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The Lakers are the clear favorite with the Nuggets, Clippers and others trailing behind.

PMG FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are not short on challengers in the tough NBA Western Conference.Sizing up the Trail Blazers' competition in the NBA Western Conference with predicted order of finish:

1. Los Angeles Lakers: The LeBron James/Anthony Davis duo has more support with additions of Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder, making L.A. clear favorites — as long as James, who turns 36 next week, stays healthy.

2. Denver Nuggets: Star post Nikola Jokic and point guard Jamal Murray lead a deep team that appears ready to challenge the Lakers again atop the West. Michael Porter Jr.'s contribution important. It's a team built to win now.

3. Los Angeles Clippers: A new coach (Tyronn Lue) takes over a team with high expectations because of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Serge Ibaka brings a winning frontcourt veteran to mix. With chemistry, Clippers could certainly be the equal of Lakers.

4. Utah Jazz: Assuming Mike Conley stays healthy and contributes, the Jazz should be in West's top four with star Donovan Mitchell and big man Rudy Gobert. Is it a year the Jazz can take next step to conference finals?

5. Dallas Mavericks: Is the defense improved for the Mavs to become a top-tier team in the West? It needs to be, as Luka Doncic — quickly becoming a top-five player in the league — and Kristaps Porzingis lead an explosive offense.

6. Portland Trail Blazers: The team that went to the 2019 West finals and rallied to make playoffs in NBA bubble last summer believes it has improved with additions (Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr., etc.). But, defense has to be better in tough West.

7. Houston Rockets: The James Harden soap opera could overshadow — derail? — team that acquired point guard John Wall. Stephen Silas takes over as coach. DeMarcus Cousins is attempting a comeback. Christian Wood adds frontcourt talent. Eric Gordon and others provide solid support.

8. New Orleans Pelicans: Veteran big man Steven Adams serves as an anchor, surrounded by young studs Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, as well as point guard Lonzo Ball. It's a building team under first-year coach Stan Van Gundy, but it could break through to playoffs.

9. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry is back, teaming with Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, newly acquired Kelly Oubre Jr. and rookie big man James Wiseman, but Klay Thompson is out. NBA title team? No, but should contend for playoffs.

10. Phoenix Suns: Veteran point guard Chris Paul hooks up with star guard Devin Booker and improving post Deandre Ayton. Was the 8-0 NBA bubble record a sign of things to come, or a blip?

11. Minnesota Timberwolves: No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards figures to fit in nicely with guard DeAngelo Russell and post Karl Anthony-Towns, and additions of Ricky Rubio and Malik Beasley provide depth. Might be a playoff contender.

12. San Antonio Spurs: One-time NBA juggernaut stood pat in offseason, and puts onus on LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan and youngsters such as Dejounte Murray to try to return to glory (i.e. make playoffs in West).

13. Memphis Grizzlies: Burgeoning star guard Ja Morant leads a young team that backed into a play-in playoff game (and lost to Portland) in the NBA bubble. Let's see what Grizzlies can do during a long season.

14. Sacramento Kings: The backcourt of De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield can match buckets with anybody, and Marvin Bagley III continues to improve in the inside. But, it's a deep West, and it'll be tough to make playoffs.

15. Oklahoma City Thunder: No team has a brighter future (as far as draft picks), but the present (with first-year coach Mark Daigneault) involves rebuilding with the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort. Additions of Al Horford and Trevor Ariza help.


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