The National Basketball Association (NBA) race for the playoffs is heating up especially in the Western Conference where four teams are in the mad dash for the finish line.
Three teams have clinched postseason slots as the San Antonio Spurs (57-16), Oklahoma City Thunder (54-19) and Los Angeles Clippers (52-20) currently owns the top three places—and most like will end up there with the homecourt advantage in the first round.
Two more—the Houston Rockets (49-23 the Portland Trail Blazers (48-27) — have virtually advanced barring any catastrophic collapse. These teams will most likely end up with the 4th and 5th seeds although which one will get the homecourt advantage is still up in the air.
Finally four other teams are slugging it out for the 6th to 8th spots in the West. Only 2 games separate the No. 6 team from the No. 9 team which means great basketball drama as the regular season winds down to its final two weeks.
Battle for the 8th Seed – Western Conference
Golden State Warriors (45-28) Games remaining - 9 left (4 home, 5 away) - @Mavericks, @Spurs, vs. Kings, vs. Jazz, vs. Nuggets, @Lakers, @Blazers, vs. Timberwolves, @ Nuggets
Phoenix Suns (44-30) Games remaining – 8 left (2 home, 6 away) - vs. Clippers, @Blazers, @Pelicans, @Spurs, @Mavericks, vs. Grizzlies, @Kings
Dallas Mavericks (44-30) Games remaining – 8 left (3 home, 5 away) - vs. Warriors, @Clippers, @Lakers, @Kings, @Jazz, vs. Spurs, vs. Suns, @ Grizzlies
Memphis Grizzlies (43-30) Games remaining – 9 left (5 home, 4 away) @Nuggets, @Timberwolves, vs. Nuggets, @Spurs, Heat, 76ers, vs. Lakers, @Suns, vs. Mavericks
Strength of Schedule Analysis
Prediction: All teams will play eight or nine games but most interesting during these final two weeks is that the teams involved in the race the final slots will be playing each other at some point. Indeed, anything can happen especially if one can take advantage by getting the crucial games against their rivals.
The Suns with eight games left appears to have the toughest schedule. Not only six of eight games are away from home but also, six of eight will be against teams who are already in the playoff picture! The Mavs have a similar tough schedule: they only play in Dallas 3 out of 8 left and five are against playoff squads or teams battling them out for a postseason slot.
Conversely, the Warriors and Grizzlies have the easier stretch with lowly teams in their schedule. Golden State has Denver (twice), Sacramento, Utah and the L.A. Lakers. Memphis has Denver (twice), Minnesota, L.A. Lakers and Philadelphia.
Of course, those teams can play spoilers this late in the season. But it appears that the Warriors and Grizzlies have the inside track if strength of schedule is considered. For the eighth and final spot, it’s going to be the Mavs and the Suns… And the squad with veteran star Dirk Nowitzki looks like the better bet to make postseason.