NBA Playoffs: How the West will be won, or lost

USA TODAY Sports

Okay, this is the stretch run right now for the 2013 run up to the playoffs. There are a number of teams who still have to take care of their business before 82 games are up. And what will determine how well they take care of business will be how they manage:

  • Injuries
  • The Schedule
  • Desperation
  • and Motivation

All teams are banged up right now, but some teams more so than others. The schedule is a dangerous animal that's different for all teams. Some have an easier road than other over the last 7 nights of the NBA regular season. Some teams are desperate, some are not. Some teams still have something to fight for, and other may take it easy down the stretch depending on what happens between the previous factors.

Furthermore, there are 4 races in the Western Conference right now.

  1. The Race for 1st place: The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are separated by 0.5 gms, and the first place team will face either the Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Lakers.
  2. The Race for 3rd place: The Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies are separated by 0.5 gms, and whomever wins will be third. The drop off from third to fifth is huge. (The Los Angeles Clippers, by token of winning the Pacific Division, will lock in a Top 4 seed regardless)
  3. The Race for 8th place: The Lakers and Jazz are also separated by 0.5 games right now
  4. The Race for 14th place: The Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Hornets are also separated by 0.5 games right now, but in this race you want to get the lower seed.

How soon these races are resolved will determine the fourth factor up above (Motivation). For example, if the Race for #3rd is resolved before the last game of the season, then Memphis may not have any motivation to play their hardest (they may even sit guys out) against the Jazz.

Another wrinkle here is that every team's future is somewhat related to every other team. I'm not going to chart out all four of those races here because, as this is a Jazz site, we're primarily concerned only with the Jazz/Lakers race for 8th.

2013_stretch_run

Yup. This is some of the info you need to keep track over over the next week.

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1. Injuries:

All teams are banged up, and here are some of the bigger injuries listed as of today (4/10/2013) for each of these 8 teams. Some guys are just taking a breather, while others are busy trying to get healthy. The Jazz may get Alec Burks back for our next game, and Marvin Williams SHOULD be back as well. However, Enes Kanter is gone for the rest of the season. Of course, none of those guys are a former MVP, so the Steve Nash injury, and hope for his return before the season is over, appears to be a much larger factor here. Jordan Hill is out for the season, and I honestly don't know enough about Devin Ebanks to have an opinion on his injury, his return schedule, and if it will matter or not.

The Jazz will play Minnesota Timberwolves twice, and they are without (for the rest of the season) Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, and Malcolm Lee. They've got Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger back. And they are relentlessly pesky. But I think we have the injury advantage against them, especially if Alec and Marvin are both back for the 12th. The Jazz will play the Memphis Grizzlies once, and while Darrell Arthur is out, but Jerryd Bayless may be back. Of course, depending on Factor #4 (Motivation), they may be sitting some of their best players. Over all though I think the Jazz can chug along well against their competition in terms of injuries.

The Lakers, on the other hand, will be playing some up and down teams. The Portland Trail Blazers are going to start 5 rookies tonight and leave a number of guys out. They are tanking, and they are not going to pretend they aren't. So I don't expect to see Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Hickson and company too much in the next week. (Which also means that we could assume that OKC, DEN, LAC all win their games too -- and those are three of the teams involved in the other chases) The Lakers will have the disadvantage against every other team they have to play when it comes to injuries.

The Jazz have the advantage here.

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2. The Schedule:

The Jazz play no back to backs, and have 2 games on the road. And they play only one other playoff team once. The Lakers play four games in 7 nights (5 games in 8), are playing the second night of a b2b tonight. They play the Blazers, and then three other playoff teams, but they are all at home. In terms of the Race for #8 here the Jazz also have the advantage.

Of course, that could change depending on factors #3 and #4.

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3. Desperation:

Some of these teams in fights may not be desperate. I don't think the San Antonio Spurs are going to lose sleep if they aren't the #1 seed in the West. I think Memphis probably would rather be the #3 seed than the #5 seed. The Hornets and Kings aren't desperate in this way, both are in the lotto anyway. I do believe that from how they have been playing of late, that the Kobe Bryant led Los Angeles Lakers are completely desperate right now. Their backs are at the wall, they were expected to be a team with homecourt this year. And they have not lived up to their pedigree, payroll, or star power. I think they're desperate. Their backs are at the wall. And they're going to fight in each game.

The Jazz? They showed me something on the road against the Golden State Warriors when they won. Then then didn't show any desperation against the Oklahoma City Thunder at home. So I have no idea about the Jazz, and if they are desperate right now.

What about the 6 other teams the Jazz and Lakers face off against? I didn't mention it as a 'fight' at the beginning, but GSW and HOU are 1 game off of one another. So this could be the 5th race in the west to look at, and as a result, I could see those two teams still giving a damn as the season goes on. Which leads to . . .

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4. Motivation:

If the Nuggets secure or fail to secure the #3 spot then Memphis will maybe not care about the game on the 17th. That may help the Jazz. Of course, if the Jazz win the next three games then the Lakers will have to win their remaining four. So as our wins go up, so will the motivation of LA.

I can't predict how everything will turn out between each of these 8 teams. But I think we've gone over some of the important factors that will determine how the West will be won, or lost.

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The Jazz and Lakers:

The Lakers are leading the Jazz right now by half a game, and will be playing a tanking Blazers squad tonight. Effectively, I will expect them to be up by 1 game by the end of tonight. The Jazz will then need to make that up somehow. If LA wins tonight:

  • and LA goes 3-0, the Jazz can't make it back
  • and LA goes 2-1, the Jazz will have to go 3-0
  • and LA goes 1-2, the Jazz will have to go 2-1
  • and LA goes 0-3, the Jazz will have to go 1-2

GSW and HOU are two of the teams the Lakers will play, and those two teams are in a mini-fight right now for playoff seeding. The other team they are are the Spurs. And I can't ever predict what they will do. This seems like the time of the year Gregg Popovich starts to sit guys. What about the Jazz? Well, we have two games against Minny and one against Memphis. I think we expected to lose against OKC, and would have lost both the Denver game and the Golden State Game. We went 1-2 over the 'hard' part of our finish schedule.

I would be surprised if the Jazz don't win at least 2 more games in our last 3. That means the Lakers would have to do the same in order to be in the playoffs.

Over all, I think the Jazz have the advantage, even if LAL wins tonight and goes up 1 whole game.

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