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Prepare for chaos in the Western Conference playoff race

The Warriors and Rockets are battling for the top seed, while eight teams jockey for the remaining slots.

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors - Game One Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

With the NBA playoffs fast approaching, it’s time to start looking at the standings and the schedules. Each Friday from now until the end of the regular season, I’ll take a look at the West, and the path ahead for the Dubs.

The Golden State Warriors are in a slightly unfamiliar place in the Western Conference. That place is second.

Since Steve Kerr took over as Warriors coach prior to the 2014-15 season, the team has never finished lower than first place in the west. In his inaugural year, they won by 11 games. In their record-breaking 2015-16 season, as well as last year, they won the conference by six games.

So with exactly 20 games left, the Warriors are a little bit off the path, as they find themselves a half-game behind the Houston Rockets.

Can the Warriors catch up? Yes. Not only are they the better team (their net rating is notably better), but Golden State has a significantly easier schedule.

The Warriors only have two games remaining against the seven other teams currently on pace for home court advantage in the playoffs, and one of those teams, the Minnesota Timberwolves, will be without their best player. The Rockets, on the other hand, have six such games.

In the next week, the Warriors take on the Atlanta Hawks on the road, before a pair of home games against the Brooklyn Nets and San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets have a much scarier schedule, hosting the Boston Celtics, before road contests against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Milwaukee Bucks.

Houston may be riding a 14-game winning streak, but there’s a good chance that this time next week, they’ll have flipped spots with the Warriors.

But if the race for the top spot is exciting, it’s nothing compared to the rest of the action. Currently the Minnesota Timberwolves hold the third seed in the west, but they are only 3.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers . . . who are currently slotted to miss the playoffs.

It’s an eight-team race for six spots, and it couldn’t be closer.

Western Conference Playoffs

Seed Team Record Games Back
Seed Team Record Games Back
3 Minnesota 38-27 -
4 Portland 36-26 0.5
5 San Antonio 36-26 0.5
6 New Orleans 35-26 1
7 Oklahoma City 36-27 1
8 Denver 33-28 3
9 LA Clippers 32-28 3.5
10 Utah 31-30 5

Of course, the eight teams are not only fighting for a spot in the playoffs, but a first-round matchup that doesn’t include Golden State. Currently the Warriors are scheduled to face the Thunder in the first round which . . . yes please. That’s good for drama.

But the situation is highly fluid. Minnesota is without Jimmy Butler for the foreseeable future, and could quickly fall from the third seed right out of the playoffs. Utah is bringing up the rear, but playing tremendous basketball. And everyone in between is fluctuating wildly, mixing impressive wins with head-scratching losses.

Hang on to your hats, folks. The race for the playoffs - and the top seed - is going to be a lot of fun.

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