How Will the Western Conference Playoff Race Play Out?
Each team has about twenty games left, and the playoff races in each conference are ultra competitive. In the Western Conference, it is even tighter with seeds three through 10 separated by only four games. Each game matters, tiebreakers will be massive and these teams have several games left against each other. Teams are not only fighting to make the playoffs but to finish above the seven and eight seeds to avoid the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in the first round. So how will it all play out? Let's investigate!
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
Right now the Wolves are in the five seed with a 38-28 record. The bad news is Jimmy Butler is out at least another three weeks. So far the Wolves are 2-2 without him, but the wins came against the Bulls and the Kings. They are facing a tough stretch where there next six games will be against playoff contenders. If the Wolves can tread water and go 3-3, they have a lot of cupcakes down the stretch. Overall the Wolves have the 12th easiest schedule remaining.
*Projected Record 47-35
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC barely survived Dallas and Phoenix recently, and thank goodness they did. The Thunder has struggled with the inferior competition this season and can no longer afford to play around with lousy competition. Every game matters. They won't have many cupcakes left as they have the sixth hardest schedule remaining. OKC has a death stretch from Sunday, March 18th to Monday, April 9th where they play 11 straight games against playoff contenders.
*Projected Record 47-25(lose tiebreaker to Min)
5. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs recently lost a big game at home to the New Orleans Pelicans and to make matters worse, LaMarcus Aldridge left with a sprained ankle. San Antonio can't afford him to miss too much time as they have the third hardest schedule remaining. The good news is Kawhi Leonard may return in late March, and that should give a boost to a weak offense. San Antonio's crucial stretch will be from Thursday, March 15th to Tuesday, April 3rd where they play ten straight games against playoff contenders. Hopefully, Kawhi is back for that death stretch.
*Projected Record 46-36
6. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland quietly has been playing some terrific basketball, winning six straight games. However, like the Spurs and Thunder, they have a brutal schedule coming up. In fact, the fifth hardest in the league. Their last four games are all against playoff contenders, and three of them are on the road.
*Projected Record 46-36(lose tiebreaker to Spurs)
7. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets’ recent loss to the Clippers was brutal, but winning in Cleveland helped make up for it. They don't have a lot of room for error now, but the good news is Paul Millsap should give them a nice defensive boost. Nikola Jokic is also quietly playing at an MVP level. The good news for Denver is they have the 11th easiest schedule left. Their tough stretch will be late in March where they have four straight road games at Washington, Philadelphia, Toronto, and at OKC. Denver has struggled on the road this year to put it lightly.
* Projected Record 45-37
8. New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis has been a one-man wrecking crew to keep the Pelicans alive without Boogie Cousins. Davis has been playing at an MVP level and the recent win at San Antonio was huge. The Pels have quietly won eight straight. New Orleans schedule down the stretch is tough but not as bad as some of the other contenders. They have the 13th hardest schedule left. Their crucial stretch will be the last three games of the season when they are at the Warriors, at the Clippers and home to the Spurs.
* Projected Record 45-37(lose tiebreaker to Denver)
Just Missed the Cut
9. L.A Clippers
Right now the Clippers are a half-game behind the Nuggets for the last playoff spot and will likely miss out by one game. Also, RIP to Wesley Johnson ankles! L.A has been playing well, but Gallinari’s health is a concern. Not re-signing Tyrone Wallace was a bad move, he could have helped them. The good news is they have the 13th easiest schedule down the stretch. L.A's key stretch will be from Thursday, March 15th at to Tuesday, March 27th when they have eight straight games against playoff contenders, and six of which will be on the road.
* Projected Record 44-38
10. Utah Jazz
I am afraid the Jazz's ten game win streak will all be for naught. The Jazz and Ricky Rubio have regressed to ugly offense recently. Utah has the second easiest schedule remaining, which helps, but I don't think they are good enough to capitalize on it. Right now they are two games out. A three-game stretch in late March at the Spurs, at the Warriors and home to the Celtics, will decide their fate.
* Projected Record 43-39
So there you go! If it ends up like this, there will be some fun playoff matchups with the Wolves against the Blazers and the Spurs against the Thunder. Enjoy the chaos down the stretch!
*Standings and Stats as of 3/5/18