Three teams in the Western Conference have clinched playoff berths, with the Rockets, Warriors, and Trail Blazers likely locked into the top three seeds, in that order. However, after those top teams, the race for the conference’s final five postseason spots remains hotly contested.
The Spurs (45-32) are ostensibly in the driver’s seat for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round, but a late-season slide could still put their playoff spot in jeopardy. San Antonio has back-to-back road games against the Clippers and Lakers on tap this week, followed by home games against Portland and Sacramento, and a regular season finale in New Orleans. While it’s still possible that Kawhi Leonard could return for one or more of those games, the club isn’t counting on that.
While the Thunder (45-33) remain in contention for the No. 4 spot too, they’re also one bad week away from slipping out of the playoff picture, particularly since they hold virtually no tiebreakers against their Western competitors. You can probably pencil OKC in for a win at home vs. Memphis next Wednesday, but before that game, the Thunder will have to deal with the Warriors at home, and the Rockets and Heat on the road.
The Jazz (44-33) have won 27 of their last 34 games, but that hasn’t been enough to pull away from the pack in the West. A home-and-away set against the Lakers this week bodes well, but Utah will also have to host the Clippers and Warriors before finishing the season in Portland. Holding tiebreakers over the Spurs, Pelicans, and Clips could come in handy.
The Timberwolves (44-34) could badly use Jimmy Butler in their lineup down the stretch, and he’s still expected to be back before the end of the season, but his exact return date remains up in the air. Home-and-away games against Denver may ultimately decide Minnesota’s playoff fate, though the Wolves will also face a pair of lottery teams in the Lakers (road) and Grizzlies (home). Minnesota’s tiebreakers over the Thunder, Jazz, Pelicans, and Clippers look big now.
The Pelicans (43-34) have lost four straight games, putting their playoff spot at risk, but those losses came against four very good teams. They’ll have a chance to turn things around this week when they host the Grizzlies and visit the Suns. After that, the schedule gets tough again — the Pelicans close out by visiting the Warriors and Clippers before hosting the Spurs.
If any of those five teams falter, the Nuggets (42-35) and Clippers (41-36) will be ready to take advantage, though neither team has it easy down the stretch. In addition to facing Minnesota twice, the Nuggets also host the Pacers and Trail Blazers. The Clippers have one road game left in Utah, and will host the Spurs, Pelicans, and Lakers. The Nuggets and Clippers will also face one another in L.A. on Saturday.
Got all that? Great. Now, we want to know what you think. How will the season’s final nine days play out? Which two of the top 10 teams in the West will end up missing the playoffs? Vote below in our poll and jump into the comment section below to share your thoughts!
Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.