Picking up right where we left off yesterday where we listed the current positions of the Top 5 teams in the Western conference, looked at what remaining opponents those five teams had and what their record has been against those opponents throughout the season, let’s now take a glance at the Bottom 3 teams and where they are at in the standings.
To remind you, after the projected finishes of each Top 5 team, the Western Conference standings would look like this:
1. Lakers 58-24
2. Jazz – 55-27
3. Mavs 54-28
4. Suns – 53-29
5. Nuggets 53-29
But could a team from the Bottom 3 leap ahead of any of the teams above them since the Thunder is only 1 1/2 back from ALL FOUR of the teams listed from the #2-#5 spots and actually still controls their own destiny with regards to winning the division (crazy, but true) and earning home-court advantage in the first round?
Well, let’s have a look…
The Oklahoma City Thunder sit in the #6 seed right now at 48-28, 1 1/2 games back from the #2-#5 seeds with six games remaining instead of five like the teams above them. That is the wrench in this entire process as the Thunder can’t make up the one extra loss they have, but they do have more games left to play to pad their win total and three of those games are against teams in front of them where the Thunder either have clinched the season series or are tied at 1-1.
The Thunder plays @Utah tonight, then hosts Denver, Phoenix, @ Golden State, @ Portland and ends the season at home against Memphis.
Yeah, I know, it’s a daunting schedule. But it’s not any worse than what the Nuggets, Spurs, etc have left so let’s have a look at how the Thunder have done this year against their remaining opponents.
The Thunder are 3-0 against the Jazz, 1-2 against the Nuggets, 1-1 against the Suns, 3-0 against the Warriors, 1-2 against the Blazers and 1-1 against the Grizzlies. If you’re sitting here saying, “Wow, anything could happen from here on out,” then I wholeheartedly agree with you.
But here’s how I see it playing out for argument’s sake: Like I said yesterday, I just can’t see the Thunder sweeping the Jazz 4-0 in the regular season on the Jazz’s home court since the Thunder’s only victory against something even resembling a full-strength Jazz squad was at home on New Year’s Eve and it was a nail-biter. If this game was in OKC, I would be going the other direction with Kirilenko’s health/status still up in the air. But it’s not.
On the flip side of that, I think it’s much more reasonable for the Thunder to beat the ailing Nuggets at home tomorrow night AND beat the Suns at home on Friday night, before going to the Bay area and beating the Warriors for the fourth straight time this year. That would put the Thunder at 3-1 and 51-29 on the year, needing two more wins to tie the Suns and Nuggets at 53-29 and, by virtue of their victories over those two teams in this projected week, land them the tie-breaker over both and earn them the #4 seed and home court advantage in the playoffs.
And that would make the Portland game about as big as it gets, folks. But you know what, I think the Thunder go to Portland and do it. I think they beat the Blazers at Rip City in this scenario and then beat Memphis at home to finish 53-29 and steal home-court advantage from the Suns and Nuggets.
Now what would really, REALLY be crazy is if the Thunder beat the Jazz tonight and beat the Nuggets on Wednesday because then they’d be positioned, at 11-4 in the division, to win the division outright and earn the #3 seed in the playoffs if they beat the Portland Trailblazers and/or the Jazz unexpectedly lose to a team they should beat.
That’s right, you just read that correctly. The Thunder are still in play for the #3 seed in the playoffs and a division title if they take care of business and/or take care of most of their business plus get some help along the way.
But I still think the most likely scenario is that the Thunder finish with the #4 seed at 53 wins and 29 losses.
The San Antonio Spurs sit at the #7 seed right now with 47 wins and 29 losses. They also have six games remaining on their schedule but sit 2 1/2 games back of the Top 5. The Spurs play @Sacramento, @Phoenix, home to the Grizzlies, @Denver, home to Minnesota then wrap up the season @Dallas.
Who in the world made up that schedule to end the season, Steve Nash? —*And yes, I would still not be over that hip-check, Amare slipped a toe onto the court, nonsensical call either so good for Nash in my hypothetical scenario.
The Spurs are 3-0 against the Kings, 1-1 against the Suns, 2-1 against the Grizzlies, 1-2 against the Nuggets, 2-0 against the Timberwolves and 1-2 against the Mavericks.
So if everything holds true-to-form, I see the Spurs going 3-3 in their final six games, beating the Kings, Grizzlies and T-Wolves but losing to the Suns, Nuggets and Mavericks as all of those games are on the road. That would give the Spurs a record of 50 wins and 32 losses.
Finally, we wrap this up with the Portland Trailblazers who sit in the dreaded #8 seed spot with a record of 47-30. The Blazers have only five games remaining (the only team in the Bottom 3 to not have six games left) and so their ability to climb above the bottom #7 seed is pretty low unless the teams above them choke or fold. And let me tell you, anything is possible right now in the Western Conference so don’t count that out.
But let’s look at the Blazers remaining schedule to see how likely it is that this team could get enough wins to make that a reality. The Blazers play @Clippers, host Dallas, @Lakers, then finish out the year with home games against Oklahoma City and Golden State.
50 wins is certainly within reach, right?
The Blazers are 2-1 against the Clippers, 3-0 against the Mavericks, 1-1 against the Lakers, 2-1 against the Thunder and 2-1 against the Warriors.
And here’s where I may surprise some people, but I think the Blazers actually finish the season on a 4-1 run with their only loss coming to the hands of the “Playing for a Division Title or Home-court advantage” Thunder, giving the Blazers 51 wins and 31 losses to end the year, which would then mean that they climb out of that #8 seed and find themselves playing a team they’re 0-4 against on the season. Congratulations on the #7 seed!
1. Los Angeles Lakers – 58-24
2. Utah Jazz – 55-27
3. Dallas Mavericks- 54-28
4. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER – 53-29
5. Phoenix Suns – 53-29
6. Denver Nuggets – 53-29
7. Portland Trailblazers – 51-31
8. San Antonio Spurs – 50-32
Wow, all eight teams get above 50 wins and it sets up one heck of a first round Battle Royale in the Western Conference. Just look at these match-ups:
#1 seed Los Angeles Lakers versus the #8 seed San Antonio Spurs
#2 seed Utah Jazz versus the #7 seed Portland Trailblazers
#3 seed Dallas Mavericks versus the #6 seed Denver Nuggets
#4 seed Oklahoma City Thunder versus the #5 seed Phoenix Suns
Are you kidding me? Does it get any better than that?!
The best part of all though is that that’s only one of countless possibilities concerning how the playoff match-ups could end up over the next 9 days. But you know what, cue the black-and-white, slow-motion video with that sweet piano playing in the background as we watch a game-winning shot send 15,000 people into a frenzy.
I’m ready for wherever these next six games take us.