Southwest Division Playoff Picture
We are roughly 30 games or so into the season and it's never too early to look at the playoff picture. For most teams, by now they have a pretty good idea of how the season is going to shake out. Some are either in the beginning stages of planning for their vacation come Springtime, or digging in deep for the long-haul of playoff basketball. The Southwest Division is on the verge of a change we haven't seen in decades.
Houston Rockets (21-10; Playoff Odds = >99.9%)
James Harden is a legitimate MVP candidate this year, as he has been the past few seasons. He is currently averaging over 38 points a game and doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. His backcourt pal, Russell Westbrook appears to have adjusted to his role on a new team, and the Rockets find themselves with one of the league's highest-rated offenses.
I'm not sure anyone thought they wouldn't make the playoffs, so this is just par for the course for Houston. They've reached the postseason for seven consecutive years, coming close to a finals appearance a few times. The only real threat they have to the Southwest Division title is the team next on our list, the Dallas Mavericks.
Dallas Mavericks 20-10; Playoff Odds = >99.9%)
Like the Houston Rockets, the Mavericks also have an MVP candidate leading the charge with Luka Doncic. You wouldn't think he's just a sophomore in the NBA with his ability and style of play, but the Mavericks hit a home run with their draft-night trade with the Atlanta Hawks.
The Mavericks were able to weather the storm of losing Doncic for a few games, going 2-2 in the process against the East's top teams. Also in the process was Kristaps Porzingis possibly getting his groove back. In the 4-game stretch without Doncic, Porzingis averaged over 22 points and 13 rebounds a game, while blocking nearly three shots per contest.
The team also boasts the league's best bench unit, so while everyone continues to feel out their role on this team, the depth surrounding their young stars continues to make waves in a deep Western Conference. At best, many thought they'd be a low-seeded playoff team, they've surprised both fans and critics alike.
San Antonio Spurs (12-18; Playoff Odds = >23.8%)
Every other team in the Southwest Division is singing Hallelujah at the thought of the Spurs dynasty finally being over. Since the beginning of time, the Spurs have been a lock for the playoffs. In fact, they've only missed the postseason five times since their inaugural season.
This rendition of the Spurs looks slow and awkward. They have two stars who are past their primes, and a few young pieces that haven't been consistent. Even with all of that said, it's still tough to count out the Spurs and legendary head coach, Gregg Popovich.
They sit only a few games outside of the last two seeds, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Neither one of those teams currently inspires much confidence, given the injuries in Portland and trade rumors surrounding Oklahoma City.
So while the chance is small, they do still have a chance.
Memphis Grizzlies (12-20; Playoff Odds = >0.5%)
The Grit and Grind era for the Grizzlies has long been gone, but the future remains bright for fans in Memphis. Many predicted the Grizzlies to be a lottery team, so it's no real surprise to see that they have the second-worst odds in the Western Conference to make the playoffs.
Ja Morant is most likely going to win the NBA's Rookie of the Year award and around him is a nice young core full of potential. Jaren Jackson Jr. is flying under the radar this season, but make no mistake, he's taken a step forward and is going to be a cornerstone for this franchise for years to come. Add in Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke and you have a formidable young core that should be competitive in a season or two.
The Grizzlies are actually in a good place right now. The expectations are limited, which gives them the freedom to unleash their young guys and let them learn.
New Orleans Pelicans (9-23; Playoff Odds = >1.3%)
When Zion Williamson went down, so did the season for the Pelicans. Even though he hadn't played a single minute in the NBA, Williamson was the centerpiece to a team that many thought could be in playoff contention this season.
It feels like this team just hasn't found their identity quite yet. This isn't too surprising considering they traded their former identity in Anthony Davis, for a whole new crew of people. They've also struggled with injuries, even beyond Williamson's injury.
It's hard to get a good grasp on the direction this team goes in the future. Brandon Ingram is having a career year at just the right time. His contract is up this year and he will be looking to get paid, who knows how the Pelicans feel he fits in with their future. With the playoff picture essentially closed, this team has some big decisions to make soon.