings
Projected record: 29-53
Last season: 32-50

Sacramento added a trio of first-round picks to an already young roster, then balanced things out by signing veterans George Hill, Randolph and Carter. That makes the Kings one of the harder teams to project. Are they going to lean on the vets to steal a win here and there, or will they let the young guys — including the returning Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere, who thrived after the Cousins trade last season — carry the load?


15. Phoenix Suns
Projected record: 28-54
Last season: 24-58

Sixers fans have “The Process,” and now Suns fans have “The Timeline,” and that timeline doesn’t have Phoenix being competitive this season. Of course, just like with the Timberwolves, a Kyrie trade could throw off the Suns’ entire projection, but as things stand now, it looks like Phoenix will once again be competing for lottery pingpong balls, and maybe finally landing that No. 1 pick that has eluded the franchise.


* Notes from ESPN.com’s Adam Reisinger.


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