As of now, it looks like the top seven seeds in the Western Conference are set. The Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit in the seven seed. They have seven more wins than the Denver Nuggets, who currently hold the eighth seed.
The seven top seeds in the West also are the only Western Conference teams with positive point differentials this year. It seems like the top seven seeds in the West will be, in some order, the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Jazz, Clippers, Grizzlies and Thunder.
That leaves one spot up for grabs in the playoffs this year. This is already an unusual position for teams to be in in the Western Conference. According to Tom Haberstroh on Twitter, the projected record of the eight seed in the West would be the worst since 1997.
So with a plethora of teams fighting for that final spot, what teams have the potential to make a strong push in the final months of the season?
[su_heading size=”14″]The Contenders[/su_heading]
The Denver Nuggets currently hold the eighth spot. Although their lead is still slim, they have a good chance of keeping that spot in the final few months.
For starters, Nikola Jokic has been on a tear recently. In his last 10 games Jokic has put up 22.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game. Those are elite numbers coming from the young big men. The emergence of Jokic as a truly elite big man put the Nuggets in good position to keep their playoff hopes alive this spring.
Their deep bench has also been a huge asset this season. The young backcourt of Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray has been performing well so far this season. Murray or Mudiay have been featured in four out of the five most efficient lineups for the Nuggets. Their young talent has given them depth off of the bench that could make them a threat down the stretch.
Their trade earlier this week makes it clear that they are trying to make the playoffs this year. Mason Plumlee will be a big help for the Nuggets and has been having a great season so far. They also eliminate the somewhat redundant skill-sets of Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic that has been plaguing them all season. The Nuggets have to be the favorite to take the eighth seed at this point.
The Sacramento Kings could also contend for that final spot. The Kings have one thing that the Nuggets lack. They put one of the top players in the league onto the court every night.
Demarcus Cousins has been having yet another great season for the Kings this year. He is averaging 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, and has improved his three point shot significantly. The injury to Rudy Gay will make it difficult to win enough games down the stretch however. They have been keeping their head above water without Gay, but his scoring threat is dearly missed on the team.
If the Kings are able to make a deal at the deadline that brings them more scoring, they have a shot at making the playoffs. Otherwise, the playoffs may be a pipe dream. With their supreme lack of talent outside of Cousins, it may be better to have a lottery pick this season anyways.
The Portland Trailblazers have been somewhat of a disappointment this season, but remain in contention for the eight seed. The Blazers are another team that desperately needs a trade before the deadline if they want to contend.
The acquisition of Nurkic will certainly be helpful, but it’s unlikely that he is enough to turn the team around. Regardless, they now have three first round picks in the stacked 2017 draft. That removes any motivation for the team to tank down the stretch. That increased motivation may be enough to push them by their competition.
Additionally, they now have to make up for the lost production of Mason Plumlee. It’s hard to see the Blazers having an actual shot at the playoffs this season with the way things have gone. With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum anything is possible though, and they will continue to be a threat this year.
The rumors connecting the New Orleans Pelicans to Brook Lopez and Jahlil Okafor make the Pelicans a threat this spring. Okafor may not be enough to tip the scales on the Pelicans season, but the addition of Brook Lopez would certainly give this team a new breath of life.
Anthony Davis has been having a ludicrous season while averaging 28.0 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. Jrue Holiday has also been having a great season for the struggling Pelicans. The addition of Lopez would make them the favorite for getting the eighth seed.
Anthony Davis is one of the most talented players in the league. He has shown he is capable of dragging subpar teams to the playoffs as he did in 2015, and if he stays healthy this spring the Pelicans will remain contenders. He is just that good.
[su_heading size=”14″]The Pretenders [/su_heading]
Despite their recent success, the Dallas Mavericks won’t be making the playoffs this season. Harrison Barnes has been great this season, and Yogi Ferrell has been a revelation off of his 10-day contract. This team simply doesn’t have enough depth and talent to push them past some of the other Western Conference contenders.
Their recent losses to Portland and Denver reinforce that position. The Mavericks are pretenders, and won’t be making the playoffs this year.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are an incredibly talented team. They have a ton of potential and young stars. This, however, is not their year. They’ve lost Zach Lavine for the rest of the year. It’s time for them to try and put themselves in the best position possible for the 2017 draft.
The Timberwolves also have the toughest remaining strength of schedule in the entire league. It will be too hard for them to overcome their injuries and tough schedule this year.
Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns have absolutely no chance at the playoffs. The Lakers need to be trying to lose as many games as possible this season, as they only keep their top pick if it falls in the top-three.
The Suns are simply terrible. They have only won six games in-conference this season, and have shown almost no signs of life this season. They have young pieces, but it is time for them to tank.