After 80 games the playoff seedings in the Eastern Conference are locked in. Meanwhile, the final four seeds in the West are still available with five teams in the mix for them. As it stands now the Pelicans occupy the fifth seed. They are followed by the Spurs, Thunder, and Timberwolves; with the Nuggets currently out of the playoffs. Each one of these teams, separated by one game and tie breakers, has two games remaining to determine who is in, and who is out.
New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis has been on an absolute tear since Demarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles injury. He was awarded Western Conference Player of the Month after putting up an insane 35.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 2.2 blocks stat line for the entire month, and has not slowed down. Couple that with Jrue Holiday having a career year, a dearth of three-point marksmen, and Rajon Rondo distributing the ball as he has done throughout his career; the Pelicans are a scary matchup for any team. Their remaining two games are against the Clippers and the Spurs. They can clinch tonight with a win over the recently eliminated and Lou Williams-less Clippers.
San Antonio Spurs
2017-18 has not been business as usual for the San Antonio Spurs. They failed to win 50 games for the first time since the 1999-2000 season and have had to cope with the never-ending saga with Kawhi Leonard. Gregg Popovich is still the head coach and with his track record, the Spurs cannot be counted out. LaMarcus Aldridge has been stellar all year, Rudy Gay has played well coming off the bench, and Manu Ginobili is still invaluable. Their remaining two games are against the Kings and Pelicans. If they can beat the visibly tanking Sacramento Kings, then they are in. This is the easiest clinching scenario of all the teams vying for a playoff spot.
Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC’s version of a “Big Three” has had mixed results this year. Night in and night out you know what you are getting from Russell Westbrook. One-hundred percent energy the whole time he is, accompanied by acrobatic finishes, pull-up three-pointers, and lung-busting coast-to-coast drives. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George are a different story. In his prime, Carmelo was an unguardable isolation scorer. He has always been a below average creator and defender, but you could depend on him to get buckets. In OKC he is nothing more than an average spot-up shooter. George is an elite two-way player. He plays lockdown defense on positions one through five and is a solid facilitator. However, his shot is broken. In Indiana he showed that he can shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor, yet he has not shot over 50% from the floor since Feb.14. OKC closes out with playoff bound Miami and then Memphis. Miami will be a tough matchup as they are jockeying for seeding in the East, but Memphis is horrible. If they win either one of those games they are in.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have one of the deepest rosters in the league. Tom Thibodeau chooses to ride his starters into the ground instead of dipping into that pool of talent. The Wolves’ starters play 34.8 minutes a game. The next closest team plays an average of 2 minutes less per game. This makes it very difficult for them to close out tight games. Further, it does not allow any player coming off the bench to get into a rhythm so they are inevitably pulled for a starter, which just continues the vicious cycle of fatigue. That being said they have one of the best young players in the game in Karl-Anthony Towns and a two-way force in Jimmy Butler. If they can make the playoffs they will be a nightmare matchup, even for the Rockets and Warriors. They end with Memphis and Denver. That game against Denver could be a win or go home situation.
The Nuggets are on the outside looking in. They have a young and exciting roster, but they can not play a lick of defense as they allow the fifth most points per game in the NBA. Their final two games are against Portland and Minnesota, and fortunately for them they control their own destiny. They play Portland at home and are 30-11 on the season in Denver. If they lose to Portland they are out. If they win, they set up an aforementioned do-or-die scenario against the Timberwolves. They last played one another on April 5th. Denver won 100-96 and the Nuggets were without Gary Harris and the Wolves were without Jimmy Butler. Both are available now.
In: Pelicans, Thunder, Spurs, Wolves.