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Breaking down the playoff chase in the Western Conference

Apr 2, 2013, 5:26 PM EDT

Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan AP

The West is a mess. A deep, complex, playoff question mark still with a whole lot of moving parts.

Which is what makes playoff races fun.

We’ve got just more than two weeks of regular season games left. We’re going to try to lay out the entire playoff picture for you, but it’s messy, so stay with us here:

One and two seeds. It’s going to be San Antonio and Oklahoma City, in some order. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Spurs had a one-game lead over the Thunder.

The big key is the Thunder and Spurs face off Thursday night. That’s when we see how much the Spurs care about this race by who they suit up and send out there and who they rest… er, have to take out because their injured. If the Spurs win that game they not only stretch out their lead but also win the season series and the tiebreaker.

In the seven other games left this season, the Thunder have four on the road and four against playoff teams. The Spurs have only three on the road and three against playoff teams. You’ say advantage Spurs, but that means predicting Gregg Popovich and who he will play on any given night. Good luck with that.

Three, four and five seeds. This is where it gets really messy. Denver and Memphis are tied at 50-24 (Denver owns that tiebreaker) with the L.A. Clippers a game and a half back of both. Technically the Clippers as a division winner cannot slip any farther back than the four seed, but that would not give them automatic home court advantage. You really want to get the three seed and likely face Golden State or maybe Houston — the four and five seeds go head-to-head in the toughest first round matchup in either conference.

Denver has five of its eight at home and four current playoff teams (plus Dallas). Memphis has five games on the road but only two playoff teams (plus the Lakers, Blazers and Mavs in that road mix). The Clippers have the easiest schedule — five of eight at home and only one current playoff team (Memphis) but they have stumbled losing four of five.

There is no order there that would surprise me.

Six and seven seeds. This is going to be Golden State and Houston in some order. Golden State has a one-game lead and would like to maintain it because as scary as Denver (or Memphis, or the Clippers) might be as the three seed it’s not Oklahoma City. Houston wants wins for the same reason.

Houston is at Denver Saturday in a huge game for this seed matchup.

Eighth seed. This is a mess. The Jazz are as of Tuesday half a game ahead of the Lakers (tied in the loss column) and 1.5 up on Dallas (one up in the loss column) heading into a huge game for both teams between Dallas and the Lakers Tuesday night.

Here is the key — Utah has the tiebreaker over both Los Angeles and Dallas. The Jazz have seven games left, four and home and four against playoff teams. If Dallas goes 4-3 the rest of the way the Lakers must go 6-2 in their remaining eight games to pass them. And by the way, Utah is on a five game winning streak. All of which is to say Utah controls its own destiny. But it’s not going to be easy for anyone.

  1. mgscott - Apr 2, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    NBA would be better if the 8 best teams made the playoffs regardless of the conference.

    • painnolove7 - Apr 2, 2013 at 5:57 PM

      Best 16 teams sounds better.

  2. thekingdave - Apr 2, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    I want the Thunder. We have little chance of making a run anyways and a Harden vs. Thunder storyline is a great one.

  3. 4thquartermagic - Apr 2, 2013 at 6:16 PM

    Nuggets own or have a chance at owning all meaningful tie-breakers. Look for them to lock up the 3 seed.
    Unless Memphis wins five of their last 8 on the road. No likely.

    • chrisco716 - Apr 2, 2013 at 7:52 PM

      …trouble is that the engine that makes Denver go is sputtering… Ty Lawson is out with a heel injury.

      • broncobeta - Apr 2, 2013 at 9:25 PM

        Karl has found a nice spot for Fournier to play in with Ty’s absence.

  4. elcapitanfiscal - Apr 2, 2013 at 7:55 PM

    As long as the Lakers don’t make the playoffs I am happy..

    Is D’antonie really that bad of a coach or are the injuries they suffered the ones to blame for them probably not making the playoffs?

    • eventhorizon04 - Apr 2, 2013 at 8:23 PM

      They still could make the playoffs, but their poor season has come down to 3 factors:
      1. Ineffective coaching – D’Antoni has been unable to get the Lakers to play good defense consistently, even with Dwight Howard rounding into form the past few weeks

      2. Injuries – their top-8 players have all been hit by injuries, with only 3 out of their 8 players missing under 10 games (see below)

      3. Trouble fitting together – To make the offense work…
      Kobe has had to become a facilitator,
      Howard has had to sacrifice touches on offense,
      Nash has had to play more off the ball, and
      Pau has had to accept a bench role and playing further out from the basket than he’s used to due to spacing issues.

      The offense has been fine, but they still haven’t gotten the defense to work.

      Injury Recap
      1. Steve Nash – broken fibula with nerve damage (out for weeks earlier in the season), hip strain (out for days right now)
      2. Kobe Bryant – Ankle Sprain, Bone Spurs
      3. Metta World Peace – Torn meniscus (likely out for season)
      4. Pau Gasol – Concussion, Knee Tendinitis, Plantar Fasciitis (out for weeks earlier in the season)
      5. Dwight Howard – Herniated Disk, Torn Shoulder Labrum
      6. Steve Blake – Abdominal Strain (out for weeks earlier in the season)
      7. Antawn Jamison – Wrist Tear
      8. Jordan Hill – Torn Hip Labrum (out for season)

      • borderline1988 - Apr 2, 2013 at 9:25 PM

        Injuries did have a lot to do with it, but everyone knew Nash would be fighting nagging injuries the whole season, and Howard was just coming back from back surgery.

        The core of the Lakers’ team is old and there is little depth. So there was always a big chance they’d be negatively impacted by injury.

        But at the end of the day, much of the blame needs to fall on Kobe Bryant. If he is a true top-5 superstar, he should be able to lead his team to the playoffs even when those around him are crappy or fighting injury. Lebron would have no problem getting his team to the playoffs in that situation. I’d fully expect Durant to be able to do the same. Chris Paul could (and has done so on the Hornets). Iverson took a crappy Sixers team to the Finals (albeit in a weak Eastern Conference). Hell, even James Harden and the Rockets have found a way to make the playoffs.

        Kobe Bryant had a fantastic season, but he doesn’t elevate the play of his teammates. Whenever he is left with players who need playmakers or aren’t good enough to find their own offense, the Lakers always suffer.

      • 4thquartermagic - Apr 2, 2013 at 10:12 PM

        Injury Recap
        1. Steve Nash – Old
        2. Kobe Bryant – Old
        3. Metta World Peace – Old
        4. Pau Gasol – Old
        5. Steve Blake – Old
        6. Antawn Jamison – Old

        Yes injuries have killed the lakers but what did they expect with this roster?

    • elcapitanfiscal - Apr 2, 2013 at 10:35 PM

      Good points..if i was a lakers fan it would anger me seeing games where Meeks takes twice as many shots as dwight howard..injuries hurt them but i feel like their coach is terrible as well..

      And,kobe still taking 30 shots per game..i may be wrong but it seems like he unintentionally freezes out Dwight a lot and doesn’t allow him to get going.

    • mazblast - Apr 2, 2013 at 11:48 PM

      In order, here’s my take on what has brought the Lakers to this situation–

      Hubris (Short Buss, Kupchak, KoMe, the fans)
      Age
      Injuries (expected, given their collective age)
      Egos
      Coaching

      D’Antoni didn’t help matters, but blaming him when he didn’t even join the team until 10 games into the season is crazy. Firing Brown that soon into the season was crazy, too. He must have done something really unheard of in LA, like asking KoMe to pass the ball once in a while.

  5. lemfaxx - Apr 2, 2013 at 7:55 PM

    Spurs will not take it seriously. They are fine with either 1 or 2.

  6. jtfawver - Apr 2, 2013 at 8:32 PM

    No mention of the worst perimeter d in the nba?

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