A recent surge by the Bucks, combined with slumps by the Sixers and Raptors, has all but ended any drama surrounding which Eastern Conference teams will make the postseason. But while the eight Eastern teams may be fairly locked in, there's still a heated race going on out west, where at least one of the Warriors, Jazz, Rockets, and Lakers won't make the cut.
Currently, the Warriors (34-27) have the best record of the four clubs, followed by the Rockets (33-28), Jazz (32-28), and Lakers (30-31). However, Golden State has been sliding down the Western Conference standings in recent weeks, having lost 10 of 13 games before a Monday night win against the Raptors.
Still, with only six of their remaining 21 games on the road, the Warriors are in good position to hang on to a playoff spot. The Rockets appear to have an inside track on a postseason berth as well, given their fairly manageable rest-of-season schedule. John Hollinger's playoff odds list the Warriors and Rockets at 85.3% and 98.4%, respectively.
Things are less certain for the Jazz and Lakers. Utah has lost four of five, and has a particularly tough schedule the rest of the way, including games against the Bulls, Knicks, Thunder, and Grizzlies in the next 10 days. Nonetheless, the Jazz hold a two and a half game lead on the Lakers, who remain on the outside looking in. That's why L.A.'s odds of earning a playoff spot are still just 45.3% compared to Utah's 61.3%, according to Hollinger's formula.
With six weeks remaining in the regular season, there's still plenty of time for the playoff picture to change significantly, and plenty of opportunities for teams to gain or lose ground — the Warriors, for instance, still have multiple games on the schedule against the Rockets and Lakers, as well as one against the Jazz. A 4-1 or 1-4 performance in those contests could be the difference in whether or not the team makes the playoffs.
In all likelihood though, three of these four teams will appear in the postseason, while the other club will be watching from home. Which do you think will be the odd team out?