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The end of the regular season will finally decide the Western Conference playoff picture

The Warriors are locked in at the two seed, but what matters from seeds four to eight could have a huge effect on this year’s playoffs.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, at long last, we are nearing the end of the regular season. Each team has about five or six games remaining.

For Warriors fans, it’s probably a sigh of relief: this season has been quite the slog.

But before the playoffs can begin, the rest of the Western Conference must be sorted out. Houston and Golden State are locked in at the one and two seed, respectively. The Trail Blazers will likely retain the three seed, and both the Clippers and Nuggets are on the outside looking in.

The battle between the Spurs, Timberwolves, Thunder, Jazz, and Pelicans for seeds four through eight is still as close as ever. The standings change almost daily.

Western Conference Standings, 3/31/18

Any one of these five teams, which are separated by one game, could easily end up as the seventh seed, which would put pit them against the Warriors in the first round. I’ve talked before about which teams I’d like to see in the first round, and with Stephen Curry likely out for the entire first round, the specific opponent they play could really matter.

As it stands right now, the matchup the Warriors want most is against the Pelicans. Anthony Davis is a monster, but the Warriors won’t have to be afraid of much else. The Spurs without Kawhi are also a good matchup, but with him they could be scary. The Jazz are solid, but the Thunder and Timberwolves (Jimmy Butler is returning soon) are matchups I’d very much like to avoid.

The seventh seed is not the only one that matters for the Warriors. The sixth seed will face the Blazers, and the winner of that series will face the Warriors in the next round. Any of the five aforementioned teams can beat the Blazers: the Blazers have been incredibly healthy this season, and have outperformed their net rating and point differential by quite a bit. But Stephen Curry will likely return at some point in the second round, so the Warriors’ second round opponent won’t as impactful.

My wish would be for the Pelicans to land in seventh and the Jazz to land in sixth. Some simulations of the remaining schedule show, however, how improbable each of the many outcomes are.

So buckle up your seatbelts! How the Western Conference sorts itself out in the remaining games will be a wild ride.

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