• Nikola Cuvalo

Pacific Division Playoff Picture

World In Sport

With the Christmas Day game slate upon us, it's a good time to assess where the Pacific Division stands in relation to the NBA playoff picture; three teams in the division (the Lakers, Clippers, and Warriors) will be playing on the league's marquee holiday, and there's a fair chance the division churns out three playoff-calibre teams by season's end.

Los Angeles Lakers (24-6; Playoff Odds = >99.9%)

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The #LakeShow is well underway in 2019/2020; fuelled by the play of two superstars in Anthony Davis and LeBron James, and bolstered by a strong supporting cast, the Los Angeles Lakers have once again made it to the NBA mountaintop. There is virtually no chance of this title contender missing the playoffs, despite their recent three-game losing streak - a slide that they will be looking to snap against their cross-town rivals on Christmas Day.

The Lakers boast two legitimate MVP-calibre players who are putting up ridiculous numbers in their first season together, making pre-season concerns over chemistry and roster-fit a thing of the past. Together, James and Davis average a per-game line of 53.7 points, 16.9 rebounds, 13.9 assists, 2.6 steals, and 3.3 blocks, proof of their status as the best duo in the league today. Without making any changes to the roster in-season, the Lakers are a title contender with little margin for error or injury; with an in-house performance boost or a savvy trade for a playmaking wing or guard, they could become title favourites in the blink of an eye.

Los Angeles Clippers (22-10; Playoff Odds = >99.9%)


Ah yes, the other L.A. team; the Clippers don't seem to be content with being a little brother franchise anymore, and the 2019-2020 NBA season is their opportunity to make a serious run at a first-ever franchise title. With two superstars on the roster in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and one of the deepest supporting casts in the league (rounded out by Sixth Man extraordinaire Lou Williams and a walking, talking, muscle-motor in Montrezl Harrell), the Clippers are a near-lock to make the playoffs. A face-off with the Lakers on Christmas Day will go a long way in determining which of the two teams will have more steam heading into the New Year (and consequently, on the path to the West's one-seed).

Leonard and George have thus far combined to average a per-game line of 49.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 3.3 steals, and 1.0 blocks, with Lou Will and Harrell combining for almost 40 points per game on their own. The bottom line: there are very few teams in the NBA that can keep up with the Clippers on both ends of the court when they are firing on all cylinders. Their offensive firepower is enormous, and the roster is capable of playing elite-level defense on the perimeter. The only question (and one that may be partially answered tomorrow): what do the Clippers do about Anthony Davis? If the two L.A. teams meet up in the Western Conference Finals, expect that question to make the rounds on NBA media outlets, as the roster does not currently feature an elite rim protector.

Sacramento Kings (12-18; Playoff Odds = 14.8%)

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The Sacramento Kings, in their first season under head coach Luke Walton, have gotten off to a rocky start; despite looking like a legitimate playoff threat to start the year, the Kings have cooled off lately, losing their last four games. The return of De'Aaron Fox from injury has introduced new wrinkles, and Walton still has to figure out his rotations during crunch time. Buddy Hield is the only player on the roster averaging more than 20 points per game (20.3), but to their credit, the roster does feature a whopping seven players averaging double-digit per-game point totals (Hield, Fox, Harrison Barnes, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Richaun Holmes, and Nemanja Bjelica). For comparison, the Lakers only have three such players.

The Kings are a deep squad, with many players capable of going off on any given night; however, in order to capitalize on their puncher's chance of a playoff berth, the coaching staff will have to figure out how to best utilize the talent on the roster (or consolidate some lesser pieces into a trade for a timeline-accelerating star player). The Kings likely represent the Pacific Division's best shot of sending a third team to the Western Conference playoffs (currently sitting in the 10-seed, only 1.5 games outside of the playoff picture).

Phoenix Suns (11-19; Playoff Odds = 6.0%)

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After a 7-4 start to the season, which raised the playoff hopes of many a Suns fan, Phoenix has suffered through a 4-15 stretch - including a current seven-game losing streak. The Suns will be thrilled to have Deandre Ayton back from a 25-game suspension, and are hoping that his return will serve as the in-season talent infusion necessary to keep up with the rest of the West. While perhaps optimistic, there are Suns fans out there who still believe in a playoff berth for the franchise this season, and there are indeed reasons to think that these Suns might be greater than the sum of their parts.

New head coach Monty Williams has squeezed a high level of performance out of Aaron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky, two role players not previously known for their scoring acumen (with Kaminsky, in particular, flirting with an exit from the league before his stint in Phoenix). Devin Booker continues to perform at an All-Star level, and Kelly Oubre Jr. has demonstrated his potential as a long-term building block on the wing. Ricky Rubio may not be the long-term solution for Phoenix at the point guard spot, but he is a functional stopgap in the meanwhile. One long winning streak may be all it takes for Phoenix to play their way back in the playoff picture - however unlikely that may be.

Golden State Warriors (7-24; Playoff Odds = <0.1%)

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The third Pacific Division team playing on Christmas Day (against the Houston Rockets), the Warriors sport one of the league's worst records, and will surely be picking near the top of the lottery in the next NBA Draft. Their Christmas Day matchup carries little to no cachet for the previously-dynastic franchise, as injuries have reduced the current roster to a shell of its former self. The lone standout on the team is rookie Eric Paschall, who is averaging 15.2 points per game while demonstrating competence in a super-utility role, and stealing some Rookie of the Year votes from Ja Morant and Kendrick Nunn.

Look for the Warriors to continue their tank job this season, as they patiently wait to reload as a title contender in 2020-2021, when they will have healthy versions of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, as well as a fair bit of trade ammunition (in D'Angelo Russell and some attractive draft capital), and a supporting cast capable of propping up their starry core.

Stats courtesy of BasketballReference & ESPN BPI Playoff Odds.

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