The Ultimate Guide to the Western Conference Finals Race.

The Jazz made a huge statement today defeating the Warriors by 40 points 119-79. Yes Curry is out and yes the Warriors had long secured the second seed in the West. But to put Durant, Thompson and Green to the sword like this will be exciting Jazz fans the world over. Mitchell is doing his best to remind everyone that the Rookie of the Year race is not yet over (unfortunately for Donovan, it is over, and I love me some Donovan Mitchell), And Gobert is anchoring an elite defense. These guys deserve the 3rd seed should they secure it and will be a sneakily fun playoff team.

The Jazz and Warriors was today’s only game with Western Conference Playoff implications and went a long way to simplifying a very convoluted race in the West. Here is what the Jazz’s big win means.

  • The Jazz will now finish on either 48 or 49 wins, meaning the lowest they can fall is the 6th seed.
  • Whoever wins between the Jazz and the Blazers will win the 3rd seed outright.
  • The loser of the Jazz and Blazers will face a tiebreaker situation with the winner of the Spurs and Pelicans and the Thunder should they beat the Grizzlies.
  • The loser of the Pelicans and Spurs will face a tiebreaker with the winner of the Wolves and Nuggets, and the Thunder should they lose to the Grizzlies.

So here are today’s match ups with western conference playoff implications:

  • Denver @ Minnesota
  • San Antonio @ New Orleans
  • Memphis @ Oklahoma City
  • Utah @ Portland

Today we will dive into the best and worst case scenarios for each team and following this will take a deep dive into each seed and look at all the potential outcomes we could see today.

And if you need a refresher on how the NBA Playoff Seeding tiebreakers work find it here

Denver Nuggets

Best Case Scenario: 6th

How to get there: Defeat the Wolves, Thunder lose to the Grizzlies.

 

It isnt likely but the Nuggets face a win and you are in proposition, the Thunder losing to the hapless Memphis Hustle Grizzlies and gifting the 6th seed to the Nuggets, no matter the outcome of the Spurs and Pelicans, would be the cherry on top. Taking on the Jazz or Blazers is a juicy reward for a team in desperate need of playoff success. Their most likely outcome if they make it however is 7th and a first round match up with the Warriors, without Steph Curry. I don’t know why but this is an intriguing proposition to me. My head tells me it is a gentleman’s sweep, my heart screams upset.

Worst Case Scenario: 9th

How did it happen: Lose to the Wolves.

You couldn’t ask for a better finish to an NBA season than a virtual play-in game. Enough said.

Minnesota Timberwolves:

Best Case Scenario: 6th

How to get there: Defeat the Nuggets, Thunder lose to the Grizzlies

As it is for the Nuggets, Today’s game looms as a must win. And the potential outcomes are more or less identical. They need a Thunder loss to snatch the 6th seed. Stranger things.

More likely is we see the Wolves in 7th or 8th. A Pelicans loss at home would see them secure the 7th seed and a first round match up with the Warriors. KAT has played incredible against the Warriors this year and Jimmy Butler is back. My heart says one thing and my head another, do you sense a pattern?

Worst Case Scenario: 9th

How did it happen: Lose to the Nuggets.

Enough said

Oklahoma City Thunder

Best Case Scenario: 4th

How to get there: Defeat the Grizzlies, Jazz lose to the Blazers.

No matter who wins out of the Pelicans and Spurs, if the Jazz lose to the Blazers and the Thunder defeat the Grizzlies the Thunder inexplicably end up with home court advantage over the Jazz in round 1. This is not nearly as far fetched as it might seem either. Should the Blazers lose the Thunder are locked into the 6th seed and a first round match up with the Jazz, this time without home court.

Worse Case Scenario: 8th

How did it happen: Thunder lose to the Grizzlies and Nuggets defeat the Wolves, or Thunder lose to the Grizzlies, Wolves defeat the Nuggets and Spurs defeat the Pelicans.

Losing isn’t an option for the Thunder as it resigns them to a likely 8th seed, 7th at best. While an OKC v Houston or Golden State first round matchup is exciting AF, it’s certainly not what you need if you are Sam Presti or Billy Donovan. Russ may by salivating over it but those with their thinking caps on would probably prefer to see those teams in the later rounds.

San Antonio Spurs:

usa_today_10778933.0-793x528Best Case Scenario: 4th

How to get there: Spurs defeat Pelicans, Thunder lose to Grizzlies, Jazz defeat the Blazers

The Spurs are a team that can move in any number of directions by the end of today’s basketball. They need to win and have two results go their way to steal home court and the 4th seed. If you are a Spurs fan you will be hoping the Jazz win. With the way tiebreakers have worked out this year the Jazz losing sends the Spurs down the standings no matter the outcomes of the other games.

Worst Case Scenario: 7th

How did it happen: Spurs lose to Pelicans, Thunder lose to Grizzlies.

No matter the outcome of the Wolves and Nuggets, should both the Spurs and Thunder lose the Spurs will find themselves in 7th place. It could be worse, in both instances the Thunder finish 8th.

New Orleans Pelicans

Best Case Scenario: 5th

How did they get there: Pelicans defeat Spurs, Thunder lose. Should the Thunder win the Pelicans will secure the 5th seed if the Blazers lose.

The Pelicans are not faced with the same upside as their division rivals the Spurs and even a win will see them in 6th should the Blazers and Thunder both win.

Worst Case Scenario: 8th

How did it happen: Pelicans lose, Thunder win. Or Pelicans lose, Thunder lose and Wolves win.

The Pelicans really need to win or there is great risk they finish in the 8th seed and face an almost certain sweep at the hands of the Rockets. The Pelicans lose the tiebreaker to both the Nuggets and Wolves so if the Thunder win it’s all over red rover. If the Thunder also lose then a Nuggets win would see them finish 7th, whereas a Wolves win would resign them to 8th again.

Portland Trail Blazers

Best Case Scenario: 3rd

How to get there: Defeat the Jazz

The winner of this clash will finish outright third.

Worst Case Scenario: 5th

How did it happen: Blazers lose, Spurs win, Thunder lose.

The Blazers are all but assured the 4th seed if they lose today to the Jazz. It is a luxury not many other teams have. Should the Blazers lose, Spurs win and Thunder lose it sets up a head to head tie with the Spurs, which the Blazers lose. This is the only way the Blazers drop to 5th. Amazingly if the Thunder win, their 4-0 record against the Thunder ensures they win a any three way tie and secures the 4th seed.

Utah Jazz

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Feature Photo Credit: Utah Jazz Official Facebook

Best Case Scenario: 3rd

How to get there: Defeat the Blazers

As above

Worst Case Scenario: 6th

How did it happen: Jazz lose to the Blazers, Thunder win.

This one is very interesting. If the Jazz lose they will win the head to head tie with either the Pelicans or Spurs. However if the Thunder win and initiate the three way tie, their 1-3 record against the Jazz will resign them to the 6th seed no matter who wins between the Spurs and Pelicans

Outcomes for each seed

For those of us keen enough, or nerdy enough, or bored enough, here is a deep dive into each of the seeds and all the potential outcomes. This is your ultimate guide to today’s action. Memorise this on your way to work and blow everyone away with your unnecessarily intimate knowledge of the west playoff race.

3rd Seed

The Third seed is simple now. The winner of the Jazz and Blazers will win the 3rd seed outright with their 49th win. Not many would have called this at the beginning of the season but both squads would be deserved winners of the 3rd seed.

4th and 5th Seeds

The loser of the Jazz and Blazers game face slipping down to the 5th seed and missing out on home court entirely. The loser of that match will face a tie breaker situation with the winner of the Pelicans and Spurs, as well as the Thunder should they defeat the Grizzlies.

Now if the Thunder lose here are our potential outcomes:

Blazers lose and Spurs win: Spurs 4th, Blazers 5th

Blazers lose and Pelicans win: Blazers 4th, Pelicans 5th

Jazz lose and Spurs win: Jazz 4th, Spurs 5th

Jazz lose and Pelicans win: Jazz 4th, Pelicans 5th.

If the Thunder win it will initiate a three way tie process. First tiebreaker is Division leader, which none of our teams will be, the next is best winning percentage amongst tied teams.

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Photo Credit: Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Here are the potential outcomes:

Blazers lose, Thunder win, Spurs win: Blazers 4th, Spurs 5th, Thunder 6th

Blazers Thunder Spurs Total %
Blazers 4-0 1-2 5-2 0.714
Thunder 0-4 2-2 2-6 0.250
Spurs 2-2 2-2 4-4 0.500

 

Blazers lose, Thunder win, Pelicans win: Blazers 4th, Pelicans 5th, Thunder 6th

Blazers Thunder Pelicans Total %
Blazers 4-0 2-2 6-2 0.750
Thunder 0-4 1-2 1-6 0.143
Pelicans 2-2 2-1 4-3 0.571

 

Jazz lose, Thunder win, Spurs win: Thunder 4th, Jazz 5th, Spurs 6th

Spurs Jazz Thunder Total %
Spurs 1-3 2-2 3-5 0.375
Jazz 3-1 1-3 4-4 0.500
Thunder 2-2 3-1 5-3 0.625

 

Jazz lose, Thunder win, Pelicans win: Thunder 4th, Jazz 5th, Pelicans 6th.

Pelicans Jazz Thunder Total
Pelicans 1-3 1-2 2-5 0.286
Jazz 3-1 1-3 4-4 0.500
Thunder 2-1 3-1 5-3 0.625

 

It is pretty obvious the Thunder will be rooting for the Blazers in the final game of the 2018 regular season.  The Thunder hold a 3-1 record against the Jazz and despite losing every other season series with the Wests playoff teams their 1-2 record against the Pelicans and 2-2 record against the Spurs is enough to elevate them to the 4th seed should the Jazz lose. On the other hand the Blazers took care of the Thunder 4-0 in 2017-18 and if they were to lose to the Jazz the Thunder would finish 6th, with either the Pelicans or Spurs in 5th.

6th, 7th and 8th Seed

Jokic and TownsIf the Thunder defeat the Grizzlies the 6th seed will be determined as outlined above. If they lose however, it will initiate a three way tie with the winner of the Nuggets and Wolves, and the loser of the Spurs and Pelicans.

Let’s be honest, it is unlikely the Thunder lose to the Grizzlies but for now let’s entertain the idea. Our potential outcomes would be.

Wolves win, Thunder lose, Pelicans lose: Wolves 6th, Thunder 7th, Pelicans 8th

Wolves Thunder Pelicans Total %
Wolves 3-1 4-0 7-1 0.875
Thunder 1-3 1-2 2-5 0.286
Pelicans 0-4 2-1 2-5 0.286

 

In this instance the Thunder would win the tiebreaker with the Pelicans as would have the better conference record.

Wolves win, Thunder lose, Spurs lose: Wolves 6th, Spurs 7th, Thunder 8th

Wolves Thunder Spurs Total %
Wolves 3-1 1-2 4-3 0.571
Thunder 1-3 2-2 3-5 0.375
Spurs 2-1 2-2 4-3 0.571

 

The Wolves own a significantly better conference record than the Spurs (33-18 vs 29-22) and would come out on top in this scenario.

Nuggets win, Thunder lose, Spurs lose: Nuggets 6th, Spurs 7th, Thunder 8th

Nuggets Thunder Spurs Total %
Nuggets 3-1 2-2 5-3 0.625
Thunder 1-3 2-2 3-5 0.375
Spurs 2-2 2-2 4-4 0.500

 

Nuggets win, Thunder lose, Pelicans lose: Nuggets 6th, Pelicans 7th, Thunder 8th.

Nuggets Thunder Pelicans Total %
Nuggets 3-1 2-1 5-2 0.714
Thunder 1-3 1-2 2-5 0.286
Pelicans 1-2 2-1 3-3 0.500

 

The takeaway from all this is that the Thunder really cannot afford to lose, at best they will finish 7th and most likely in the 8th seed. With a clear delineation between seeds 1, 2 and 3 finishing in the 6th seed is critical. Conversely the Nuggets and Wolves would be praying for a Thunder loss as the winner of their match up is ensured the 6th seed should the Thunder lose.

 

If the Thunder do not lose however, we will see the winner of the Nuggets and Wolves face a tiebreaker with the loser of the Pelicans and Spurs. Here are our potential outcomes:

  • Wolves win, Spurs lose: Spurs 7th, Wolves 8th
  • Wolves win Pelicans lose: Wolves 7th, Pelicans 8th
  • Nuggets win, Spurs lose: Nuggets 7th, Spurs 8th
    • This tiebreaker comes down to the 5th tiebreaker record against western conference playoff teams.
  • Nuggets win, Pelicans lose: Nuggets 7th, Pelicans 8th

Somehow the Nuggets can finish the 2018 season in either 6th, 7th or 9th place but not 8th.

Well there you have it. This is your bible for today’s action. Learn it back to front and watch the madness unfold.

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