The Race in the West Heats Up

What a day in the NBA, with four critical match-ups in the West Playoff Race the Nuggets, Pelicans, Thunder and Spurs all secure key victories.

Here is a refresher on how the NBA Playoff seeding tiebreakers work

The day kicked off with the Nuggets defeating the Clippers, eliminating them from the playoff hunt, and keeping their own playoff hopes alive.

The Spurs, Thunder and Pelicans all started the day with a 45-34 record and all defeated higher seeded west playoff teams to go to 46-34. The Spurs defeated the Blazers 116-105, the Thunder defeated the Rockets 108-102 and the Pelicans defeated the Warriors 126-120.  With these wins all three teams took one more step towards securing a playoff spot. With Denver and Minnesota to play on the final day of the regular season the magic number for the 2018 Western Conference Playoffs is 47. Get to 47 wins and you all but stamp your ticket, however flounder on 46 and anything can happen. This is, as far as I can recall, the best finish to an NBA season ever.

Playoff Implications

Nuggets:

Best Case Scenario: 4th

Nuggets win out, Jazz win at most 1 game, Pelicans win at most 1 game, Spurs win at most 1 game, Thunder win at most 1 game. The Nuggets winning out would automatically see them move ahead of the Wolves.

Worst Case Scenario: 9th

Nuggets lose out or Nuggets defeat the Blazers but lose to the Wolves and Thunder win at least 1 game, Pelicans win at least 1 game, Jazz win at least 1 game, Spurs win at least 1 game

Every match is critical for the Nuggets, however their destiny is still in their own hands. If they win out they will finish with a better record than the Wolves, by virtue of playing them on the final day of the regular season and will secure a playoff spot. However if they do not win out they can still sneak in, although the odds are not great.

The Wolves own the tiebreaker over The Nuggets. If the Nuggets beat the Wolves but lose to the Blazers, and the Wolves beat to the Grizzlies, they will tie on record, season series, and division record, however the Wolves have a far superior conference record, 32-18 vs 27-23 (concerning that the Wolves went 13-17 against the inferior East). It is not encouraging that the Nuggets need the Grizzlies to win, so they are most certainly best taking care of business against both the Blazers, who they have beaten twice this year already, and Wolves.

Now it is not all doom and gloom for the Nuggets as they hold tiebreakers over both the Pelicans and Thunder. Now here is where it gets curly.

  • The Nuggets and Spurs season series is split 2-2. Since they are in different divisions the next tiebreaker is conference record
  • If the Nuggets win out and the Spurs split their remaining games, not only will they tie on record, season series but they will hold identical conference records of 29-23.
  • The next step is to compare records against other playoff teams (or eligible teams). At present the Nuggets hold a record of 14-14 against the remaining 9 playoff hopefuls. The Spurs hold a 12-17 record. Meaning the Nuggets would own the tiebreaker over the spurs.

The Jazz and Nuggets have also split their season series and should the Nuggets beat the Blazers and Wolves they will have a better division record than the Jazz. So the upside is that the Nuggets could rise as high as 4th. It isn’t likely but it is possible.

Finally should the Nuggets beat the Blazers and lose to the Wolves they could still sneak into the playoffs if any of the Thunder, Pelicans, Spurs or Jazz fail to win another game. While it is a stretch they only need one team to falter at the finish line and looking at some of the remaining games it is not out of the realm of possibility. The Jazz are at the Lakers, home against Golden State and at the Blazers.

Minnesota Timberwolves:

Best Case Scenario: 4th

Wolves win out, Jazz win at most 1 game, Pelicans win at most 1 game, Thunder win at most 1 game, Spurs lose out. The Wolves would automatically move ahead of the Nuggets if they win out.

Worst Case Scenario: 9th

Wolves lose out or win 1 match, Denver win out, Thunder win at least 1 game, Pelicans win at least 1 game, Jazz win at least 1 game

Whilst winning their remaining two games is the most obvious way to secure their first postseason appearance since in 14 years, owning the tiebreaker over the Nuggets provides a very welcome security blanket. If the Wolves can get to 46 wins their chances of advancing to the playoffs are very good. Here are the 8 possible outcomes for these two teams:

Den W POR MIN W MEM DEN W POR MIN W MEM
DEN W MIN MIN L DEN DEN L MIN MIN W DEN
47-35 46-36 46-36 47-35
Denver earns higher seed Minnesota earn higher seed
DEN W POR MIN L MEM DEN W POR MIN L MEM
DEN W MIN MIN L DEN DEN L MIN MIN W DEN
47-35 45-35 46-36 46-36
Denver earns higher seed Minnesota earn higher seed
DEN L POR MIN W MEM DEN L POR MIN W MEM
DEN W MIN MIN L DEN DEN L MIN MIN W DEN
46-36 46-36 45-37 47-35
Minnesota earn higher seed Minnesota earn higher seed
DEN L POR MIN L MEM DEN L POR MIN L MEM
DEN W MIN MIN L DEN DEN L MEM MIN W DEN
46-36 45-37 45-37 46-36
Denver earn higher seed Minnesota earn higher seed

On Monday (USA Time) the Nuggets will play the Blazers and the Wolves will play the Grizzlies. One team needs to beat the third seed, the other needs to beat the team with the second worst record in all of basketball, who is trying to lose, and the best draft odds are on the line. Should Denver lose and Minnesota win Denver has no chance of jumping past the Wolves. As we outlined above it will not end their season but it will make things very tough.

The Wolves also hold tiebreakers over the Thunder, Pelicans and Jazz and like the Nuggets 47 wins could, dependant on other results, see them rise as high as 4th. Jimmy Butler has returned and did not play in the recent losses to the Nuggets and Grizzlies. There is reason for optimism in Minnesota.

Should the Nuggets win out and the Wolves defeat the Grizzlies all hope is not lost. Because the Wolves hold the tiebreaker over the Thunder, Pelicans and Jazz, should any of these teams lose their remaining games the Wolves will indeed sneak in. It is not a likely prospect but hope springs eternal.

THUNDER
Photo Credit: Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma City Thunder:

Best Case Scenario: 4th

Thunder win out, Jazz win at most 2 games, Pelicans win at most 1 game, Spurs win at most 1 game.

Worst Case Scenario: 9th

Thunder lose out, Nuggets win at least 1 game, Timberwolves win at least 1 game.

A big win today over the Houston Rockets goes a long way to not only securing a playoff berth but to building confidence that this squad can make a deep playoff run. The Thunder have been up and down all season but have built a reputation of being big game hunters which they love to embrace, and defeating Houston today only solidifies this belief. The Thunder are the only team with no direct playoff matchups remaining with a trip to Miami followed by a home game against Memphis. Both games are very winnable.

Unfortunately for the Thunder they would lose potential tiebreakers against the Wolves, Pelicans, Nuggets and Blazers and more than likely the Spurs too. They do hold the tiebreaker over the Jazz. Should they win out they are a great chance to leap into 4th spot. However if they cannot move onto 47 wins they could be looking down the barrel of an early summer, and even if they can get one more win they are likely to slide down the standings to the 7th or possibly 8th seed. However a first round Russ v the Durant only Warriors could be perfect.

San Antonio Spurs:

Best Case Scenario: 3rd

Spurs win out, Blazers lose out, Jazz win at most 1 game, Pelicans win at most 1 game,

If the Spurs win out they will win the tiebreaker over the Thunder based on conference record, ensuring they finish above the Thunder

Worst Case Scenario: 9th

Spurs lose out, Thunder win at least 1 game, Nuggets defeat the Blazers but lose to the Wolves. Wolves win out.

For just one second it looked like the Spurs might finally be running out of steam. We are so naive for even entertaining the idea the Spurs wouldn’t Spurs their way into the playoffs. With today’s win over the Blazers not only do they move one win closer to the magic 47, but they also won the tiebreaker with the Blazers. With two remaining games against the Kings and the Pelicans the Spurs are primed to return to their rightful position in the top half of the west. Portland still have to face two playoff teams in Denver and Utah, if the Spurs can reach 48 wins and the Blazers lose those two matchups we will see the Spurs as high as 3rd, provided the Jazz lose both of their matches against the Warriors and Lakers (suddenly isn’t so crazy is it).

The Spurs own the tiebreaker against the Wolves and Blazers, and likely against the Thunder (based on conference record). However they have lost it to the Pelicans, Jazz and Nuggets.

Their final match of the season against the Pelicans could likely see these teams finish anywhere from 3rd to 7th.

usa_today_10543935.0
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans:

Best Case Scenario: 4th

Pelicans win out, Jazz win at most 1 game

As the Pelicans hold the tiebreaker over both the Spurs and Thunder if they win out they will secure at least the 5th seed.

Worst Case Scenario: 9th

Lose out, Timberwolves win at least 1 game, Nuggets win at least 1 game, Spurs win at least 1 game, Thunder win at least 1 game,

A matchup against the recently eliminated Clippers might be the perfect opportunity to secure a playoff spot for the first time since being swept by the Warriors in 2015. Anthony Davis appears to be developing into the type of superstar who carries his team into the playoffs no matter the supporting cast. Of course Holiday and Mirotic have really stepped up but Davis is on another level, a level few NBA stars reach.

Having lost the tiebreaker to the Blazers and Jazz the third seed is now out of reach and the 4th seed seems unlikely, however anything can happen if they can win out and as we know the Jazz have a tough road home, however do have a game up their sleeve. As with all teams in the race, the Pellies could find themselves in the 8th seed. The Wolves and Nuggets both own tiebreakers over them, if one of those teams win out and If the Thunder and Spurs win out, meaning they beat the Pelicans in the final match of the regular season, the Pelicans will find themselves facing Houston in the first round. A 4-6 finish is critical for this team, needing some sort of playoff success. You feel if there is another first round sweep it may not be enough to keep either of their superstar bigs.

Win out and they have the 4th seed, anything less and its far less certain.

Utah Jazz:

Best Case Scenario: 3rd

Jazz win out. Or Jazz win at least 2, including a win over the Blazers and the Blazers lose to the Nuggets.

Worst Case Scenario: 9th

Jazz lose out, Nuggets win at least 1 game, Wolves win at least 1 game, Spurs win at least 1 game, Pelicans win at least 1 game. The Thunder own the tiebreaker over the Jazz and if both teams lose out the Jazz will fall below the Thunder.

As we pointed out earlier in the piece, even in the 4th seed with 46 wins and a game in hand the Jazz are not safe. Facing one of the tougher runs home against the Lakers, Warriors and Blazers it is not impossible to see this upstart team suffer a small losing streak to end the season. Unfortunately for the Jazz they tied their season series with both the Nuggets and Wolves and they hold a worse division record than both teams meaning the Nuggets and Wolves own the tiebreakers with the Jazz. If the Nuggets and Wolves can both get themselves to 46 wins and the Jazz are unable to muster a single win from their remaining games they may find themselves on the outside looking in.

Fortunately the Jazz own tiebreakers over Spurs and Pelicans. If either the Spurs or Pelicans lose their match on Monday (USA time) then the Jazz will be safe.

On the upside the Jazz own a tiebreaker over the Blazers and have a will secure the 3rd seed should they win out. The Jazz play the Blazers on the last day of the regular season and should they win out they will finish with 49 wins. The Blazers will finish on either 48 or 49 wins. Even if they only win two they will claim the 3rd seed so long as one of their wins is against the Blazers and the Nuggets defeat the Blazers. This is a wild playoff race.

Portland Trail Blazers:

Best Case Scenario – 3rd

Win out or defeat the Nuggets and lose to the Jazz and the Jazz lose at least one other match up

Worst Case Scenario – 5th

Lose out, Spurs win out, Jazz win out or Jazz win two matches.

The Blazers have already secured their spot in the playoffs however with their final two matchups against the Nuggets and Jazz their influence on the the final seedings will be huge. The Blazers need to win those two matchups to secure the 3rd seed. And should they fail to win either match up they could fall as low as 5th. If the Spurs own the tiebreaker with the Blazers and should they secure 48 wins along with the Jazz can finishing with two wins from their final three games the Blazers will fall two spots to the 5th seed. Fortunately the Blazers won the tiebreaker against the Thunder and Pelicans meaning they cannot fall any lower.

Feature image credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s