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The Standings Report: Who’s coming with us to the Playoffs?

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The Warriors Clinch the Pacific! Who will be joining us in the playoffs?

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Warriors fans left Portland this week looking up at the standings, happy with the news that they had locked up the Pacific division for the first time since 1976.  The stage has been set for some playoff dramatics, and the Warriors get to sit back and watch the theatrics for those teams still working to join them.  We here at Golden State of Mind have been watching this race close, as the footrace for the 8th spot in the West will directly impact who the Warriors have to match up against in the first round. As the season races to a close, the competition has become clearer and clear as pretenders continue to drop out (Pelicans) and teams start to clean up their act (Spurs).

As we approach the last ten games of the season, the Western conference contains a few main races to watch:

  • Southwestern Division Championship
    Memphis and Houston are battling for the top spot in the Southwestern division, with Memphis holding a two game lead. Houston was just treated with the return of Dwight Howard to the court, trading him out with the loss of Patrick Beverley for possibly the whole post season. They continue to find ways to win games behind the dominating James Harden and crew, and push toward the top of the division. Passing Memphis would mean home court advantage, which would be key especially as those two teams are looking at a possible second round clash.

    Memphis has struggled to stay consistent in the second half of the season, going 11-8 in their last 19. They hold their fate in their own hands (but do face the Warriors twice before the season ends). Returning Mike Conley to the floor should help with consistency, but Houston isn't letting up. Staying in the two spot also means the difference between facing Dallas or the dreaded Spurs in the first round.
  • The 4th - 7th spots
    On the same note, the Spurs and Mavericks both sit at the bottom of the conference playoff hunt with 45 wins, both lobbying for their optimal first round match up. It seems like the Spurs have woken up from their season-long slumber, kicking into gear and scaring the pants off the rest of the western conference. Seeing them destroy the Thunder by thirty at home earlier this weeks puts the league on notice. They threaten to pass up the Clippers and even the Trailblazers into the 6th or 5th spot, but assuming that Dallas keeps pace, we could see changes all around the ladder.

    Dallas finds themselves losing steam and fast. They have lost two of their last four, dropping a home matchup to Memphis and losing in Phoenix before handling the Spurs at home. It would take a large feat for the Thunder to catch them for the 7th spot at this point, so we can safely pencil them in. The question will be can they create momentum to get themselves a favorable first round match up.

The biggest race here continues to be the race for the 8th spot, though we have seen some clarity over the last two weeks. Here is how the standings currently settle out:

Place
Team
Record

8th Spot

Oklahoma City Thunder

41-31

9th Spot

Phoenix Suns

38-34

10th Spot

New Orleans Pelicans

37-34

The Thunder controls their own destiny, currently holding a three game lead over the pack. Both the Suns and Pelicans have taken turns going on runs recently to keep themselves in it,  but give credit to Russell Westbrook and crew for winning nine of their last thirteen games to control their own fate.

Do either of the teams on the outside have what it takes to get back in? The Suns can't afford to drop games to losing teams like they have been (losing to the Kings at home on Wednesday. It starts to bring up the question if this Suns roster was ever built to make it this year - and even if they do make it into the playoffs if they could stand a chance against the Warriors in the first round. There is no question that Golden State would love to see the Suns catch and pass the Thunder, but can we honestly expect this?

The other contender - the Pelicans - continue to fall away. The have lost five of the last six, and might have given up. They dropped their last three to top Western teams (Rockets, Warriors and Clippers) and failed to look competitive. We might never see the full potential of this team as Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday still remain on the sidelines injured. They would carry plenty of hope into next season with their full roster in place, however might be realizing this year might not be theirs to be had.

Other Storylines to Follow:

  • Will teams start to tank to avoid the Spurs?
    The champs still hold the title, and as we have expected are building momentum. Even with home court advantage over them, I could see teams pushing to get the Spurs into the 4-5 matchup. This would help the top three seeds avoid a first round clash against them, instead choosing to let them take on the Trailblazers. The Spurs final ten games stack up heavily against the West, including a playoff-like back to back with the Rockets. Highlight their final trip to Oracle coming up as a nice gauge to see where they stand - will the Warriors trot out the starters to show them they are for real or hold back their hand to hide their game plan?
  • How healthy and productive can Dwight Howard be?
    Dwight Howard can singlehandedly shift the playoff race in the West. If he can come back strong and contribute to his Rockets team, they hold all the cards in the West. Reaching the two seed puts them favorably against presumably the Mavericks in a Texas showdown. If Howard can't get his rust off in these last ten games, the West would breathe a huge sign of relief. Time will tell.
  • Who sits their starters?
    Does Memphis continue to play their stars or do they begin to give Gasol and Randolph time before the playoffs? Will the Rockets flip the script and finally give Harden some rest? Will Dallas feel confident in the 7th seed and start to give Chandler and crew some time off? With so many top conference match ups coming up, the choice is rest or push. Remember, the Warriors have been essentially resting their stars all season, as Curry has double digit games where he hasn't played a single minute in the 4th quarter.

Final Thoughts

We thought the race for the 8th spot would come down to the wire, but as we have seen it is hard to have nine or 10 teams keep their momentum for long enough to stay in the race. If I had to call it now, the Thunder have locked in the 8th and we can book our Westbrook-Curry supermatchup. For the Warriors the last ten games are a fight for playoff minutes from the role players, so expect Klay to get plenty of run to work through his ankle recovery, expect guys like Justin Holiday and David Lee to show off during their runs as auditions, and expect Bogut to take a game or two off.  Can't the playoffs just start tomorrow? The wait is killing me!