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Western Conference standings check-in, February edition

It ain’t pretty, folks.

Steph Curry dribbling with his left hand around the defense of Nikola Jokić, with Aaron Gordon in the background. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It’s time for the monthly Western Conference standings check-in, where we can take a look at how the Golden State Warriors are doing relative to the team’s they’re fighting for the playoffs and play-in tournament.

Things weren’t very pretty when I published the last installment of this exercise, back in early January. Now we’ve moved the calendar to February and ... well ... things are even less pretty, folks.

There’s reason for optimism. Ahead of a crucial five-game road trip, the Dubs have started to play better. And after having the toughest schedule in the NBA in the first half of the season, things are going to lighten up here for a little while.

But my goodness is there work to be done. So here’s where things sit, with net ratings being garbage-time adjusted, courtesy of Cleaning The Glass.

The playoff teams

1. Minnesota Timberwolves — 34-14 record, +7.1 net rating (4th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Wolves: 0-2
Games remaining vs. Wolves: 1

The Wolves were the top seed when I first did this exercise in late November. I labeled that a surprise. The Wolves were still the top seed when I next did this exercise in early January. I labeled it another surprise.

The remain on top of the West, and it’s no longer a surprise. The Wolves have had a few hiccups lately — their last two losses have come against the San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Hornets — but the triumvirate of Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert continues to lead Minny to win after win.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder — 33-15 record, +8.2 net rating (3rd in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Thunder: 1-3
Games remaining vs. Thunder: 0

Allow me to repeat myself. When the Thunder were the second seed when I first did this exercise in late November, I labeled it as a surprise. And when they were still the second seed when I next did this exercise in early January, I labeled it another surprise.

They remain second in the West, and I’m no longer surprised. This team is damn good. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an MVP candidate (and an All-Star starter), while Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams have emerged as honest-to-goodness stars.

They’re going to be good for a very, very, very long time.

3. LA Clippers — 31-15 record, +8.4 net rating (2nd in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Clippers: 1-2
Games remaining vs. Clippers: 1

It’s pretty easy to make the case that the Clippers are the best team in the West. Sure, they’re third in record, but they have the best net rating in the conference (and trail only the Boston Celtics in the NBA). And their record is dragged down by a slow start to the season, before a massive trade that brought in James Harden (and, more importantly, a slow acclimation period).

The Clippers lost on November 14, punctuating a six-game losing streak that served as an ugly and comical welcome to Harden. Since then? They’ve gone 28-8 with a +10.2 net rating — both the top marks in the entire NBA.

Injuries will always be a concern for a team led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. And chemistry and postseason questions will always arise for a team dependent on Harden and Russell Westbrook. But my goodness are the Clippers good.

4. Denver Nuggets — 33-16 record, +4.1 net rating (8th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Nuggets: 0-3
Games remaining vs. Nuggets: 1

Despite my reluctant gushing about the Clippers, the Nuggets remain my pick to win the West. They have the experience, having won a championship last season. They have the high-end potential, as they’ve played better than their numbers suggest — absences for Jamal Murray and simply coasting from time to time have impacted matters. And they have arguably the best player alive, Nikola Jokić.

Like most of the teams near the top of the standings, the Warriors have played the Nuggets well but been unable to bank wins in the process. Their three losses to Denver have been by a combined 12 points, despite Draymond Green missing all three contests. It will be fascinating to see them play in late February, with Green now the team’s starting center opposite Jokić.

5. Sacramento Kings — 27-19 record, -0.2 net rating (17th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Kings: 2-2
Games remaining vs. Kings: 0

Sacramento pulled off a stunning and heartbreaking one-point win over the Warriors last week, and it gave them the tiebreaker should the teams end the season with the same record. That might seem unlikely given the gap between their records, but the Warriors actually have a better net rating than the Kings this year!

6. Phoenix Suns — 28-20 record, +3.8 net rating (9th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Suns: 0-3
Games remaining vs. Suns: 1

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Dubs have played the Suns fairly well, despite the complete lack of wins. They’ll get a chance to get one back next Saturday, in an appetizer before Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Phoenix has been plagued by injuries this season, but they’re starting to click. Since getting blown out by the Dallas Mavericks on Christmas, Phoenix has gone 14-5.

The play-in teams

7. New Orleans Pelicans — 27-21 record, +3.3 net rating (11th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Pelicans: 1-1
Games remaining vs. Pelicans: 1

Things have been funny when the Dubs and Pels have matched up. Golden State had one of their best wins of the season against NOLA, with a statement 130-102 road win in just the fourth game of the season. They also had perhaps their most embarrassing loss of the season against the Pelicans, getting obliterated at home 141-105 a few weeks ago, in their very first game since Steve Kerr proclaimed that they wouldn’t get horribly embarrassed again this season.

The Pelicans are a funny team. They have so much talent, but so many question marks, both regarding roster construction and injuries.

8. Dallas Mavericks — 26-22 record, -0.0 net rating (16th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Mavs: 0-1
Games remaining vs. Mavs: 3

If the Dubs find themselves battling the Mavs in the standings, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to settle things on the court. Three of Golden State’s last 18 games are against Dallas, and the Mavericks actually have a worse net rating than the Warriors this season.

I love Luka Dončić, but I remain dubious that this Mavs team can actually be notably good, as currently constructed and coached.

9. Los Angeles Lakers — 24-25 record, -0.4 net rating (18th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Lakers: 0-1
Games remaining vs. Lakers: 3

It’s safe to say the NBA does not want the Lakers or the Warriors to miss the playoffs. And it’s equally safe to say that after Saturday’s thrilling double-overtime contest, nearly everyone wants to see these teams face off in the playoffs, or at least the play-in tournament.

The Lakers continue to be a tale of two teams. Since winning the inaugural in-season tournament, Los Angeles has gone just 10-16. They’re reeling right now, as they’ve started a five-game road trip with back-to-back blowout losses against the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks.

10. Utah Jazz — 24-25 record, -3.2 net rating (24th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Jazz: N/A
Games remaining vs. Jazz: 4

It’s a good thing that the Warriors get to still play four games against Utah. It’s a team they’re directly battling in the standings, and despite Utah having started to put some wins together, the advanced metrics say they’re not a very good team.

The lottery teams

11. Houston Rockets — 22-25 record, +2.0 net rating (12th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Rockets: 2-0
Games remaining vs. Rockets: 1

All year long, the Rockets have had a record that lagged far behind their net rating. Their record seems more like what the team should be; they have lots of exciting young talent, but still seem a ways away. But they’re pesky, and right now they’re standing in Golden State’s way.

12. Golden State Warriors — 20-24 record, +0.2 net rating (15th in the NBA)

Games behind the play-in: 1.5
Games behind the playoffs: 6

It’s been a disappointing season for the Warriors. There’s simply no doubt about that. But if you want optimism, I can easily find it in four easy ways.

  1. As previously mentioned, Golden State has had the toughest schedule in the league, and now things ease up.
  2. Even so, the Dubs have a better net rating than four of the teams currently in the playoffs or play-in.
  3. They seem like a very different team since Green returned.
  4. Reinforcements are on the way.

They need to start winning games and climbing the standings. No excuses, Dubs.

13. Memphis Grizzlies — 18-29 record, -5.0 net rating (25th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Grizzlies: 0-1
Games remaining vs. Grizzlies: 2

For most of the season, the question surrounding the Grizzlies was whether they could stay afloat enough that they could rise into playoff contention upon the return of Ja Morant from a league suspension. It seemed like they might be on the right path, as the Grizzlies went 6-3 in Morant’s nine games back. But in the ninth game he suffered a season-ending injury, and now it seems safe to say that Memphis is fully out of it.

14. Portland Trail Blazers — 15-33 record, -9.8 net rating (27th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Blazers: 3-0
Games remaining vs. Blazers: 1

The Dubs have taken care of business against Portland, and they’ll get one last chance to bank what should be an easy win in the 80th game of the season.

15. San Antonio Spurs — 10-38, -7.4 net rating (26th in the NBA)

Warriors record vs. Spurs: 1-0
Games remaining vs. Spurs: 3

San Antonio is dangerous given that they’re coached by Gregg Popovich and feature Victor Wembanyama. But they’re also not good, and trending towards tanking territory ... and the Dubs get three of their final 20 games against them.

There’s certainly an opportunity for the Warriors to make a strong push at the end of the year.

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