Race in the West: Updated Western Conference Playoff Picture

The Pelicans, Spurs and Thunder all punched their tickets to this years Western Conference Playoffs with wins on Monday. The Pelicans dominated a Clippers team that is missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011, when Blake Griffin won Rookie of the Year. The Spurs defeated the Kings in a reasonably well contested affair to make it 21 straight playoff appearances. The Thunder came up huge in the fourth, an area they have been very poor this year, outscoring Miami 39-12, to secure their spot in the top 8.

The Nuggets and the Wolves both registered important wins Monday. The Nuggets beat the currently 3rd seeded Blazers in a remarkably frustrating nail-biter 88-82. And the Wolves took care of business against the Memphis Hustle Grizzlies. Both teams now have 46 wins and square off against one another, in Minnesota, on the final day of the regular season for that final playoff spot.

This virtual play-in game is so perfect. It is so rare that we see the NBA playoff race come down to the final day, let alone see two playoff teams literally play off for the final spot. Both teams face a win and you are in proposition and it should be awesome.

Don’t assume the fun stops there. With the Blazers on 48 wins, the Jazz, Pelicans, Spurs and Thunder all on 47 wins and with the winner of the Nuggets and Wolves registering their 47th win on Wednesday, seeding from the 3rd to 8th seed remains as fluid as ever. There are 7 teams that can finish in the 5th seed and 5 that can finish in the 8th seed. Today’s results did nothing to clear up the race in the west, setting up for an exciting final day of the regular season.

The loss for the Blazers means they are still exposed to those teams chasing them. The Jazz now only need to beat them, not both the Blazers and the Warriors to secure the third seed. And depending on results could slip to the 5th seed. Home court advantage is on the line.

With the unstoppable Rockets offence awaiting the 8th seeded team and the still incredibly scary Curry-less Warriors awaiting the 7th seed, finishing the season strong is vitally important. 

The Nuggets and the Wolves can both rise as high as 5th. Remarkable to think that a team literally playing for their playoff lives could not only snatch a playoff spot but if they do so jump ahead of three other playoff teams. Better yet the Nuggets simply cannot finish 8th, no matter how the results pan out.

Let’s have a look at how this could all play out

Denver Nuggets

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Wins tiebreaker over: Thunder (3-1), Pelicans (2-1), Jazz (2-2): Owns better division record), Spurs (2-2): the only way a tiebreaker will be required is if the Spurs lose. Should the Spurs lose the Nuggets and Spurs will tie on conference record and the Nuggets own the better record against west playoff teams.

Loses tiebreaker to: Timberwolves (1-2): This won’t be relevant as only the winner of their Wednesday match up will proceed

Best Case Scenario: 5th

Nuggets defeat Wolves, Memphis defeat the Thunder, Jazz lose to both the Warriors and the Blazers.

The Nuggets would need the Thunder, and Jazz to finish on 47 wins, the loser of the Spurs and Pelicans will also finish on 47 wins and so too would the Nuggets if they defeat the Wolves. In this instance a 4 way tie would result, which remarkably, the Nuggets would win based on the winning percentage of the matches played amongst these teams. If the Thunder win, finishing on 48 wins, the Nuggets would finish 2nd in a three way tie and would secure the 7th seed.

Worst Case Scenario: 9th

Nuggets lose to the Wolves


Minnesota Timberwolves:

Wins tiebreaker over: Thunder (3-1), Pelicans (2-1), Jazz (2-2): Better division record.

Loses tiebreaker to: Spurs (1-2)

Best Case Scenario: 5th

Wolves defeat Nuggets,  Thunder lose to Grizzlies, Jazz Lose out. It will not matter who wins or loses between the Spurs and Pelicans.

As it was the case with the Nuggets this would result in a 4 way tie that the Wolves would remarkably win. If the Thunder do win, the Wolves would win a three way tie and finish 6th if the Pelicans lose or come second in the three way tie and finish 7th if the Spurs lose.

Worst Case Scenario: 9th

Wolves lose to Nuggets


Oklahoma City:

David Santiago, Miami Herald

Wins tiebreaker: Jazz (3-1)

Loses tiebreaker: Wolves (3-1), Pelicans (2-1), Nuggets (3-1), Balzers (4-0), Spurs (2-2): Spurs have better conference record.

Best Case Scenario: 4th

Thunder Defeat the Hustle Grizzlies, Jazz defeat the Warriors and lose to the Blazers.

In this instance the Blazers win their 49th game over the Jazz and secure the 3rd seed. Both the Jazz and Thunder along with the winner of the Pelicans and Spurs finish the season on 48 wins. Regardless of who wins between the Spurs and the Pelicans the Thunder would in this three way tie and secure the 4th seed.

If the Blazers lose to the Jazz the Thunder would lose the three way tie with the Blazers and winner of Pelicans v Spurs and finish 6th.

Worst Case Scenario: 8th

Thunder lose to the Grizzlies, Jazz win at least one game.

This would create a three way tie between the Thunder, loser of the Spurs and Pelicans, and winner of Wolves and Nuggets. As the Thunder have lost every tiebreaker besides the one with the Jazz, the Thunder lose this 3 way tie no matter which teams win or lose. If the Jazz drop both games the Thunder get a significant boost in winning percentage and finish 7th.

San Antonio Spurs

Wins tiebreaker over: Wolves (2-1), Blazers (2-1), Thunder (2-2): Better conference record

Loses tiebreaker to: Jazz (1-3), Pelicans (1-2), Nuggets (2-2): tied for conference record, the Nuggets have a better record against West Playoff teams.

Best Case Scenario: 4th

Spurs defeat Pelicans, Jazz defeat Blazers, Grizzlies defeat Thunder.

This outcomes creates a head to hear tie between the Spurs and Blazers, which the Spurs will win. If the Thunder do win, the Blazers will win the three way tie and the Spurs will finish 5th.

Worst Case Scenario: 8th

Spurs lose to Pelicans, Thunder defeat Grizzlies, Nuggets defeat Wolves.

This would result in a head to head tie between the Nuggets and the Spurs, which the Nuggets would win on winning percentage against other playoff teams.

The Spurs can also finish 8th if the Jazz lose both of their matches. This would create a three way tie and the Spurs would lose no matter who wins between the Nuggets and Wolves.

Finally if the Jazz lose both matches and the Thunder lose to the Grizzlies, a four way tie with the Jazz, Spurs, Thunder and winner of Nuggets and Wolves would occur with all teams on 47 wins. No matter who wins between the Wolves and Nuggets this would result in the Spurs finishing 8th.

New Orleans Pelicans:

Wins tiebreaker over: Spurs (2-1), Thunder (2-1)

Loses tiebreaker to: Jazz (1-3), Wolves (0-4), Nuggets (1-2), Blazers (2-2): Blazers hold a better conference record.

Best Case Scenario: 4th

Pelicans defeat the Spurs, Jazz lose both remaining games. 

This creates a two way tie for 4th on 48 wins between the Thunder and the Pelicans, which the Pelicans win.

Worst Case Scenario: 8th

Pelicans lose to the Spurs, Thunder defeat Grizzlies. 

The Pelicans follow the exact same script as the Spurs here. yes it is uncanny. See above for details. 

Utah Jazz

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Wins tiebreaker over: Spurs (3-1), Pelicans (3-1), Blazers (2-1)

Loses tiebreaker to: Thunder (1-3): , Wolves (2-2), Nuggets (2-2): Both the Nuggets and Wolves have a better division record than the Jazz

Best Case Scenario: 3rd

Jazz defeat Blazers.

The Jazz only need to defeat the Blazers to secure third. If the Jazz lose to the Warriors and then defeat the Blazers this could lead to a four way tie between the Blazers, Jazz, Pelicans/Spurs and Thunder. The Jazz will win the tiebreaker as they will win their division over the Blazers due to having the better head to head record.

Worst Case Scenario: 7th

Jazz lose out, Thunder defeat Grizzlies, Spurs defeat Pelicans, Wolves defeat Nuggets

This would lead to a three way tie for 6th on 47 wins, between the Wolves, Jazz and Pelicans. The Jazz lose this tie. In instances where the Nuggets win or Spurs lose, the Jazz finish 6th.

If the Thunder also lose the Jazz will finish 2nd (6th overall) in any 4 way tie for 5th.

Portland Trial Blazers

Best Case Scenario: 3rd

Blazers defeat the Jazz

Worst Case Scenario: 5th

Jazz defeat the Blazers, Spurs defeat the Pelicans, Grizzlies defeat the Thunder.

The Spurs will win a head to head tie with the Blazers. which is only possible if the Thunder lose. If the Thunder win the Blazers will win the three way tie and secure the 4th seed.

There are countless iterations of how the next two days could play out and many involve the complex three or more teams tied tiebreaker system. We will save a full rundown of potential playoff seeding for tomorrows edition. Especially since Today’s biggest match up, the Jazz hosting the Warriors will have a larger impact on the playoff race than you may expect.

A win for the Jazz and they can no longer finish lower than 6th. Remember the best either the Nuggets or Wolves can do is 47 wins, and that only one of the Pelicans or Spurs will be walking away victorious on Wednesday. Meaning this win, the Jazz’s 48th would ensure they finish above at least 2 playoff teams, potentially three if the Thunder lose.

However if the Jazz lose, the Jazz can fall as low as 7th and would throw up any number of potential 3 and 4 team ties at both the middle and bottom of the west.

It may not seem like it on the surface but many western conference teams will be eagerly watching tomorrows Jazz and Warriors contest.

Check in with Posterized tomorrow for our final Western Conference Playoff Picture.


Feature Photo: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports


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