As the NBA season comes to an end, the playoff picture has become much more clear. While the Bucks, of the Eastern Conference, clinched the league’s best record, it is the Denver Nuggets who have claimed the top spot in the West.
Here’s a look at projected seedings and matchups in the West, and who could come out of the conference as the West’s representative in the NBA Finals.
The Road to the Finals Goes Through Denver
The Denver Nuggets (52-27) had quite the turnaround from last season and have wrapped up the race for the No. 1 seed in the West. After finishing as the No. 6 seed in the West last year, the Nuggets, led by MVP-hopeful Nikola Jokic, have already surpassed last year’s win total with three games still to play. Denver earns homecourt advantage through the conference finals, which will be crucial for a team that has struggled heavily on the road. The Nuggets boast an impressive 33-7 home record, but have struggled on the road with a 19-20 record.
It is important to note that the West is notably weaker this season than it had been last year, but nonetheless Jokic and company have completed a big-time turnaround and are the “team to beat” in the West.
Middle of the Pack in the West
The Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns have all clinched playoff berths as well. The Grizzlies and Kings clinched their respective divisions and sit in the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively. As for the Suns, they currently sit just 3.5 games back of the division leading Kings but will be unable to catch them before the season’s end. As a result, Phoenix holds the No. 4 seed.
Outside of the top four in the West, the conference gets pretty open. While the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors each currently sit in a playoff spot, they could still drop into a play-in spot, although each team controls their own destiny.
Both the Clippers and Warriors sit one game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans, who hope to slip into a traditional playoff spot, but if the playoffs started today, would have to start with play-in games. The Lakers and Pelicans, while uncertain where they will end up, are guaranteed a spot somewhere in post season action.
Play-In or Bust
Eight teams are still in play for six playoff or play-in spots that remain in the West, which will set up a very exciting final few days to the regular season.
On the outside looking in, are the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz, who are currently the No. 11 and No. 12 seeds in the West. However, the Mavericks have the same record as the Thunder, which means the Mavericks can secure a play-in spot by winning one more game than Oklahoma City does in the final two games. As for the Jazz, odds are slim as they need to win out and have both the Mavericks and Thunder lose out.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are also guaranteed a post season spot but currently sit in a play-in spot. They have the Spurs in their next game, followed by a big matchup with the Pelicans which could switch around play-in seeding.
Who Wins the West?
Records do not necessarily give the Western Conference teams justice, but this side of the playoffs is absolutely star-packed. As a result, a lot of teams have a chance to advance.
Looking at the top of the conference, the Nuggets are clearly the favorite, with a red-hot Jokic almost impossible to stop. Denver had the best in-conference record this season, but was followed closely by the Kings.
As for the rest of the conference, the stars will need to shine if they hope to get past the West’s top teams. However, come playoff time, it is never easy to see players like Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard on the other side of the floor.
If the Season Ended Today
If the regular season ended today, following the conclusion of Wednesday’s games, here is the West’s seeding and matchups:
No. 1. Denver Nuggets vs. Winner of No. 8 seed play-in
No. 2. Memphis Grizzlies vs Winner of No. 7 seed play-in
No. 3. Sacramento Kings vs No. 6. Golden State Warriors
No. 4. Phoenix Suns vs No. 5. LA Clippers
No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers vs No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans (Winner to play Memphis, Loser plays winner of No. 9 vs No. 10 for 8th seed)
No. 9 Minnesota Timberwolves vs No. 10 Oklahoma City Thunder (Winner plays loser of No. 7 vs No. 8 for 8th seed, Loser eliminated)