Here’s a fun fact.
In the Eastern Conference, the eight playoff teams have been decided. Sure, we might see a little bit of movement, but the teams in the dance know they need to get ready. That’s kind of normal for an eighty-two game season. In the West, however, it’s a completely different story. The Western Conference continues to be pure, unadulterated chaos, except at the very top. The Jazz are currently seeded fourth in the conference, and with four games to play in the season, they can still be eliminated. That’s just bizarre. The Jazz have a good chance of standing pat, mind you they’re playing the best ball of the seven teams vying for the five remaining playoff slots at 7-3 over their last ten games. It’s just that nothing would surprise
me at this point.
The Warriors are straight up limping into the playoffs, and despite having a lock on the two seed, look middle of the pack at best. Let’s be clear. If they had to play the Rockets, or even the Trail Blazers in the first round, it would be over quickly. They probably can’t contend with either of those teams in their current form. It’s a good thing for fans of good basketball that they’re likely to have the T-Wolves, or Thunder in the first round. A Thunder series would probably be fun to watch with the abbreviated version of the defending champs. Golden State needs to advance, get healthy and try to reintegrate key players on the fly. If they keep their heads above water until Curry is back and Thompson’s thumb is right, they can think about defending. Until then, it’s strictly survival mode for these Warriors.
I’m not saying that the Clippers are making a run, but bear with me. The Clippers, or, as everyone I know calls them “Lakers-Lite”, are sitting in tenth place, two games out of the eighth seed and needing to leapfrog both the Nuggets and the Pelicans. That might seem insurmountable. Except, of course for the fact that the Clippers have games left against BOTH TEAMS and just beat the Spurs after trailing by nineteen in the first half, and by eleven to start the fourth quarter. If they can string it together, it would be the perfect ending to this year’s Western Conference seeding. Of course, that Cinderella story would end quickly against the Rockets. Or, would it? (It would.)
Most exciting first round series to watch? Easy. It’s wherever the Spurs end up. Assuming, like I am, that they’ll cling doggedly to a middle seed, this is where the action is. If the seeds were to hold, they’d tangle with a young and exciting Jazz team. That series would have an amazing changing of the guard feel to it. If they slide to the six seed? They’ll have the Trail Blazers and you’ll see some selfless, team-first ball for the whole series. If they slide all the way to the seven seed? A date with a vulnerable, paper-thin Warriors team that probably doesn’t want to see a team that is so well coached, Kawhi Leonard or not. That team is just loaded with crafty veterans who know how to win in the playoffs. Don’t sleep on the Spurs. They’re weaker without Kawhi, sure, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t dangerous.
Is Jimmy Butler really ready to rejoin the T-Wolves for a playoff run? If he is, the T-Wolves become an awesome dark horse to watch in these playoffs. A first round series with Portland would be fun to watch, as would a tilt with the Warriors if they stay in the seventh seed. As the team’s leading scorer, Butler would bring a much needed offensive spark to an offense that relies on Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell far too much in his absence. I’d love to see Butler return in time for the first round, but as we know, knee injuries are nothing to mess around with.
Last question: If the Warriors manage to get back to full strength, does that make them to team to beat in the West? I don’t know that it does actually. This year’s Warriors, even with all their parts, haven’t looks as organized and polished as previous versions. The ball movement isn’t as precise, nor is the team defense. Until we see a cohesive Warriors team that looks like last year’s championship squad, the Rockets have to be the favorites to come out of the West.
Image source: USA Today