Friday 15 December 2017 / 11:36 AM

West Playoff Picture

If the playoff picture in the East is a bottle of house red, what’s happening over in the West is a vintage 30-year-old Chateau de Blah-blah-blah (I drink Yellow Tail, so excuse my weak attempt at culture and class).

This is what a playoff run is supposed to look like. Good teams battling good teams, with a couple very talented squads not quite cutting the mustard and winding up watching the post-season from home.

Seriously, Phoenix (39-29) is currently in ninth place. They’d be a half game up on the Toronto Raptors and have the #3 seed in the East. That’s how much disparity there is in the 2013-14 NBA.

The West is beyond deep (so deep it put her ass to sleep, for you, Ice Cube fans), to the extent that even the #8 Dallas Mavericks could make it to the Finals and our shock would wear off before Dirk Nowitzki could find a razor.

Never in the history of the NBA has there been a post-season field so talented from top to bottom.

Every franchise ebbs and flows, except for the San Antonio Spurs.

Everyone knows that the Lakers are one of the greatest NBA teams of all-time, and 2013-14 aside, always a lock to be in the playoffs. But did you know that the Spurs have only missed the playoffs four times … ever?

Since their inception in 1976 they’ve been beyond consistent, and it’s been 18 years now since the last time they watched the post-season tourney from home. What’s even more impressive is that in 15 of those 18 seasons (including this one) they’ve finished in the top three seeds!

I’m still waiting for the controversial announcement that reveals the truth that Tim Duncan is a robot.

So, San Antonio is at it once again. They’ve won 11 straight games and enjoy a full two-game lead over the second place Thunder. If Duncan and Co. are able to come away with a win @OKC on April 3rd they’ll be in great shape to hold home court advantage throughout the playoffs. All up they’ve got a pretty easy ride from here on out. Even if they lose to the Pacers and the Rockets, it’s not as though the Thunder are going to win out.

The Thunder, of course, would love to take that April 3rd contest and somehow find a way to overtake the Spurs. Conventional wisdom still tells us that the top two seeds will find a way to the conference finals, and therefore home court advantage would be huge should the series head to a seventh game.

Kevin Durant is by far and away the top scorer in the league, as the only player averaging over thirty a night (31.8). Whether or not he’s better than LeBron James is irrelevant, he’s good enough that “riding his coattails” is a legitimate game plan for Head Coach Scott Brooks to follow.

Aside from beating the Spurs, the Thunder face a red hot LA Clippers team on April 9th in Los Angeles. With further games on the road @Houston and @Indiana, they’ll need to worry just as much about falling to the #3 seed as sliding up a slot to #1.

Almost there, but not quite.

Blake Griffin and the Clippers have won nine of their last 10 games, and find themselves just two games back of Oklahoma City. I was tempted to slot them in the top group with the big boys, but decided to give them their own category.

LA is close to being an elite team, but they’ll still be lacking the playoff experience needed to make a deep run. In fact, I think that having players step up as leaders in the playoffs is more important to this team than jostling for a higher seed right now.

One thing is for sure, the Clippers put some points up on the board. They are second in the NBA in scoring behind Griffin’s 24.3 a night. In total they’ve got seven players averaging double-digits. DeAndre Jordan is a monster on the glass, with 13.8 boards per game; Griffin adds another 9.7.

Poised to surprise.

Both Houston and Portland are excited to prove that their success this season has not been a fluke. The Rockets especially have been getting better as the season progresses, whereas the Blazers got off to a red hot start and then have been playing decent ball ever since.

As the #4 and #5 seeds, these two teams would meet if the season ended today. The matchup would pit the number one and number three scoring offenses against one another. Is anyone else licking their lips?

They won’t meet for the remainder of the regular season, so if Portland wishes to hop over Houston into the fourth slot, they’ll need to finish the season in the same manner that they started it. If it comes down to the wire, the Blazers will need to pull off big wins at home against playoff bound teams. Their last two games are versus Golden State and then the LA Clippers.

For the Rockets, the most important stretch of their remaining schedule is a tough four-game run against the Clippers, @Nets, @Raptors, and Thunder. They’d do well to win the previous four (Minnesota, @Cleveland, @Charlotte, Philadelphia) to take the pressure off ahead of time.

The bottom line is that both of these teams have the talent to give any of the top three seeds trouble in the post-season.

Bottom’s up!

Golden State, Memphis, and Dallas round out the sixth through eighth seeds. The Warriors and Grizzlies in particular have been heating up of late, winning seven and eight of their last 10 respectively.

We all remember the late season run that Golden State made last year, and led by Stephen Curry they once again are getting their act together at just the right time. Just three games back of the Rockets, it isn’t completely out of the question that the Warriors could open the post-season at home. But with only 13 games remaining, it’s unlikely.

Memphis and Dallas are both two games back of Golden State and 1 ½ games ahead of the #9 Phoenix Suns. There’s a very good chance that the 6-9 seeds will look very different by the season’s end.

The Grizzlies are in a similar position to the Washington Wizards; they’ve got a lot of solid players without a true superstar. Mike Conley and Zach Randolph each contribute 17.1 a night and Marc Gasol is solid in the middle, but it’s hard to imagine them pulling off a big upset when they lack a true go-to guy.

The Warriors have got Stephen Curry, and of course the Mavericks can turn to Nowitski. In fact, regardless of the fact that they are currently in eighth place, I’d give Dallas a better chance of pulling off a Round 1 upset than either Golden State or Memphis. Playoff experience matters.

Can the Suns prematurely eliminate Dallas or Memphis?

The Suns face both Dallas and Memphis in mid-April, giving them a legitimate chance at sneaking into the playoffs.

Phoenix plays a fairly modern style of basketball, with a no-name center in Miles Plumlee that averages just over eight points with eight boards per game. The game has changed a lot since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ruled the key with his sky hook, and even since Shaq dominated with brute force under the hoop, but the fact still remains that it’s hard to win in the playoffs without a quality center down low.

Think about it, when’s the last time we had an All-Star center playing on a truly bad team?

My point? If the Suns should make it into the big dance, they’ll be the most likely to be seeing a quick exit.

 

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Michael Airhart

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