The third and 10th seeds in the NBA Western Conference are separated by only four-and-a-half games, and once the playoffs roll around, only the top eight seeds will make it. By evaluating their current play and upcoming schedules, the six teams that will make the playoffs and the two that will not can be decided.
In the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors have already clinched a playoff spot. Spots three through eight are still up for grabs.
The Portland Trail Blazers will take the first of the six playoff spots remaining. The Blazers are currently on a 10-game winning streak, and they are not slowing down. Out of their next 15 games, seven of them are at home and 10 are against teams that are currently in the playoffs. This makes their upcoming schedule semi-difficult, but they should stay motivated due to their winning streak.
Damian Lillard, the All-Star point guard of the Trail Blazers, has been doing a stellar job at leading his team. He is averaging 26.9 points per game, which is fifth in the league. If he continues to put up these impressive numbers, the Trail Blazers will definitely make the playoffs. Other key contributors include C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkić.
The only thing that might bring the Trail Blazers down is their lack of ball movement. They are dead last in assists per game as a team. If they can increase ball movement, it will help them make the playoffs and possibly make a deep playoff run.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will clinch the fourth playoff seed, but it will be a difficult task. The Thunder had a rocky start to the season, but have shown they are able to beat star teams like the Warriors, Rockets, and Raptors, so they definitely have the skill to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Thunder, of their 12 remaining games, 10 are against playoff teams and six are at home. Hopefully the Thunder can fight through this difficult schedule and snatch a playoff spot.
The Thunder have a lot of star power. Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Steven Adams are all major contributors to the Thunder’s success. The Thunder are leading the league in offensive rebounds, steals, loose balls recovered, and deflections, proving that they are a tough team to score on. It also shows the team’s hustle and how much they are willing to work for a win.
Although the team has a lot of heart, their downfall is going to come when their star players are off the court. The Thunder have the worst bench in the league, so unless they learn to play well against better benches, it puts the Thunder at risk of missing the playoffs, but with so much star power it is unlikely it will come to this.
The New Orleans Pelicans will also make a playoff seed. After the injury of All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, many thought the Pelican’s playoff hopes were crushed, but luckily this was not the case. All-Star forward Anthony Davis stepped up and is leading the Pelicans to the playoffs. The Pelicans have a difficult schedule with 11 out of 15 remaining games against playoff teams, but Davis is having an amazing season and should lead them through it.
Along with Davis, Rajon Rondo contributes greatly to the team with his passing skills and ability to rack up assists. Due to Davis and Rondo, the Pelicans are a very high scoring and assisting team, which will help them make the playoffs. The only thing that could go wrong is if Davis gets injured, which is not uncommon. Davis is one of the most injury-prone players in the league, but hopefully he will stay healthy for the remainder of the season.
Even after the injury of star player Jimmy Butler, the Minnesota Timberwolves will likely secure a playoff spot. The T-wolves have a very easy schedule remaining, with only five of 13 remaining games being against playoff teams, and seven will be at home. Even without Butler, the Timberwolves still have an All-Star center in Karl-Anthony Towns and a great scorer in Andrew Wiggins, who have both been able to help get wins against elite teams like the Warriors.
Even though the Timberwolves are a high scoring team, their inexperience and lack of leadership could hurt their chances for the playoffs. Towns and Wiggins are very young players, and neither can lead a team like Butler. Their youth may be a problem, but once Butler comes back, they will be a force in the league once again.
Although this was unexpected, the Utah Jazz will make the playoffs. The Jazz have been playing incredibly well recently and have an eight-to-two record since the All-Star Break. Also, the Jazz are currently on a six game winning streak, which will likely continue because their upcoming schedule is not too difficult. This is because only half of their remaining games are against playoff teams.
Donovan Mitchell is only a rookie, but he is one of the main reasons for the Jazz’s success. He is leading all rookies in points per game, averaging 19.7. Another phenomenal player on the Jazz is Rudy Gobert, who recently came back from an injury. He was the runner up for Defensive Player of the Year last season, and his defense still impresses.
The Jazz have the second highest defensive rating in the league, which makes up for their not-so-great offense. They are in the bottom 10 in points, assists, and rebounds per game. As long as the Jazz continue to play at this level, they will undoubtedly make the playoffs.
Freshman Hunter Hughes says, “The Utah Jazz has been performing extremely well recently and due to their great defense they should make the playoffs. They have definitely improved throughout the season and can compete against the best.”
The last playoff spot will be taken by the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have not missed the playoffs in 20 seasons, so it would be a shocker if they missed them this year. Unfortunately for the Spurs, their star player, Kawhi Leonard, has been injured for the majority of the season, which is why they are not doing as well as usual. Once he comes back, the Spurs will likely return to their dominant state, but until then they will struggle.
Currently, the odds are against the Spurs for making the playoffs. Twelve of their remaining 14 games are against playoff teams, and it is unknown when Leonard will return.
Even though they have a tough road ahead, the Spurs have more experience then any other team in the league. Many of their players are veterans who know what it feels like to win a championship, which will hopefully push them to make the last playoff spot. Also, the Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich, is the greatest coach in the league and in his 20 years with the Spurs, he has never missed the playoffs. If Leonard comes back in a timely fashion, the Spurs should be able to slip by and make the playoffs.
Since all of the predicted playoff seeds have been filled, it means the LA Clippers and the Denver Nuggets remain. These teams definitely have the skill to make the playoffs, but the competition is so close in the Western Conference that some great teams have to be left out.
The main reason why the LA Clippers will not make the playoffs is that there is a lack of leadership. The Clippers have star players like DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams, but since trading away Blake Griffin, they have lacked that one player who is the face of the franchise. The Clippers have also been known to choke in clutch situations and in the playoffs, so it is unlikely they will stride ahead of the other playoff teams.
The Denver Nuggets will not clinch a playoff seed because of their inexperience. The Nuggets do not have a lot of playoff experience and, compared to other teams that do in the Western Conference, it is hard seeing them make it. The Nuggets do not have a lot of star power, as well. They do not have any All Stars on their team, and unless their best player, Nikola Jokić, steps up, they will be unable to snatch a spot in the playoffs.
Freshman Matt Garelick says, “The Nuggets don’t really have a shot making the playoffs this season. There is just way to much competition in the West and they don’t have the star power to succeed against other teams.”
Which teams do you think will be left out of the playoffs in the Western Conference? Why?