The Western Conference Playoff Race is at a fever pitch right now with teams rising and falling in the four through eight spots of the West depending on the night. It has seemed that nothing is set in stone and everything is up for grabs. Tonight might offer the first bit of clarity for the NBA Playoff Race in the West with a busy night in the Association as the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and New Orleans Pelicans all in action tonight. It is very possible that after tonight, the Western Conference outlook becomes a lot clearer. Why? Because all but one of those teams are playing each other.
- Utah Jazz @ Minnesota Timberwolves
- Houston Rockets @ San Antonio Spurs
- Oklahoma City Thunder @ New Orleans Pelicans
Almost all of those teams have a chance to rise to fourth in the Western Conference tonight if the right events occur. Let’s go through those scenarios.
Timberwolves find themselves back in fourth
- Timberwolves Win
- Rockets Win
- Thunder or Pelicans Win
If the Timberwolves beat the Utah Jazz tonight in Minnesota, they could inevitably find themselves in the four spot by the time this night is over regardless of the result of the Thunder-Pelicans game. They would only need the Houston Rockets to do them a favor by beating the San Antonio Spurs. This would send Utah down to either the eighth seed or keep them in the seventh seed depending on the Thunder-Pelicans game. With a Pelicans victory, Utah would be in the eighth seed and on a collision course with the Houston Rockets in the first round. If the Thunder win, they are tied with Timberwolves for the four seed but lose due to a tiebreaker.
Spurs remain in fourth
- Spurs Win
- Jazz or Timberwolves Win
- Thunder or Pelicans Win
The San Antonio Spurs can put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack if the right things happen tonight. First off, they have to beat the Houston Rockets buzzsaw at home. If they do that then they keep the fourth spot. Now if they can get some help from Utah and New Orleans they can have the fourth spot closer to lockdown. If Utah and New Orleans win that puts Utah and New Orleans in a two way tie for the fifth seed with Utah winning out. Utah and New Orleans stay one game behind San Antonio in the standings, but the Timberwolves and Thunder fall 1.5 games behind San Antonio. The Spurs go from being only a half a game ahead of the pack to 1 game ahead of the pack with only a five games remaining.
Utah, San Antonio, and New Orleans tied for fourth
- Jazz win
- Rockets win
- New Orleans Win
Let’s get crazy. In this scenario, the Utah Jazz rise to fourth and a three tie for third is in play. Utah wins the tie breaker in this scenario with San Antonio and New Orleans bringing them to fourth, San Antonio falls to fifth, and New Orleans rises to sixth. With the losses, the Minnesota Timberwolves fall from fifth to seventh. The Thunder fall from sixth to eighth.
Utah then finds itself in the driver’s seat with five games remaining. They face off against the Los Angeles Lakers twice, the Los Angeles Clippers once, the Golden State Warriors who could conceivably be resting all their stars, and then the Portland Trail Blazers who could be doing the same in the last game of the season. Utah would have the inside track to controlling their destiny.
The Spurs play three of their last five games on the road with the Kawhi Leonard saga hanging over their heads and finish the season with a game against the Pelicans which could be deciding playoff seeding.
After tonight’s game, the Thunder only have four games to change their fortune with one against Golden State, one on the road against the Rockets, and another on the road against the Miami Heat. To lose to the Pelicans tonight would be brutal for Oklahoma City.
The Minnesota Timberwolves likewise only have four games left after tonight to change their stars. Unfortunately for them, they could find themselves being the catalyst which propels Denver back into the playoff race. They face the Nuggets twice in that four game span. If they lose to Denver both of those games, it could be the Nuggets who claim the 8th and final spot of the playoffs and not the Timberwolves.
The Pelicans still have a chance to make noise after tonight. They have five games remaining on the schedule; two against tanking teams, three against contenders, and three of those five games are on the road. It’s a difficult stretch, but they have the ability to make noise. It would take a legendary stretch of games from The Brow, Anthony Davis to accomplish it.