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Western Conference playoff picture: Rockets start to pull away

The Warriors are losing sight of the West’s top seed, while the rest of the conference remains utter chaos.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The race between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets for the West’s top seed was paper thin when we looked at the standings last Friday. But the Dubs went 1-2 over the last week, while their counterparts in Houston went 3-1.

As a result, the Rockets now have a two-game lead in the standings, and the Warriors’ chances of emerging with the top spot in the conference are quickly diminishing.

While Golden State has the easier schedule from here on out, they’ve been hit with the injury bug. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are out for at least the next week’s worth of games, and Kevin Durant will be nursing a tweak tonight.

Not only that, but the Rockets hold the tiebreaker over the Dubs, meaning Golden State has to gain three games in the standings, with less than a month remaining. Doesn’t seem very likely at this point, but it’s certainly not outside of the realm of possibilities, given how hot this team can get.

If they want to do so, they’ll have to capitalize on a weak schedule. Golden State plays the Sacramento Kings tonight, the Phoenix Suns tomorrow, and the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, before three consecutive days off. They need to not only win those games, but heal up their dinged stars in the process.

If there’s any solace, it’s that the Rockets have a brutal schedule this week, featuring three road games against Western Conference playoff teams: Saturday against the New Orleans Pelicans, Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Tuesday against the red hot Portland Trail Blazers. They finish the week on Thursday against the Detroit Pistons.

Houston may be rolling, but it’s easy to see a path where they trip up a little bit. It doesn’t seem like the top seed is a big priority for Golden State (and it shouldn’t be), but the opportunity is certainly still there.

The rest of the west? Still chaos.

Each week I expect us to gain some clarity as to who the Dubs might be facing in the first round. And each week, that fails to happen.

The eight teams competing for the final six spots are still jockeying like teenagers at the front of a concert. Golden State could face any of the eight, though Portland is starting to gain a little separation, and likely won’t fall to the seventh or eighth seed. But check out this madness:

Western Conference Standings

Seed Team Record Games Back
Seed Team Record Games Back
3 Portland 42-26 -
4 Oklahoma City 41-29 2
5 Minnesota 40-29 2.5
6 New Orleans 39-29 3
7 Utah 39-30 3.5
8 San Antonio 39-30 3.5
9 LA Clippers 37-30 4.5
10 Denver 38-31 4.5

If the season ended today, the Warriors would face the Utah Jazz which is . . . ummm . . . not a good thing at all. Over their last 21 games, Utah is 19-2, and, when healthy, they’ve been one of the top teams in the league. Hopefully they continue to rise in the standings, because that team is dangerous enough to challenge Golden State if an injury befalls the Dubs.

But if there’s one thing that’s clear out West, it’s that the standings will look much different than these when the playoffs begin on April 15. It’s entirely unclear who the Warriors will play, but it should be a lot of fun.

Hopefully next week there will be a little bit more clarity.

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