With just about a month remaining in the season, things are pretty well settled at the top of the Western Conference. The San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Oklahoma City Thunder will almost undoubtedly be your top four seeds, the only possible changes will come in the ordering of them.
But the bottom of the Western Conference continues to be surprisingly competitive. It helped that both the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz dealt away stars, because they were both looking pretty set until they made those moves. Here’s how the last four playoff spots shape up right now:
5) Denver 39-27
6) New Orleans Hornets 39-29
7) Portland Trail Blazers 37-29
8) Memphis Grizzlies 36-31
9) Phoenix Suns 33-31 (1.5 back)
10) Utah Jazz 34-33 (2 back)
11) Houston Rockets 33-34 (3 back)
Being three games back in the loss column with fifteen to play isn’t dead, but it’s pretty close to it. The Rockets are currently given a 29.0% chance to make the playoffs per John Hollinger’s statistics, and those stats are really kind to the Rockets. Houston will face the Suns tonight with an opportunity to gain ground on a team in front of them. Phoenix will likely be without Steve Nash tonight as well, forcing ex-Rocket Aaron Brooks into the starting lineup.
While it wouldn’t mathematically eliminate the Rockets, losing this game and boosting the Suns’ chances would be catastrophic for any chance they have of making the playoffs this season.