One week later, the Western Conference looks even murkier than it did last week, and that’s saying something. Aside from the two teams at the top, who are winning in lock-step, the conference is wide, wide open. We know what’s up this season with the Rockets and Warriors,
so let’s take a look at the eight teams vying for the final six playoff berths.
#3- Portland Trailblazers
The Warriors and Rockets aren’t the only teams in the West that have caught fire after the break. Portland has reeled off eight straight wine to vault past the Spurs and Timberwolves to the three seed. In that stretch, they’ve beaten the Warriors, Timberwolves and the Thunder. Don’t sleep on these cats. Damian Lillard leads a young team that might not have star power, but can play with anyone in the league.
#4- New Orleans Pelicans
Why is New Orleans even in the Western Conference? Good question, but it’s more about
balancing the two conferences than anything else…There’s no good answer. What has become apparent, however, is that Anthony Davis is one of the game’s best players. Davis is averaging
almost thirty points per game alongside eleven assists, but the Pelicans are roillng without him
at 100%. Davis underwent an MRI on his ankle after coming out of Wednesday’s win over the
Kings. He’s questionable for Friday’s tilt with the Washington Wizards.
#5- San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are 3-7 over their last ten games, and they clearly can’t compete with the top teams
without Kawhi Leonard. LaMarcus Aldridge has been dinged up, and Tony Parker, Manu
Ginobili and crew are straight up gassed. Worse yet, they have a bear of a schedule coming
up. In their next ten games, they’ll need to face the Thunder, T-Wolves, Pelicans, Wizards, and
yes, the Rockets, and Warriors (twice…ouch). They are only two-and- a-half games from
missing the playoffs, and these next two weeks could spell the end if Kawhi Leonard doesn’t
come back strong.
#6- Minnesota Timberwolves
The T-Wolves are struggling, going 4-6 over their last ten games. Why, you might ask, they
looked poised to strike after the All-Star break…Jimmy Butler tore his meniscus just after the
break, and will be laid up for four weeks or so as he recovers, the rehabs the knee. His
contribution to the core of this team can’t be overstated. Help is on the way though. Former
MVP Derrick Rose is coming to town to reunite with former coach Tom Thibideau and Butler,
whom he played with in Chicago. While the veteran’s presence can’t hurt this young team, don’t
expect Rose to ignite a run all by himself. He’s not the player he once was.
#7- Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC is 6-4 over their last ten games and holding steady to one of the last few playoff slots.
They’ve come apart a bit defensively since the catastrophic injury to Andre Roberson’s patellar
tendon that ended his season. Russell Westbrook is still Russell Westbrook, averaging almost
a triple double, but Paul George hasn’t provided the burst that Thunder fans were hoping for
and Carmelo Anthony continues to drag teams down no matter how much he ends up scoring.
This is a team with superstars that happens to also be deeply flawed. I can see Westbrook
willing them into the playoffs, but they won’t be staying there for long.
#8- Los Angeles Clippers
If there’s a team that currently has a playoff slot that’s EXTREMELY likely to lose it, it’s these
Clippers. They traded away the face of their franchise, Blake Griffin to Detroit, and what’s left
frankly isn’t very scary. Sure, DeAndre Jordan is still there, and Lou Williams is averaging
twenty-three points per game, but it’s rebuild mode for these guys, who hope to be in the
LeBron business before long. But then again, who isn’t.
#9- Denver Nuggets
Everyone knows that road games in Denver’s altitude are tough. That’s why these Nuggets are
24-10 at home this year. It’s also why they’re in contention. Denver isn’t the sort of team that
splashes on the stats page. No one averages over twenty points per game. Only C Nikola
Jokic averages a double-double. But they grind out games and are staying in the mix. If they
can put together a late push that sees them win seven of ten, they can easily steal a playoff
#10- Utah Jazz
Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and the crew in Utah are on to something. They’ve rolled off
their last four games straight and are 8-2 over their last ten. More impressively, they’re 17-3
over their last twenty. The unit has clearly gelled over the past month and a half, with a more
balanced offense and center Rudy Gobert has asserted himself at both ends of the court. If the Clippers slip up, it’s likely that this is the team that will vault over them.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.