Back on March 6th, it appeared to be a four-team race for the final three playoff spots in the Western Conference, with the Warriors, Rockets, Jazz, and Lakers jockeying for position. The Warriors and Rockets have since cemented their place in the standings, though neither team has officially clinched a postseason berth yet. And while the Mavericks made some noise in recent weeks, it appears their run will fall short, leaving the Jazz and Lakers battling for the eighth and final spot.
In the poll linked above, nearly 90% of you suggested that it would be the Lakers or Jazz, rather than the Warriors or Rockets, that missed the postseason. And despite the fact that Utah was 2.5 games up on L.A. in the standings at the time, the Jazz were the club that over 50% of voters believed would be on the outside looking in.
With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the Lakers (39-36) have overtaken the Jazz (39-37) in the standings, but Utah still has a decent chance to sneak into the postseason. Of Utah's six remaining games, only three are against playoff teams, while five of the Lakers' last seven games are against Western Conference playoff clubs. The Jazz also hold the tiebreaker in the event that they finish with the same record as the Lakers.
The specifics on how each team's schedule breaks down for the rest of the season: The Jazz will host the Thunder and play in Golden State and Memphis, but have a pair of winnable games against the Timberwolves, and also host the Hornets. The Lakers will host the Hornets as well, though their other four home games (Grizzlies, Warriors, Spurs, Rockets) should be more challenging. They'll also hit the road to play in Portland, and face the Clippers in what is technically a Clips home game.
Neither of those schedules is a cakewalk, so it's worth mentioning that the Mavericks (36-38) still play the Hornets twice, and have games against the Kings, Blazers, and Suns left on the slate as well. The Mavs' loss in Los Angeles earlier this week put a serious dent in their chances though, and didn't help them for tiebreaker purposes either, so they're a real long shot in my view.
Of course, it's impossible to say at this point how injuries or teams resting players will affect the outcome of the next two weeks of games, so picking a clear favorite for that eighth seed isn't easy. What do you think? Which team ends up earning a spot in the 2013 NBA playoffs?