NBA All-Star Breakdown: Analyzing the Western Conference Playoff Race
Today, it's on to the Western Conference.
San Antonio has the No. 1 seed more or less wrapped up, but the remaining seven spots are up for grabs.
Let's take a look at how things will shape up.
The No. 2 seed
Contenders: Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks
Rationale: Although the Lakers have underachieved so far this season, when it comes down to crunch time in the regular season, I see them outlasting the Mavs.
Dallas has dealt with major injuries to Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler (season-ending) and Tyson Chandler, and Dirk has not looked like his normal MVP-candidate self since his return. L.A. has yet to peak or go on a major winning streak, while Dallas has done so already. The race will be tough, but I see the Lakers ultimately taking the two seed, with Dallas dropping to No. 3.
The No. 4 seed
Contenders: Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Hornets
Rationale: The Thunder already have a 3 1/2-game advantage over the Hornets, a lead expected to grow over the remainder of the regular season.
In my opinion, the Hornets have over-achieved this season, and are not as good as they have played at times. Down the stretch the teams play about the same home and road games, yet the Thunder have played the hardest schedule thus far, hinting at a much easier road to home court advantage over the last 30 games or so.
The No. 6 - No. 8 seeds
Contenders: Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Portland Trailblazers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Phoenix Suns
Prediction: Denver Nuggets, Portland Trailblazers, Memphis Grizzlies
Rationale: The bottom three seeds in the Western Conference tend to be separated by one to two games, and this year seems no different.
I think at this point Phoenix has little to no chance -- yet, mathematically, they are still within reach.
If Denver keeps Carmelo Anthony, they are a lock for the postseason, but I don't think he'll be on their roster come Feb. 25. A deal between the Nuggets and Knicks seems imminent. But this team is talented enough to grab a playoff seed even without Melo. Expect them to finish no lower than eighth.
The Grizzlies have played great basketball as of late, and with one of the easiest schedules remaining in the NBA I see them not only making the playoffs, but snagging the sixth seed.
For the seventh playoff spot, I see a close race between aforementioned Denver, Portland and Utah. Due to the pending returns of Marcus Camby and Brandon Roy, I see Portland claiming the seventh spot, with Denver grabbing the final ticket to the postseason.
Sorry, Jazz fans.
1. San Antonio
2. Los Angeles
4. Oklahoma City
5. New Orleans