NBA Playoffs: The Race in the Western Conference


The Los Angeles Lakers are fighting for the final playoff spot.(Photo by Scott Mecum/

With less than three weeks left in the season, the race for NBA playoffs seeding in the Western Conference is heating up.  There are six teams fighting for the final three playoffs spots.  They all sit within 7.5 games of each other.

The Golden State Warriors are holding onto the sixth spot with the Houston Rockets 1.5 games behind them.  The Warriors have nine games left and the Rockets have 10–barring a monumental collapse, both seem safe to make the playoffs.

This leaves the remaining four teams – the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers – fighting for the final playoff spot.

Of these teams Portland has the most intriguing schedule.  It is by far the most difficult as their remaining opponents have a combined .590 winning percentage.  Every team that they play is either in the playoffs or fighting for a spot.  While games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers will be difficult challenges, the rest of the schedule will allow them to control their own destiny.

They play six games against the other teams that they are battling for a playoff spot.  While it is a daunting task,  they can help themselves by winning those six games.

Damian Lillard has his team in the playoff hunt. (Photo Credit: Chrishmt0424

Portland is led by LeMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Hickson and wonder rookie Damian Lillard. As a team with a 33-39 record they do not excel nor completely fail in any one area.  They are a middle of the road team.  With Lillard and Aldridge they are capable of good scoring nights.  Hickson provides interior defense and rebounding and there is talent on the rest of the roster, just not enough to hang with the top teams in the West.

The Lakers entered the season as one of the favorites to win the championship.  Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were joined by Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in what seemed like a can’t-miss team.  Instead of instant success, they have sputtered and struggled most of the season.

Injuries have slowed them, poor play, bad chemistry and a new coach during the season seems to have doomed this team.  Over the past month they have played better as they were able to climb into the eighth spot in the playoff race.

While they do not have near the brutal schedule that Portland has, they do not have an easy path either.  Their final opponents have a combined .496 win percentage.  Their numbers get dragged down with three games against a couple of the bottom dwellers of the NBA as they play the Sacramento Kings twice and the New Orleans Hornets. The remainder of their schedule will feature four games against teams they fighting for a playoff spot with. They will also face the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers to round out their schedule.

Even when they are all together this team is too difficult to predict.  They are again facing injury concerns as Bryant and Nash are banged up.  Their next four games–Kings, Mavericks, Grizzlies and Clippers– will set the tone for the rest of their season.  If they can survive with a 2-2 record then they will be the team to catch for the final spot.

Can the Utah Jazz grab the final playoff spot? (Photo Credit: RMtip21,

The Jazz suffer from being in the Western Conference.  They are a good team, but are a step behind the top-tier talent in the West. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Gordon Hayward lead the way for the Jazz.

While they have the second-most difficult remaining schedule, a deeper looks shows that it is not quite that bad.  Their opponents will have a combines .528 winning percentage.  They will have tough games against the Thunder and Denver Nuggets. Those teams also push that opponent win percentage higher.

They only have two games against the other contenders then will finish with two games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and one with the Hornets.  Their season may likely come down to their final game against the Grizzlies.  The Grizzlies are already a very inconsistent team.  They have clinched a playoff spot and will likely be resting players in that game which gives the Jazz a great chance to secure the final spot.

The Mavericks round out the teams that are fighting for a playoff spot.  They have the easiest remaining schedule with an opponent percentage of .484.  They will have two tough games against the Nuggets but the rest of the schedule is very winnable.

Over the past month, Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter have played their best of the season.   This veteran-laden team will not wilt under the pressure of a playoff chase.  Their schedule makes a run very possible but they may have dug themselves too deep of a hole earlier in the season.

The prediction is that the Jazz will win the final playoff spot by one game over the Mavericks.



Golden State Warriors



Houston Rockets



Utah Jazz



Dallas Mavericks



Los Angeles Lakers



Portland Trail Blazers