The Suns, who hold a nine-game lead over the NBA’s next-best team, are close to clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The two teams behind them in the standings, the No. 2 Grizzlies and No. 3 Warriors, each have a two-game cushion over their next-closest competitor.
After the top three though, the West’s standings get a little more congested. The No. 4 Jazz, at 45-27, are separated from the No. 7 Timberwolves (42-31) by just 3.5 games, with the Mavericks (44-28) and Nuggets (43-30) sandwiched in between them.
All four clubs have looked like playoff teams, but – barring a massive Warriors collapse – only three will finish in the top six in the West. The other will end the regular season at No. 7 and will need to win a play-in game in order to officially earn a playoff spot.
The Timberwolves have been locked into the No. 7 seed since January and have the seventh-hardest schedule the rest of the way, according to Tankathon. That probably makes them the odds-on favorite to finish outside of the top six. But they’ve been one of the hottest teams in basketball over the last few months, having gone 26-11 since the new year. They’ll also control the tiebreaker vs. Denver and will face the Nuggets once more on April 1 with a chance to gain ground.
The Nuggets have a more favorable schedule, but have been a little shakier as of late — before Tuesday’s win over the Clippers, they’d lost four of their last six. With no guarantee that Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr. will be back before the end of the regular season, Denver can’t necessarily count on getting reinforcements down the stretch.
The Jazz and Mavericks look like safer bets for top-six finishes, since time is running out for Denver or Minnesota to catch them. Still, it’s worth noting that Utah has the NBA’s fourth-hardest remaining schedule, per Tankathon, with only two games left against non-playoff or play-in opponents. Dallas, meanwhile, has big games in Minnesota on Friday and vs. Utah on Sunday — losing both of those contests would make the Mavs’ top-six position more tenuous.
We want to know what you think. Will the West’s current playoff teams hang onto their spots and force the Timberwolves into the play-in tournament? Or will Minnesota catch the Nuggets or another team and secure a playoff spot by the end of the regular season?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts and predictions on the West’s playoff race!