Community Shootaround: Checking In On Western Playoff Race

Given the truncated nature of the NBA’s 72-game 2020/21 season, the standings in each conference figure to significantly fluctuate all year long, with any multi-game winning streak or losing streak more likely than ever to shake up the playoff picture.

Still, as we near the halfway point of the regular season, the Western Conference standings are – at least for the time being – easy enough to split into tiers.

The 27-8 Jazz are in a tier of their own at the top. Their 3.5-game lead over their next-closest competitor is the biggest margin between any two teams in the conference besides the gap between the 14th and 15th seeds. That cushion should allow Utah to have a bad week or two without necessarily falling out of the top spot in the West.

The next tier is currently made up of three Pacific teams, the Suns (23-11), Lakers (24-12), and Clippers (24-13). They’re all separated by a half-game and are at least three games ahead of any other team in the conference.

The two Los Angeles teams were expected to be here, and they comfortably hold top-four seeds despite having star players (Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George) miss some time due to injuries. Phoenix, on the other hand, is something of an upstart — expectations had increased for the Suns following their 8-0 run at last summer’s bubble and the offseason acquisition of Chris Paul, but few expected them to hold the No. 2 seed in the West with the All-Star break around the corner.

The Western Conference’s third tier consists of six teams bunched together within two games of each other, from the No. 5 Spurs (18-13) to the No. 10 Mavericks (17-16). Others in this group include the Trail Blazers (19-14), Nuggets (20-15), Warriors (19-16), and Grizzlies (16-15).

It remains to be seen whether the NBA’s new play-in format for the final two postseason spots in each conference will make this race more or less interesting. Having six clubs vie for four playoff berths would’ve been entertaining in its own right, but the play-in tournament adds a new wrinkle.

Assuming the Jazz, Suns, Lakers, and Clippers hang onto playoff spots, that will only leave two guaranteed postseason berths for the six “third-tier” clubs. The teams that finish in the 7-10 range would enter the play-in tournament, where the Nos. 7 and 8 teams would need to win one game to advance, while the Nos. 9 and 10 teams would have to win two.

Entering the season, the Mavs, Blazers, and Nuggets were viewed as the likeliest playoff teams from this group, but San Antonio and Memphis have substantially exceeded expectations, and Golden State has admirably overcome the loss of Klay Thompson. If pressed, I’d probably consider Denver and Portland the favorites to claim the fifth and sixth seeds, but this should be a fascinating race.

A few clubs further down in the standings have the potential to shake up the postseason picture too, but it’s hard to get too enthusiastic about the 7-28 Timberwolves or the 11-22 Rockets, both of whom are mired in horrible slumps, or the 14-20 Thunder, who are ostensibly rebuilding. The 13-21 Kings have also been hit hard by a recent cold streak and have a lot of ground to make up.

That leaves the Pelicans (15-19), who are the most intriguing wild card outside the Western Conference’s current top 10. All-Star forward Zion Williamson and 2020 All-Star Brandon Ingram give New Orleans a dangerous one-two punch on offense, but the club will need to tighten up its defense to make a run — the Pelicans’ 116.1 defensive rating ranks 29th in the NBA.

With the first half of the NBA season about to come to an end, we want to get your thoughts on where things stand in the Western Conference playoff race.

  • Will the Jazz finish the season as the No. 1 seed?
  • Will the Jazz, Suns, Lakers, or Clippers fall out of the top four?
  • Which teams do you view as the best bets to claim the top six seeds in the conference?
  • Which four clubs do you expect to take part in the play-in tournament?
  • Will the Pelicans or another team currently in the bottom five force their way into the top 10? If so, which team are they knocking out?

Head to the comment section below to share your two cents!

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20 thoughts on “Community Shootaround: Checking In On Western Playoff Race

  1. Sillivan

    4-team race

    Suns are overachieved
    Nuggets are soft
    Warriors and Spurs are just not good enough

    Pelicans play soft defense, as soft as cotton

    • Sillivan

      Come playoffs time Blazers are better than Suns and Nuggets

      Mavs won’t be better than Warriors

      • Cap & Crunch

        Nurk & CJ at 100% give them a punchers chance to beat anybody….its too much to ask to ever depend on Collins for anything these days but one (still) has to wonder what a Por team could do with Nurk/Collins consuming, and playing well at the C, for all 48 mins

    • Marty McRae

      Steph will absolutely wreck Portland in any playoffs. Betting against him? This season??? Dumb move vs. anyone. He’s literally trying to prove he can do it with absolutely zero help.

      The 2nd most win shares on GSW is Damion Lee, with 1.8. Damion Lee. They’re 19-16. The Hawks have 3 guys over 3 WS and another one with 1.8. They’re 15-20. Steph is being transcendent again…

      • Gary G.

        Yes I agree with you about Steph but he’s been very human the last couple games. We’ll see what he looks like tonight against Dame and the Blazers.

      • Just kick back and enjoy the season because these same people that comment here claimed the warriors couldn’t even make the playoff this year. Now they are claiming they are not a top 8 team. Next month it will be they are not a top 4 teams. Once the warriors get a back up point guard for Curry they will get on a long winning streak.

        • Cap & Crunch

          General board consensus was almost unanimous 7-10 seed for GSW preseason.

          Where are they Now?

        • x%sure

          Pretty smart, these commentors, given where GSW sits.

          But oh, a backup PG will change things! I thought robohouston would say this, but the starting PG isn’t even assured given his recent history of durability.

      • WallyWood

        The Warriors are barely in the #8 seed, about where everyone expected. They could easily drop in the standings though, let’s see.

  2. Cap & Crunch

    Jazz- Probably? Really like the Suns vibe they got tho , best chance to overtake imo

    1 of the 4 will fall out, probably one of the La teams to Denver . Think Denver surges 2nd half

    Jazz Suns Lakers Clippers; Denver /Mavs rally for a top 6 spot …my same preseason 6

    Play in – SAS , Griz Por GSW

    No- Pelicans disappoint, again…. Pop, the Griz as a whole, Dame and Curry just have too much poise to fall that far ….an inj is needed for NO

  3. KnickerbockerAl

    Where is the Rocket Homer ……… CP3 is here.
    Walladipo before you change you name Again.
    Tells us all again how CP3 is done. Time to show Suns and Chris some respect bro. Think of it this way. Rockets finish at bottom of west. They can thank Chris for leaving. This way you keep your pick this yr. Top 4 lol. Rockets are in the race this yr. The race for #1 pick in 2021 NBA draft . Woo Hoo

  4. Phoenix W/L records:

    19-63 (2018-19)
    34-39 (2019-20)
    23-11 (2020-21)

    This is shaping up as an historic NBA turnaround. Yet, I’ve read almost nothing giving any credit to its architect, GM, James Jones, who was promoted to the spot in April 2019, and almost as little about the coach he hired, Monty Williams. On the other hand, from the beginning of his tenure, there has been no shortage of statements critical of Jones’ personnel moves, including his draft picks. Mostly from Suns’ fans and writers. Anyway, if there’s an executive of the year award, he should be on the short list.

    • Cap & Crunch

      Indeed great points

      Last night between the 3rd and 4th they showed both benches and even tho Lakers were taking back momentum and Booker was tossed the difference was night and day in intensity – These dudes will run thru a wall for Monty, its exciting to see unfold… Not a knock on Lakers, they are on fumes, more of just an ode to Monty and Co…

      Cp3 is such a badass as well…… Took his first fg attempt mid 3rd qrter yet you never noticed as he was controlling the whole game from the tip . This team wont beat itself come playoffs; your gonna have to bring your best to advance if you draw them come June and it still may not be enough

      Id Imagine the odds are sneaky good for the better today having the Suns take the whole enchilada

      • KnickerbockerAl

        Running a team and managing a gm. Does not get enough hype for a PG. You have the right one on your team. It makes a big difference. This is big time team play. Chris is one of best ever at it.

      • x%sure

        I think the Suns were rewarded for planning to feature Saric in the absence of AD. Mikail took a backseat too but they all looked happy & in sync, considering the chippiness. Nice when a HC can game-plan like that.
        I think they made that a message game, not a numbers game.

        • azbraves20

          Huge win for the Suns over LA, especially considering they haven’t won in LA in years. Agreed Lakers are banged up, but to hold the lead once Book got tossed was great to see. They could have easily faded away but Ayton and Bridges let the hot hand roll and would be awesome to see them win tonight and go into the ASB as a 2 seed.

        • Cap & Crunch

          Was great game plan indeed X ! Saric was getting major usage and excelling

          Watching Luke 24 hrs later not just destroy us w Bags down low and needing Buddy to go off to beat us just shows the difference in coaching

  5. cleve1969

    The SASpurs have a shot at one of the top six positions in the West but that depends on trades … if they trade Aldridge, DeRozen, Gay or Mills before the deadline, they would have to fight for one of the 7-10 slots.

  6. Marty McRae

    Steph is putting not only the Warriors, but the entire NBA on his back this season. There’s simply no argument otherwise. His team is trash, but they’re 19-15 in the real, major league conference, because of him.

    Steph is the goat yall, never forget.

    • WallyWood

      Jordan will always be the GOAT, while Steph isn’t even in the top 10.

      After MJ it’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, LeBron, Hakeem Olajuwon, Wilt Chamberlin, Kobe, and Tim Duncan.

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