With Season Nearing End, Western Conference Starts To Take Shape

Apr 9, 2019, 3:03 PM | Updated: 6:59 pm
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets reacts after a play against the Charlotte Hornets during th...
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets reacts after a play against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on February 27, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As the NBA regular season reaches its conclusion, things are starting to get quite strategic for the eight qualified playoffs team in the Western Conference.

The top seed has been secured by the Golden State Warriors, who were boosted to the No. 1 spot with help from the Denver Nuggets. Denver essentially decided to concede the race for the top spot by resting several key players in their last game against Portland.

Portland’s win over Denver and Utah’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday essentially prevented the Jazz of having any possibility of passing the Trail Blazers in the standings and therefore blocked Utah from having home court advantage.

However, it may be most advantageous for the Jazz to continue to drop games all the way to the end of the regular season, so they can have a shot at the sixth seed in the playoffs and therefore have an easier route to the conference finals.

Here’s a look at what’s on deck for the eight Western Conference playoffs teams Tuesday night:

1. Golden State Warriors (56-24)

Games remaining: (at NOP, at MEM)

Next up: at New Orleans, Tuesday

The Warriors already have the top seed in the West locked up and did their community service by winning the team’s final game at the Oracle Arena. Now they’ll play two meaningless games against lottery bound teams to cap off the regular season. Plan on them resting key players Tuesday night.

2. Denver Nuggets (53-27)

Games behind: 3

Games remaining: (at Utah, MIN)

Next up: at Utah, Tuesday

After resting a handful of key players against Portland on Sunday, the Nuggets drew a lot of criticism from the media and fans. Afterwards, head coach Mike Malone stated that it was not in an attempt manipulate the playoff seeds, but was done to prevent injuries and fatigue. There have been no indications as to whether or not the Nuggets will pull a similar stunt against the Jazz on Tuesday.

3. Houston Rockets (53-28)

Games behind: 3.5

Games remaining: (at OKC)

Next up: at Oklahoma City, Tuesday

The Rockets come into their regular season finale as the hottest team in the NBA with a six game winning streak. They’ll be facing the Thunder without former NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni, who was sent to the hospital with a virus. He is expected to rejoin the team in time for the playoffs. It seems very likely that the Rockets will remain in the third seed for the postseason.

4. Portland Trail Blazers (51-29)

Games behind: 5

Games remaining: (at LAL, SAC)

Next up: at Los Angeles Lakers, Tuesday

After the Nuggets gifted the Trail Blazers a win on Sunday, it’s a pretty safe bet that Portland will have home court advantage in the playoffs. CJ McCollum is working his way back from injury, so he’ll likely want to have strong performances against a pair of soft teams prior to the start of the postseason. If the Blazers win out and if Houston loses on Tuesday, they’ll secure the third seed in the playoffs.

5. Utah Jazz (49-31)

Games behind: 7

Games remaining: (DEN, at LAC)

Next up: vs. Denver, Tuesday

Portland’s win over the Nuggets on Sunday, coupled with Utah’s loss to the Lakers essentially closed the door on the Jazz’s chances of getting the fourth seed in the playoffs. That may not have been a bad thing, however. It’s very possible that the Jazz may be trying to lose their final two games of the regular season to put themselves in a more favorable position for a deep playoff run.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder (47-33)

Games behind: 9

Games remaining: (HOU, at MIL)

Next up: vs. Houston, Tuesday

After struggling a bit to end the regular season, the Thunder have gotten it together and have won three straight to move up to the sixth seed. They could continue to rise as they play two teams that already secured their playoff fates. It will be interesting to see what Houston does on Tuesday night as they still have a chance of moving up or down the playoff ladder. All indications are that Oklahoma City will be gunning for wins to end the season.

7. San Antonio Spurs (47-34)

Games behind: 9.5

Games remaining: (DAL)

Next up: vs. Dallas, Wednesday

The Spurs will go into their regular season finale against the Mavericks looking to create more separation from the Clippers. A San Antonio win and a Clippers loss to Utah will secure the seventh seed for the Gregg Popovich-led squad. That said, it may be unlikely that the Jazz will put their strongest unit on the floor against LA, which could complicate things.

8. LA Clippers (47-34)

Games behind: 9.5

Games remaining: (Utah)

Next up: vs. Utah, Monday




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