The traffic jam, the agglomeration. Traffic jam, quagmire, obstruction. jam. It is what there is in the Western Conference, a maximum competition that will be resolved in a final sprint that will be run completely to the limit. Less than 15 games, barely a month to finish a normal season which has its closing date on April 9. Then he play-in, with 13 candidates for 10 positions. Later, the playoffs: 8, for 13. No team gives up, everything is in a fist and each confrontation will be a battle, a war. a final. There are 8 teams in 2.5 games; 9 in 4.5. 4 with the same balance (33-35) and the occasional match between direct rivals. Any slip can be very expensive, a bad streak completely disconnects you and a good one does not ensure your classification. And many proper names: Doncic, LeBron, Curry, Clippers, Jazz, Thunder… These are the accounts:
Los Angeles Clippers
If we consider that the Suns are up (37-30, Western Conference quarterfinals, four straight wins), the Clippers are the first we find in an extreme situation, although in a more favorable way than the rest of its rivals. They are positive (36-33) and it will be enough for them to maintain the 50% level to end in the same way. They have a good schedule: 13 rounds ahead, 8 of them at home, two visits against rivals from the East (they will host the Magic on March 18 and the Bulls on March 28) and many direct duels in which they cannot relax: a round against the Warriors, a visit to Portland, two rounds in a row against the Thunder, and confrontations against the Pelicans (double game) and again against the Blazers, on March 8, on the penultimate day. The Clippers have three consecutive victories after an initial 0-5 since the signing / farce of Russell Westbrook. Kawhi Leonard seems fit and the Angelenos continue to be a rival to watch in the playoffs. But, of course, they were also in recent years… In theory.
Golden State Warriors
14 games ahead: Stephen Curry is back and they come from beating the Bucks (without Giannis) after three consecutive defeats. They have only one game against a rival from the East (visit to Atlanta on Saturday the 18th) and direct duels against Clippers (in Los Angeles, on the 16th), Mavericks (in Dallas, on the 23rd) and in Portland (on April 9, the day everything ends). At home, they will receive Wolves (on the 27th), Pelicans (on the 29th), and Thunder (on April 5). It is not trivial to take into account what they play at home and away: they have a record of 28-7 at home and 7-26 away, a record that is too different for a team that, surely, will opt for the ring again. They will try to avoid the play-in and get to the playoffs more rested, with those days that come in handy for a franchise that knows them all. They are the last great dynasty of the NBA: watch out for them.
They are there, they seem to have found some regularity, but they do not seem to bother anyone beyond the fact that they have many options to sneak into the top three. We enter the teams that are at 50% (34-34 in this case) and have, like the Warriors, 14 games ahead. But they do not have a particularly long journey in case of playing the final phase and a defeat in the first round, just like last year against the Grizzlies, will be the most common. Together with the Mavs, they are the ones who travel to the East the most (Hawks, Bulls, Raptors, Knicks and Nets) and they only have 5 home games between now and the end of the season. They will have to visit the Chase Center and receive the Lakers and Blazers in key duels. His last game, in Minnesota against the Pelicans. What can it be, we’ll see, key.
To the rhythm of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, for better and for worse. The Slovenian is touched, but his return should not be very far. The trend is clearly negative (three defeats in the last four games), the ineffectiveness of Jason Kidd, manifests and the problems in the rotations, the shallow depth of the bench and the defense, a fact. If they arrive (34-34, just like the Wolves) they shouldn’t have much of a run in the playoffs and they are, in terms of sensations, incredibly far from stepping on those conference finals that they reached last year, for the first time since 2011. And then a summer full of decision-making: Let’s see what Doncic wants, what will happen with Kyrie, how to fill the defensive gaps, what to do with Christian Wood… All this and much more will have to think about the Mavs, a franchise that does not hit the key. 14 games ahead, 6 at home, a five-game tour of the East and a key duel against the Lakers on March 18. And since Kyrie arrived, by the way, 5 victories for the Mavs… and 7 for the Nets. Oh.
It seemed that they were headed for the well after the transfer market, but they continue to compete and scratch matches. They are the first of the four teams that have the same record (33-35) and they come from winning two consecutive games, but before that they lost four without failure. Three trips to the East (Heat, Celtics and Nets) and 8 games in his fort, in Salt Lake City. They end on April 9 with a duel against the Lakers that may or may not be defining. An attractive squad, a Lauri Markkanen that everyone likes, a coach with good ideas (Will Hardy) and a Danny Ainge on the board who seems to want to speculate and get a high position in the draft, but who is seeing that perhaps his team will dispute the play-in.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The transgression, the change. The huge number of rounds of the draft that Sam Presti has dedicated himself to collecting in recent years has finally given the odd result.. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s physical problems (more than 31 points per game and All Star) have not prevented them from continuing in the fight: they have won three of the last four games. They have a trip to Canada and another to Indiana; and 6 home games. They play two days in a row against the Clippers in Los Angeles, at the Chase Center on April 5 and in Utah on April 7. They don’t have a long way to go if they play the playoffs, but getting to at least the play-in it would be a clear and resounding step in the right direction regarding the project. A young team that looks to the future.
los angeles lakers
What about the Lakers? It is the million dollar question. It seems complicated that a team that goes through the play-in can dispute the ring. Darvin Ham already said that the objective was to avoid the previous one and reach fifth place to go directly to the final phasehe. And by power, they can: but pricks like the Knicks, who came back to back, are too malicious to achieve that goal. LeBron James is in the dry dock, although it has already been leaked that he will play as soon as possible, and Anthony Davis goes from legendary performances to quite discreet ones. The squad came out stronger after the market (D’Angelo Russell, Jared Vanderbilt…) and they have reason to believe that they can make it through the playoffs. But for that, first you have to get there, And be careful, just as they can get it, they can be left out. unknown. They have 7 home games and many direct duels: they visit the Pelicans and the Wolves, host the Mavericks, play away against the Jazz and Clippers (if playing against the Clippers can be considered away) and have a last round again against the Jazz. 14 games, 14 finals. It’s what the Lakers have left.
New Orleans Pelicans
The last of the four teams with a 33-35. The loss of Zion Williamson, who may not return throughout the season (of course) unraveled a franchise that in December came to lead the West. Now, to press: always around 50% (3-3 in the last 6 games), they receive the Lakers in a duel that can be defining (or not). From March 26 to 29, the Clippers, Blazers and Warriors visit. And on April 9 they end up against the Wolves, in Minnesota. They have many shortcomings and have taken a step back compared to last year, but they have options to play the playoffs again. Direct duels, which have many, will define.
Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard already assured that they were going to fight until the end, but the Blazers have been slightly off the hook (31-37) and they are the ones who have it the most difficult. They come from three consecutive defeats that have slightly dropped them from the fight. The good part is that they have 9 home games and no trip to the Eastern Conference, but it seems difficult for them to enter despite the series of exhibitions that Lillard can do. A project that sees its end closely.