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The Standings Report: The Race for Eight (Updated)

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The end of the season is in sight, and more contenders are emerging for the playoff race while other start to fade. Who will make the final cut?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA season is officially in its home stretch. Every team who is sniffing the playoffs is on notice as of now - every game is going to count, and one bad loss could mean the difference between playing playoff games and not. We have some fantastic races going toward the end (in the East, "fantastic" might have a slightly different definition). The Warriors remain cruising toward their best record in franchise history, grabbing larger cushions in both the best record race and home court advantage race in the West. Fans continue to pay attention to the race for the 8th spot as a first-round match up, and I would guess the players notice as well.

Since we last checked in, the Western Conference has become a bit more clear and the Eastern Conference has gotten a bit more complicated. Teams like Dallas and San Antonio have pulled into a comfortable position to the 6th and 7th seeds with solid play as of late. Despite hero ball by Russell Westbrook the Thunder are still in a heat with the Pelicans who now find themselves in the 8th spot. By the way, Russell's facemask officially makes him look like a villain and I love it. Russell is here to destroy your world, win or loss. The Suns sit outside looking in and have had just enough heartbreaking losses this season to think they have what it takes to get back in it. A loss to Brandon Knight for a period of time will only seal their fate.

In the East, four games separate the 7th seed from the 11th seed.  The entire group of contenders sits below .500% winning percentage record wise, however this group is playing much better. Any of the teams are a winning streak (the Pacers) or a losing streak (the Pistons) away from controlling their fate or throwing in the towel. As the Pistons have shown, one bad streak can take you out of contention as they currently sit on life support.

Lets take a look at the records from around the league to get a full picture at the race:

Western Conference

Who is in?

6th Seed

San Antonio Spurs

40 - 23

7th Seed

Dallas Mavericks

41 - 25

8th Seed

New Orleans Pelicans

36 - 29

Who is out?

9th Seed

Oklahoma City Thunder

35-29

10th Seed

Phoenix Suns

34-32

  • The Spurs and Mavericks have begun to pull away from the race for the 8th spot. The 7th spot is not an optimal place to be currently - it will mean a first round match up with the Grizzlies. This gives Dallas the incentive to straighten out their season, find some chemistry with Rajon Rondo and his roster, and attempt to move past San Antonio. Unfortunately for Dallas, Tony Parker is showing signs of getting healthy and now that the Rodeo road trip is over, the Spurs can prepare for their late season run. Things are not looking good in Big D.
  • The team of the week - the Pelicans. What more can be said about Anthony Davis. He is a freak of nature, his midrange game and even three-point shooting are coming alive, and he is a world disturber on defense and in the paint. He simply won't let his team lose, even after losing Tyreke Evans the other night. Davis is supported by role players and underachieving stars, making his team the least talented of the contenders. They play the role of the underdogs well, and powered by momentum the Warriors should be scared to face them in the first round.
  • Their competition sits in the hands of the Thunder, who miss Kevin Durant more and more as the losses start to add up. They are 3-4 over their last seven, dropping games to the Bulls, Clippers and Portland. The word on Durant is that he is expected back in one to two weeks, but will this team have enough left in the tank? Their new additions have been valuable as Kanter's upgrade over Kendrick Perkins shows on the floor. But they are still counting on Anthony Morrow and Kyle Singler for extended minutes. Sadly the Pelicans and Thunder do not play each other again this season, but the Thunder do finish up the season favorably against the Kings, Pacers (on the road), Blazers at home and closing night in Minnesota where the Wolves will have all but turned the lights off already. They hold their fate in their own hands.
  • The Suns, as said before, seem to be losing steam. In their loss to the Warriors the other night, they just don't seem to have the same firepower they use to have when Dragic and Isaiah Thomas where on the team. They face an uphill battle down the stretch catching New Orleans and Oklahoma City. They face Atlanta twice, get two shots with the Pelicans and get the Thunder in Phoenix. They end the season at San Antonio and at home against the Clippers, which could be directly for the 8th spot.

Eastern Conference

Who is in?

6th Seed

Milwaukee Bucks

34 - 30

7th Seed

Indiana Pacers

29 - 34

8th Seed

Miami Heat

29-35

Who is out?

9th Seed

Charlotte Hornets

28-35

10th Seed

Boston Celtics

27-36

  • For the record, I would like to point out that as of March 12th the Hawks have already secured their playoff birth. They could lose every game from here on out, and would still be in the running for the 5th seed. God I love the East.
  • The Bucks have leveled off as of late, cutting their lead over the 7th seed. It would be hard to see a situation where they fell out of the playoffs completely, but don't rule out them slipping into the lower tier. Even with all their talent, they are still looking to find the best ways to make all the pieces fit.
  • The Pacers are the team of the week in the East. Frank Vogul says the team isn't even considering Paul George, but it's hard to think he wouldn't consider a push if the team was close. They are winners of six in a row (many of them by large margins) and 12 of their last 14. They are a perfect playoff team - grinders who simply don't take bad shots. If they keep up the momentum, they could cruise into a first-round war against the Cavs or Bulls.
  • The Heat hold a game advantage over the Hornets and two over the Celtics. Out of this group - the Celtics have the most momentum, the Hornets have the highest expectations and the Heat have the most talent. All three teams would be overmatched against the Hawks, but I would never write off starpower in the playoffs. This is why I have to give the nod to the Heat, as Dwayne Wade will have something to prove. The Hornets are headcases who can't get themselves straight, and the Celtics are streaky at best but still cannot play consistent defense.

Overall Thoughts

In the West, it is going to come down to "which team has the ball last". By this, I believe the Thunder, Suns and Pelicans will trade winning streaks as the season wraps. The team that makes it is the one that "wins" the final week. It is hard to see the Suns sneaking in. The Thunder are this close without the reigning MVP. But I am going to give the nod to the Pelicans because I believe they have the most to gain, and momentum is key.

In the East, this race will get closer before it finishes. The Wizards are in a tailspin, and Indiana and Miami are looking great. We wrote the division off a few weeks ago, but parody is key and the late season grind has not been kind to some contenders. We do know the Cavs are finally who we thought they would be, and the Hawks continue to win. Past that the East is a free for all... if I made my guess now I would say Hawks-Heat (Hawks in 5) and Cavs-Pacers (Cavs in 4) in the first round.