The Western Conference Playoff Race

[Note: Originally Posted 03-16-2009 at 06:12 AM by DenButsu]

With just about one month remaining in the regular season we can start talking in a more meaningful way now about the Western Conference playoff picture. We may start to see some separation between some individual teams and maybe an upper seed pack and a lower seed pack.

Overall, the seeding in the West, with the obvious exception of the Lakers (who have already locked up the Pacific Division title), is still completely up in the air. The Spurs still look pretty solid to finish at the 2 seed and take the Southwest, but with only 2.5 games up separating them from the pack, and the 3-8 seeds currently only separated by 2.5 games themselves, the field really remains wide open. And the Northwest Division race, where the top 3 teams are now separated by just a single game, looks like it just might go right down to the wire, possibly even being decided when Denver and Portland play their final game of the season against each other.

Here are the NBA standings by conference.

As of this post they look like this:

Code:
Western W L PCT GB CONF DIV
L.A. Lakers 1p	53	13	0.803	0.0	36-7	11-2
San Antonio 2	44	21	0.677	8.5	28-11	9-4
Houston 3	43	25	0.632	11.0	27-13	6-6
Denver 4	42	25	0.627	11.5	26-14	9-3
New Orleans 5	41	24	0.631	11.5	23-14	6-3
Portland 6	41	25	0.621	12.0	21-19	7-5
Utah 7		41	26	0.612	12.5	28-11	9-3
Dallas 8	40	27	0.597	13.5	22-20	5-7
Phoenix --	36	31	0.537	17.5	22-17	9-4

I think it’s going to be difficult for New Orleans, in spite of CP3’s badassitude, to hold on to that 5 spot. The final stretch of their schedule is positively brutal: Utah. @ Miami. Phoenix. @ Dallas. Dallas. @ Houston. @ San Antonio. 6 of 7 against playoff teams, and 4 of 7 on the road. Tough stuff for them to be facing when they’re trying to claw their way up past Houston and San Antonio, and keep Dallas from passing them by.

Houston is a big question mark for me. They’re 11-4 over the last month since losing T-Mac, but I still wonder whether they can sustain that kind of play without him through the final stretch. And 10 of their final 14 look like pretty tough games to me (@ New Orleans. Detroit. @ San Antonio. @ Utah. @ Phoenix. @ LA Lakers. Portland. Orlando. New Orleans. @ Dallas). I think they’ll probably get passed by by the top 2 teams in the NW.

And that Nortwest Division is the biggest question mark of all. For a while there it looked like Denver was going to drop off, and Portland and Utah have both been the talk of the town. But then, both those teams have just started finding ways to lose some games while the Nuggets have reversed their skid. And to me it looks like schedules favor the Nuggets the most and operate against Portland the most, with Utah right there in the middle. Portland also runs the risk of their inexperience getting the better of them in the final stretch. And in spite of Denver’s recent slump and Utah’s recent surge, I see both of those teams returning to trajectories that are more reflective of their current winning percentages. Additionally, 9 of Portland’s remaning 16 games and 8 of Utah’s 15 are on the road, where both teams have struggled this season (with the Blazers at 13-20 and the Jazz at 13-19 away from home). So it may just be this Nuggets fan’s wishful thinking, but I see them emerging with the division title.

At the bottom of things, I think it’ll stay the same, with Dallas holding onto that 8th seed not quite able to climb their way up the pecking order, and Phoenix unable to claw their way back into the playoff picture.

So with all of that said, here is my prediction:

1. Lakers
2. Spurs
3. Nuggets
4. Jazz
5. Rockets
6. Blazers
7. Hornets
8. Mavericks

Where do you think things will end up?Where do you think things will end up?

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