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Taking A Look At The Seven Team Race For Five Western Conference Spots In The NBA Playoffs

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We’re down to the final 3-4 games in the NBA schedule and the Western Conference is still wide open. Well, not the entire West, but seeds 3-8 and what two teams will be left out are all bunched together. Right now here’s how the standings look:

Standings

As you can see there’s just a three game difference from Utah at the No. 4 spot and the Clippers in the 10th spot. Even Portland as the No. 3 seed isn’t safe. The Blazers end with arguably the toughest schedule of the group and could easily drop to the five seed or so. Here’s a look at the remaining schedule before we get into the teams:

Schedule

Out of this bunch, the Jazz are playing the best right now. In the last 10 games they are 7-3, winning three in a row and are 26-5 if you go back to January 24. They have one of the two favorites for Rookie of the Year in Donovan Mitchell, a true star in Rudy Gobert and a relatively steady hand at point guard in Ricky Rubio. They currently are fifth in efficiency difference, ranking behind only Golden State, Philly, Toronto and Houston. Not exactly bad company. What I do like though is the roster versatility that they have. The move to bring in a guy like Jae Crowder and running him with Ingles, Mitchell, Rubio and Gobert has done wonders. They can spread the floor, let Rubio operate off the bounce, Gobert work in the post and then still have space for someone like Mitchell to attack. That lineup has played 185 minutes together this year with a +25.3 per 100 possessions.

San Antonio is worth talking about, because, well it’s San Antonio. It’s the first season since Tim Duncan was still in college that the Spurs won’t win 50 games, which is one of the more absurd stats out there. That said, what a weird ass season for the Spurs. You have the whole Kawhi situation and reports of there possibly being a split between teammates backing him and not, reports of whether he’ll play or not, reports of whether he’ll be traded or not. Shit, even sitting at the Final Four, people wanted to talk about Kawhi down in San Antonio. They also had Tony Parker’s injury while also dealing with Manu and Parker simply getting older. It’s damn impressive that Pop even has them in position to make the playoffs right now. The Spurs are here though because of defense. They are 3rd in Def. Rating and LaMarcus Aldridge has lived up to the hype this season. He’s averaging 23/8.5 with the highest PER of his career at 25.2.

Now, two teams that everyone is going to want to talk about and look at here are Oklahoma City and Minnesota. That’s due to the offseason obviously. Oklahoma City adds Paul George and Melo while Minnesota adds Jimmy Butler. We’ll start with Oklahoma City, because the Thunder are absolutely falling apart down the stretch here. They’ve lost five of seven and are just 5-5 in their last 10 games. They do get to end with a team completely out of the playoffs (vs Memphis) and Miami is currently dealing with Hassan Whiteside complaining about not playing late in games vs small teams. Two wins and they should be in the playoffs, potentially playing a Golden State team without Steph Curry.

Minnesota should feel rather comfortable with the ending they have. Yes, they have to go to Denver, but after that? Three games against teams that are eliminated from the playoffs. They are currently a game up on Denver and hold tie breakers against Oklahoma City, Utah, New Orleans and the Clippers. Two wins and they should feel alright. The real question here though is, even if the Wolves make the playoffs, will Butler be able to play? Butler tore his meniscus on February 23 and hasn’t played since. There are reports that he’s working out in 5-on-5 settings, but there is still a big question mark on just how healthy he actually is. Minnesota has gone 8-8 in that time. However, like I said, they get to end with three games against non-playoff teams. Win those three and you’re in. Pretty simple.

It’s going to be an awesome ending to the season as you have this much up for grabs. Because like to make predictions, I’ll go ahead with mine and say this is how I think the West ends up:
1. Houston
2. Golden State
3. Utah
4. Portland
5. Oklahoma City
6. San Antonio
7. Minnesota
8. New Orleans

Not a whole lot of change here, just a couple of swaps of positions with the big one being Utah up to the three seed. Let’s get nuts.