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In the following piece, I looked at each Western Conference team that is still in the playoff hunt and broke down their remaining games according to number of home/away games and games against playoff bound/hopeful teams, which for me, includes the current 1-8 seeds in the East, and nearly the entire West, save for Sacramento, Phoenix, New Orleans and Minnesota. It’s not scientific, and if I broke down each remaining game one by one, this article would be much, much too long…it’s long in its current form. Let me know your predictions in the comments below.
This comes down to the Spurs and the OKC Thunder (the Clippers are unlikely to be a threat for this anymore, and are currently in 4th place, beneath the Grizzlies). Coming into their matchup on March 11th, both teams have 19 games remaining, with the Spurs having 12 home games/9 away games and the Thunder away 10 games and home for 9. The Spurs have a relatively tough schedule up ahead, facing 13 playoff bound or playoff hopeful teams in the process. Some nuggets: they face OKC twice, GS twice, Denver twice, and Miami, Houston, Memphis, Atlanta, the Lakers and the Jazz. The Thunder have a slightly easier schedule compared to the Spurs, even though they have more away games, facing off against 12 playoff bound/hopeful teams. Significant games include Portland twice, Milwaukee twice, Utah twice, Indiana, New York, Denver, GS, Memphis, and of course San Antonio amongst their toughest match ups. With only a single game lead over the Thunder coming into their matchup, the Spurs will have a difficult time holding on to the 1st seed in the West, and overall as well, as Miami has a pretty easy schedule coming up, with only 9 out of their remaining 21 games against playoff bound/hopeful teams. Their toughest opponents include Boston (twice), Chicago (twice), Milwaukee (twice) and Atlanta and New York. They also face off against Orlando twice, Cleveland twice, Charlotte twice and Detroit, Washington and New Orleans, all lottery bound teams. This will result in a 64-18 record, as I can only see them realistically lose to four of these teams. I can even see going as high as 66-16.
If all goes well for the Spurs, they can squeak by OKC for the first seed in West, but will lose out to the Heat for the best seed overall, losing a crucial home court advantage against the defending champions. I don’t want to call any games, but even without Tony Parker, the Spurs *should* be able to take care of at almost half of the games remaining, beating the likes of Minnesota, Sacramento, Atlanta, Orlando, Utah, Cleveland and Dallas with ease. These games amount to eight of their last 19 games. If they split their remaining 11 (go 6-5, which is likely, due to Tony missing a month), they will end with a 62-20 record. The Spurs face off against nearly every team fighting for the last three seeds in the West, meaning they will have a huge hand in deciding who makes the playoffs and where they end up. They play the Lakers on April 14th, the last week of the season, in what will be a heated game, especially for Los Angeles. Oklahoma City has 10 easy games remaining, likely dispatching Utah, Milwaukee, Sacramento, Minnesota, Orlando and Washington with ease. If they split the other 9 games, they will end up with 61-21 record, just a single game behind the Spurs. This can make a huge difference if they are to meet in the Western Conference Finals, and is a race that Pounders should keep an eye on. The Spurs will need to focus in their two upcoming games against the Thunder, because if they tie the season matchup, AND end up tied overall, they will fall to the second seed, seeing as their current conference record is 26-11 compared to 31-9 for OKC.
The Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets are within two games of each other, making the battle for these three middle spots as close as the one for the 6-8 seeds. Memphis (42-19), LAC (45-20) and Denver (42-22) are trying to get in the top half of the West, as that will assure them home court for at least a single round.
Memphis has a tough schedule up ahead, with 15 games out of 21 against playoff bound/hopeful teams. 13 of them are away, and 8 are at home. If they win their match ups against the lottery bound teams, and split the 15 remaining games (8-7), they can end up at 56-26.
LAC has 17 games left, with only 8 away from Staples Center, where they have one of the best records in the league, at 24-7. 10 of their games come against playoff bound/hopeful teams; if they split these and win the other eight, they will come out with a 57-25 record, giving the franchise their first ever 50 win season. Their toughest games come against Memphis (twice), New York, San Antonio, Indiana, Houston and Portland. The two games against the Grizzlies will be crucial to their hopes for a top 3 or 4 seed. If they lose both games, they stand a good chance at dropping to 5th.
Denver (like the Clippers) has 18 games left, with (again, like the Clippers) 8 games away from Mile High City and 10 at home, where they have the record in the league, tied with Miami, at 28-3. Applying the same logic as I have for the previous few teams, the Nuggets have 13 of these 18 games against playoff bound/hopeful teams, facing the Spurs twice, Dallas twice, Memphis, OKC, Houston, Chicago, New York and Portland as their toughest competition. If they can win their 5 games against lesser opponents and split the 13 games 7-6, they will end with a record of 56-26, tied with the Grizzlies. The Nuggets lead the season series 2-1, and their remaining matchup is in Denver, which the Nuggets are likely to win. This will drop the Grizzlies from their current perch at 3rd all the way to 5th, without crucial home advantage, and likely facing the Nuggets, who will be a tough out in the playoffs, especially in the thin air of the Pepsi Center.
The 6-8 seeds are pretty much up for grabs these last twenty games, as Golden State (6th), Houston (7th) and Lakers (8th) struggle to hold off the Jazz (9th), Portland (10th) and Dallas (11th). The 6th seed is separated by 5.5 games from the 11th; while it is unlikely that Dallas or Portland advance to the postseason, to quote Kevin Garnett, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!
Golden State has been terrible on the road, but luckily most of their remaining games are at home, where they will host 12 of their total 18. They will face 11 playoff bound/hopeful teams, with San Antonio (twice), Portland (twice), Los Angeles (twice), New York, Chicago, Houston, and Oklahoma City as their toughest opponents. The games against Portland and Los Angeles will have huge playoff ramifications, and if those two teams are still on the edge or just outside of the 8th seed, they will mark the game against Golden State as a significant game for their playoff dreams. Golden State must finish strong in order to stay in the playoff picture, but have been backsliding this entire calendar year. After a 21-10 start in 2012, they have gone 14-19 since, and are on a 5-11 slide in their past 16 games. If they play .500 ball the rest of the way (going 9-9), they will end with a record of 44-38, which should be enough to sneak into the playoffs. If they continue their backsliding ways, they will go 7-11, finishing with a record of 42-42.
Houston is currently in the seventh seed, in a season that was thought to be a rebuilding year in order to integrate so many new players into the team. Regardless, behind the star power of James Harden, and lesser stars such as Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons, the Rockets have built a high-flying team that will cause trouble for any team they come across. They don’t play much defense, but they will definitely score on you, boasting a top five offense and players that will rain threes. Unfortunately for Houston, they have learned that offense can’t win you every game, and currently have a record of 34-30, one game behind Golden State and one game ahead of the Lakers, due to their porous defense, second to last in the league in points allowed. Depending on a good or bad stretch of games, they can jump to sixth or fall out of the picture all together, so these next 18 games will decide if this young team is really up to the challenge of vying for a playoff spot. Just like Golden State, 12 of their remaining games are at home, but their slate is slightly easier, as they only face 10 playoff bound/hopeful teams, compared to 11 for the Warriors. Their toughest match ups will be Memphis (twice), LAC, Golden State, San Antonio, Portland and the Lakers, who they play in each team’s final game of the season. This game could decide the playoff fates for both teams, but I predict it will matter more for the Lakers, who have been the more inconsistent of the two. If the Rockets defeat their easier opponents and go .500 against their tougher opponents, they will have a 47-25 record, a very capable feat, seeing as their point differential (a very good indicator of how good a team is) is +3.4, while Golden State, Utah, Portland and Dallas all have negative ones. Guess who has a positive point differential, yet had to fight all season to claw back into playoff contention?
Yep, the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m sure ESPN has covered them well enough, so I’ll do this one quickly. Kobe has essentially put the team on his back and is willing the Lakers to the playoffs, which they would currently advance to if the season ended today. At 33-31, they occupy the 8th seed, a half game above Utah and 3 above Portland and Dallas. They also have 18 games remaining, but only 8 are at home. They face 12 playoff bound/hopeful teams, and tough ‘better than their record’ teams such as Phoenix, New Orleans, Washington and Minnesota. If they split their remaining games, which they are wont to do, due to their sieve of a defense (26th in points allowed), they will finish at 42-40. Is this good enough for 8th?
Utah had a firm grip on the 8th spot for much of the season, but a recent backslide (3-7 in their past 10), coupled with an 8-2 run by the Lakers, has dropped the Jazz out of the current playoff picture. Unfortunately for Utah, they have 19 games remaining, with 13 of them coming against playoff bound/hopeful teams. They will face Memphis and Portland twice, New York, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, Denver and Golden State. Even their easier games are against decent teams, with Philadelphia, Phoenix, New Orleans and Minnesota liable to beat them at least once or twice. If they win 4 of their 6 easy games and split the other 13 (7-6), they will finish with a 41-41 record, a single game shy of the Lakers for the final spot in the playoffs. Games against Houston, Portland, Dallas and Golden State will be crucial for their chances at reaching the postseason.
Dallas and Portland both have 29-33 records, but have an outside chance at sneaking into the playoffs given the right circumstances. Both teams are dangerous, with Dirk Nowitzki rounding into shape after his injury set him back early this season, and the Blazers with their intriguing core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, J.J. Hickson, Wes Matthews and eventual Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard. The Mavericks have 10 home games and 8 away games, with a whopping 15 out of 20 of these games against playoff bound/hopeful teams. In order to get their record around 42-40, the Mavs will have to go 13-7, a tall task. This means they definitely need to defeat their easier match ups in Cleveland, Sacramento, and New Orleans. The bigger tasks lie in the games against San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Denver and the two Los Angeles teams. This will not be easy, and due to this, I predict they’ll likely go 40-42 at the very best, winning their five easy games and at most eight of their difficult ones. The Trail Blazers have 9 games away and 11 at home, with 18 of those games against playoff bound/hopeful teams. Their easiest games come against Detroit and Philadelphia, dangerous teams on given nights. If Dallas didn’t have much of a chance, then Portland stands an even lesser chance to make the playoffs, and will likely end with a record of 38-48, winning their easy games and maybe pulling upsets against Milwaukee, Atlanta, Golden State and Utah.
1. San Antonio 62-20
2. Oklahoma City 61-21
3. Los Angeles Clippers 57-25
4. Denver Nuggets 56-26
5. Memphis Grizzlies 56-26
6. Houston Rockets 47-25
7. Golden State 44-38
8. Los Angeles Lakers 42-20
9. Utah 41-41
10. Dallas 40-42
11. Portland 38-48
To reiterate, this was not very scientific article a la J. Gomez, ghost, or cam4, and I purely looked at schedules, focusing on home and away games and match ups against teams vying for the playoffs.
Take a look at John Hollinger’s Playoff Odds for his take, and let me know your own predictions. Who do you think will face off with who, and what match ups will be the most intriguing? Do the Spurs stand a better chance against the Lakers, Golden State or Houston? I personally think they stand the best chance against the Lakers and their bad defense, but I don’t want the Spurs to waste energy on stopping a hell-bent Kobe Bryant in his final years.
All schedules and stats from espn.com
Only three teams in the entire league are above .700 are on top of the Western Conference: the Thunder, the Clippers and our beloved Spurs. Coming into Tuesday night’s matchup, the Clippers and Thunder each had 32 wins, with OKC having only 9 losses to LA’s 10. I was excited about seeing these two play each other, as it assured at least one of these teams losing their lead over us, and to see just how good these teams were against top competition.
The Clippers were 19-4 at home, third best in the league only to the Spurs and Thunder (surprise!), and have a good record against elite competition, having defeated the Spurs twice and quality wins against the Grizzlies, Heat, Warriors, Nuggets, Bulls and Celtics. Their 17 win streak showcased their ability to run teams off of the floor with their aggressiveness on defense, which led to steals and the best fast break in the league, as DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin streak down the floor awaiting a lob from Chris Paul. Eric Bledsoe is frequently included in both sides of the equation, and is an x-factor for their hopes of getting far in the playoffs.
The Thunder have been doing well, as always. Even after losing James Harden, they have kept their winning ways. They are nearly on a better pace than last year, winning a blistering 79% of their games due mainly to Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook and second best player in the league, Kevin Durant, having career years, in addition to Kevin Martin filling in the 6th man role quite nicely, averaging enough points and a good percentage even though he doesn’t possess the same playmaking abilities as the Beard. The core of this team is ridiculously talented and younger than 25, which means the Spurs don’t have much time before they’re nearly impossible to beat.
The weaknesses for the Clippers seems to be an over-reliance on Chris Paul to run their offensive system, as their offense becomes a sort of isolation game for whoever has the ball in their hands, and lapses defensively. On the Thunder’s side, turnovers and boneheadedness seem to their biggest challenges, but that did not hinder them this night against LA. They had 6 more turnovers than the Clippers, and allowed 19 points from them. They limited the fast break, as the Clippers only scored 8 points, but were defeated down low, with more than half of their points coming from the paint. Out of their 35 field goals inside the 3 point arc, 26 of them were in the paint. Blake Griffin did his damage inside, accumulating 31 points and putting Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison in foul trouble. They had 9 more fouls than the Clippers and shot many fewer free throws, but their great shooting percentages and assist numbers allowed them to prevail in a hostile environment. They shot above 55% on 3 pointers and 52% overall, along with 86% from FT (compared to 71% on LA’s side). Kevin Durant scored 32, Westbrook had 26. They also had a nice advantage on the assist side, nine over.
I was impressed with Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe, but everybody else needs Chris Paul to be successful. Blake did well himself, but got a lot of calls at home, while Bledsoe is crazily athletic and speedy, nearly matching Westbrook on pure athleticism and a threat to blow past you at any second. In the end they were not enough without their floor general,
Cliff Chris Paul, to lead the tempo and set up the offense. His superior playmaking ability and vision would have made a fun matchup against Russell Westbrook. But without him, they fell to the Thunder, putting their record at 32-11, one game below the Spurs and two and a half below the Thunder. The Spurs also have the league’s longest winning streak at 5 (not 17, that’s for sure), and hope to extend it Wednesday night against New Orleans. They’ve been a tough match, but the Spurs are on a roll, even without Manu. Timmy and Tony have been picking up the load, big time.
Funny thing is that nearly every elite team has an elite point guard: Clippers - Paul, Thunder - Westbrook, Spurs - Parker, Heat - James(making an exception, but you know it’s true). There are great (and not so great) teams that have amazing point guards, such as the Cavs, Celtics, Trail Blazers and maybe the Nets (if Deron gets back on track) and the Bulls (if Rose comes back healthy). It seems that a great playmaker is needed nowadays in order to go all the way to the championship. I hope Tony and Manu can be those playmakers.
Our boys in Silver and Black have been consistent these past couple of weeks, winning their last 6 games of 2012, but have sputtered out a 2-2 start in 2013, first winning against the Bucks, getting destroyed at Madison Square Garden (on the 4th game in 5 nights, AND on a back to back), taking care of the 76ers before getting pushed around by the Hornets, soon to be Pelicans, on Monday. Nothing special to note, except for the sudden rejuvenation of the one and only Emanuel David Ginobili. See the proof below:
Not only is his vision and sweet passing back (and he’s cut down on his turnovers, which were haunting him early in the season), but he has shown he still has enough lift on those legs for a quick dunk or two. Seeing him explode to the basket and pass the ball through tight spots has given me reassurance that this team will go far into the playoffs. We need him to lead the second-unit, from being THE star in the lineup, to handling the ball and allowing either Patty Mills or Gary Neal to act as small Shooting Guards in the offensive attack, perfect for their skill set. He also helps Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair in the pick and roll game, as both Manu and the big men execute it almost perfectly, with the defense having to choose between either a wide open jumpshot for Manu or a clean layup/dunk for the guy barreling towards the rim. When the pick and roll is done well, it can be nearly unstoppable, but only with the right personnel and execution, as the Spurs have shown the past couple of seasons. The offense has been doing well, but the defense has allowed too many points this calendar year, even letting the offensively challenged Bucks to score 110. They are still only one of two teams to be in the top 5 of both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency. The other? Surprise, it’s the Clippers, who are scary this year, possibly having a deeper bench than the Mariana Trench Spurs, with very different players occupying the 5 positions.
Point Guard - Eric Bledsoe vs Gary Neal/Patty Mills. Slight advantage to Bledsoe. Bledsoe is more of a traditional point guard, and follows in Chris Paul’s footsteps as a stocky and shockingly athletic player, who disrupts plays with his steals and dunks and uses his jumping ability to grab a good amount of rebounds for someone his size. But stats show another story. Sure, Bledsoe has a high PER of 19 while Patty and Gary are in the 12-14 range. But they both better offense, making more threes, shooting the ball better and Gary scoring more points. I still have to give the slight edge to Bledsoe, as he has cooled off as of late.
Shooting Guard - Jamal Crawford vs Manu Ginobili. Slight advantage to Manu. Jamal Crawford is having the better year as of yet, but Manu is clearly the better players. Crawford is a good player, but is like J.R. Smith, a streaky shooter who can make any shot on the planet, but only because they always shoot every ball on the planet. He has good handles, especially for his age, and is having a standout year, shooting above 50%, compared to 41% for his career. See this New York Times piece on his evolution this year. But the article also mentions Manu Ginobili as the only Sixth Man of the Year winner in the past 15 years to remain with the same team as where he won the award, showing his outstanding loyalty to the Spurs organization. Manu has been heating up (see above), so he wins this one.
Small Forward - Matt Barnes vs Stephen Jackson. Advantage to Barnes. Usually I would give this to SJax, but Matt Barnes has been critical to many wins this season for the Clippers, going crazy during their 17 game winning streak, in which he poured down threes, disrupted plays and built large leads, helping the starters rest for the long road ahead. He also has the 10th highest PER among small forwards, above guys like Rudy Gay, Paul George and Luol Deng. SJax has been hurt most of the season and has looked rusty this season, and ranks nowhere near the top 30 small forwards in PER this season.
Power Forward - Lamar Odom vs DeJuan Blair/Matt Bonner. Slight advantage to Odom. They both have their moments, but more recently, Odom has provided necessary ballhandling for the bench and has used some of his old point-forwards skills again. He’s also rounding into shape (get it? Cause he was round at the beginning of the season) as we near the All-Star break. DeJuan and Matty haven’t been that reliable this season, after providing much needed rebounds, points and defense (yeah, I said defense) all of last season. Tiago has gotten a lot more minutes, and so has Kawhi, and even Nando to an extent (which causes Pop to switch to a smaller lineup, in which Kawhi is sometimes the 4), so these guys have been stuck at the end of the Spurs bench, only seeing playing action in garbage time.
Center - Ronny Turiaf vs Tiago Splitter. Advantage splitter. The only matchup in which the Spurs clearly beat the Clippers is at the least likely, the 5 spot. Tiago might not be in this role for long, as he has been in the starting lineup for the past few weeks, but still anchors the middle for the bench when Timmy goes to rest. Ronny Turiaf, a fellow French teammate of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and De Colo, is an energy player, and gathers rebounds and makes some defensive plays every so often. His offensive game is nowhere near as polished as Tiago, who has perfected the pick and roll with Tony and Manu. Tiago has to finish stronger at the rim, instead of doing all of those reverse layups. While they do usually make it in, they don’t scare the other team and make him seem weak. Nonetheless, he has stepped up his rebounding, his defense and has obviously impressed Pop.