The Western Conference playoff race is like an episode of Breaking Bad. It’s tense. It’s getting tenser but, nothing is quite happening, yet. So, it’s little surprise that the current “Race for Second Place” hasn’t feature the same slips and slides as the Race for Eighth currently underway in the Eastern Conference. However, with just a handful of games to go, the race for second out West is still wide open.
- Houston, Memphis, Los Angeles and San Antonio are all still vying for the second seed;
- The Clippers’ chances are dependent on the fortunes of other teams;
- Portland will not slip below 4th after clinching the Northwest Division title
Clippers keep on clippin’ (52-26)
Games remaining: vs. Lakers, vs. Grizzlies, vs. Denver, @ Suns
The Clippers have lost just once since March 17 (a four-point loss to Golden State) but not even that’s been enough to budge them in the standings. In fact, it took a drubbing of the hallway rival Lakers on Sunday night just to get some breathing room on the currently sixth-placed Spurs. The road home involves four very winnable games but the Clippers will still be relying on their opponents to drop some games in the final week if they hope of rising up the standings. A home game against Memphis is the biggest game left on the calendar. Right now, the math predicts there’s a 35% chance the Clippers will match up with the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Do the Clippers covet a top four seed enough that they’re willing to take on the Grizzlies or the Spurs in the opening round?
Houston Rockets (53-24)
Games remaining: @ Spurs, vs. Spurs, vs. Pelicans, @ Hornets, vs. Jazz
The Rockets almost had the perfect week but dropped a tight one in Toronto on the second night of a back-to-back. Houston currently holds the second seed outright (one game lead on Memphis) but has a telling home-and-home against the San Antonio Spurs later this week. The outcome of that fixture will go a long way in determining whether Houston can hold out the number two spot. The Rockets also face two teams scrapping for playoff spots after that (New Orleans and Charlotte).
If a tie ensues, things get very complicated between the Rockets and the Grizzlies but fortunately, the math is a lot simpler for the Clippers: if they want Houston’s two-spot, they will need Houston to drop at least three of their last five games (and the Clippers to win out).
Memphis Grizzlies (52-25)
Games remaining: vs. Pelicans, @ Jazz, @ Clippers, @ Warriors, vs. Pacers
The Grizzlies have struggled more than any of the other teams up the top of the Western Conference of late, compounded by Tony Allen’s hamstring woes. Memphis has barely played above .500 since the All-Star Break and although losing to the Wizards when four of your starters are missing on the road is one thing, losing to the Wizards at home with those starters is a very different cause for concern. A desperate Pelicans team comes to town on Wednesday before the Grizz take off on a 3-game road swing via Utah and California (Clippers and Warriors). The Clippers would need at least another Grizzlies loss and a big win this weekend to leapfrog Memphis in the standings.
Portland Trailblazers (50-27)
Games remaining: vs. Timberwolves, @ Warriors, vs. Jazz, @ Thunder, @ Mavericks
After winning six from seven, the Blazers lost in Brooklyn against the Nets last night. With Chris Kaman, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum all out, the Blazers seem to have conceded the chance at home court advantage in the first round in lieu of trying to get healthy (remember, the Trail Blazers will fall no further than fourth after clinching the Northwest Division). By virtue of the Blazers being stuck in the fourth seed, the rest of the teams fighting to ride things out as the fourth seed in the West. The Clippers are currently 1.5 games ahead of the Blazers and look likely to maintain that lead until season’s end.
San Antonio Spurs (51-26)
Games remaining: @ Thunder, vs. Rockets, @ Rockets, vs. Denver, @ Suns
The San Antonio Spurs (besides the Golden State Warriors) are the talk of the town right now. After ripping off three consecutive wins against Oklahoma City, Dallas and Memphis and kept things going recording their seventh straight win and making a statement against the Warriors on Sunday. Despite their recent dominance, the Spurs are trapped in a holding pattern, much like the Clippers, albeit in the sixth seed. Right now, online predictors have the Clippers facing the Spurs in the first round. In that scenario with the Clippers finishing third, the Clippers would logically avoid a match up with the Warriors until the Western Conference Finals. However, the question remains: is facing the Spurs in the first round for that to occur, really worth it?A telling home-and-home against the Rockets this week will make the landscape a little clearer.
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