Clearing Up the Western Conference Playoff Picture
I always find it amazing that after an entire season, spots in the playoffs and seeding can come down to the final few games. This year in the Western Conference, it is no different. The east has been settled for over a week and there is only limited jockeying for position. But the west is deeper and it's been a struggle for teams to just make the playoffs let alone move up the rankings for home-court advantage.
Since the Rockets are officially in, let's take a look at the likely scenarios for each team as we wind down the last week of the season and head into the playoffs.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last year's Western Conference champ appears a near lock for a number one seed in the playoffs and home court advantage all the way up to the NBA Finals unless they face the Heat, which has the best record in the NBA. Despite trading away James Harden, the Thunder appear to be firing on all cylinders. Their first-round matchup, regardless of whether the Lakers hang on or the Jazz squeak in, should be fairly easy business for this young, talented team. Expect another trip to the Western Conference Finals for the Thunder, but be wary of the Nuggets as a possible spoiler.
Most Intriguing Matchup Possibility: Clippers in Round 2
Best Chance of Getting Ousted: Nuggets in Round 3
2. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are limping into the playoffs with age not on their side, yet they continue to win and put up big numbers. There is not a better franchise in basketball, but the play of Tim Duncan has been impressive all season and Gregg Popovich continues to work his magic. They were tossed out of the playoffs last year by the Grizzlies, and another first-round struggle would not be a surprise. Still, never count them out.
Most Intriguing Matchup Possibility: Rockets in Round 1
Best Chance of Getting Ousted: Nuggets in Round 2
3. Denver Nuggets
Denver might be the scariest team entering the playoffs. They have been absolutely dominant at home with an assist to the high altitude. They are one of a couple of run-and-gun Western Conference teams that can run just about anyone out of the building at any time. Their chances of getting into the later rounds of the playoffs appear good. If the Nuggets continue to roll, they could pose a serious challenge to the Thunder in the west.
Most Intriguing Matchup Possibility: Thunder in Round 3
Best Chance of Getting Ousted: Thunder in Round 3
4. LA Clippers
It has been an up-and-down year for the Clippers. They are an extremely dynamic and athletic team, but they do have weaknesses. I wonder how they would be exposed in a seven-game series. Chris Paul is still the best point guard in the league and his will to win is extraordinary. They get a tough draw in round one against the Grizzlies, one of the best defensive teams in the NBA.
Most Intriguing Matchup Possibility: Lakers in Round 2
Best Chance of Getting Ousted: Thunder in Round 2