• Charlie Beuttel

The Race for 8th in the West

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*Photo via USA Today

The NBA Playoffs are always an exciting time of year and this year is no different. The playoff races are heating up. The most intriguing race this year is the battle for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Currently the New Orleans Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder are tied, both teams having a 37-30 records. Both teams have played well enough to clinch a playoff spot; however both still have a lot of work to do.

The Oklahoma City Thunder has battled injuries all year. Kevin Durant hasn’t played for the past month. Durant has battled foot and toe injuries all year. The good news is Durant should come back very soon. During Durant’s absence, Russell Westbrook has taken the team and the league. Westbrook has six triple-doubles in his last nine games and has quietly put his name in the MVP conversation. The bad news for the Thunder is the knee injury to Serge Ibaka. Ibaka underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on March 17 and will miss the next 4-6 weeks. Ibaka should be back in the playoffs if the Thunder makes it that far.

The Thunder also have an edge over the Pelicans in scheduling. Oklahoma City has nine home games in their final fifteen games of the season. Plus, only two of their final six road games are against current playoff teams. The Thunder also are an experience team, which can motivate them to make the playoffs.

The New Orleans Pelicans have suffered injuries as well. Anthony Davis missed five games after suffering a shoulder injury against Miami on February 21. In the same game, Pelican forward Ryan Anderson suffered a right MCL knee sprain. Anderson has been out of action since that game and there is no current timetable for his return. Anthony Davis has really put the team on his back since his return on March 4. On March 15, Davis almost put up a quadruple-double when he had 36 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocks and seven assists. The Pelicans are primed to make their first playoff appearance since 2009.

While the Pelicans are playing really well, their schedule is about to get even harder. New Orleans’ final fifteen games are all against the Western Conference. They have some tough road games including a trip to Golden State, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Houston. The Pelicans only have six home games remaining so they will have to play great on the road if they are to take control of the final playoff spot.

Only time will tell who clinches the final playoff in the Western Conference. The Thunder might have an edge, but this is definitely a race everyone should be paying attention too.