7 teams are still in contention for those 5 spots. Who will be in the playoffs?
Just to give you a quick refresher, below is the playoff situation in the Western Conference from the 4th spot down:
4. Utah Jazz (45-33)
5. San Antonio Spurs (45-34)
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-34)
7. Minnesota Timberwolves (44-34)
8. New Orleans Pelicans (44-34)
9. Denver Nuggets (43-35)
10. Los Angeles Clippers (42-36)
While the Eastern Conference has already locked their top 8 teams who will battle it out to figure who will represent them in the NBA Finals, the Western Conference, on the other hand, is still an open race, at least for the 5 remaining spots. The Houston Rockets have already claimed the top spot and the best record in the NBA while the Golden State Warriors will face the #7 team in the first round. The Portland Trail Blazers surged into the playoff picture and they are now the third-best team in the West heading into the final games of the regular season.
Who will be in the playoffs and who will not?
With the teams mentioned only separated by a game, each of the teams' final games to finish the regular season is a must-win game because one bad game and you might be going on an early vacation.
Among the 7 teams above, the Spurs and the Thunder are the two teams who can possibly miss the playoffs. The Spurs, for one, will not get 50 wins in a season for the first time since the 1996-1997 season.They even missed the opportunity to lock in their playoff spot when they bowed down to the lottery-bound Los Angeles Lakers in a game that went to overtime.
The Thunder, on the other hand, is nothing short of inconsistency this season despite having Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and, Russell Westbrook in the line-up. Oklahoma City was said to be capable of competing against the likes of the Rockets and the Warriors and yet, they are on a verge of missing the playoffs. With three teams below the Thunder sticking around like glue, there's no room for error. Mind you, the Thunder will face the Rockets, one more time.
However, given that the Spurs and the Thunder are two experienced teams in the playoffs, it's almost sure that they can lock on 2 of the 5 spots in the West. The only question is: where each team will land? You don't want to get the Rockets or the Warriors as your dates in the first-round, do you?
Why? The Clippers are on a slide right, losing 7 of their last 12 games. The Nuggets will face the Blazers, and the Timberwolves, twice. Schedule-wise, the Timberwolves own the relatively-easiest schedule to finish the season, facing the Nuggets twice and two lottery-bound teams.
Given how close the records are, it's really an unpredictable race. But who are we to complain? The race to the playoffs has never been this exciting unlike in the previous 3 seasons when the Warriors were lording over the West. Change might be coming, soon.