Good luck figuring out which teams will earn the final four playoff spots in the Western Conference.
The Rockets, Jazz, Spurs and Clippers occupy seeds 5-8 in the West as of Feb. 25, but the Kings, Lakers and Timberwolves are within striking distance of the postseason. Even the Trail Blazers, who are currently the No. 4 seed, find themselves only 2.0 games ahead of Houston.
Here’s how the aforementioned teams have stacked up so far this season on both ends of the floor.
|Team Splits (as of Feb. 25)||Offensive Rating (via NBA.com)||Offensive Rating Rank||Defensive Rating (via NBA.com)||Defensive Rating Rank|
|Trail Blazers (currently No. 4 seed)||112.5||T-5th||109.2||16th|
|Rockets (No. 5)||114.1||2nd||112.0||25th|
|Jazz (No. 6)||108.9||18th||105.8||4th|
|Spurs (No. 7)||112.5||T-5th||111.9||24th|
|Clippers (No. 8)||110.4||13th||110.1||19th|
|Kings (No. 9)||108.7||19th||109.9||18th|
|Lakers (No. 10)||107.4||21st||108.4||12th|
|Timberwolves (No. 11)||110.6||11th||110.6||20th|
As for the teams who’d miss the postseason if the playoffs started today, the Lakers are better than their respective overall ratings imply given their injuries this season to LeBron James and Lonzo Ball, while the Kings have been a surprise despite not having a superstar player. Minnesota has the most ground to make up, but possesses the offensive firepower required to hang with the league’s top teams.
The Rockets, Spurs and Trail Blazers can rely on their offense to stay in the playoff hunt, and Utah can lean on a top-tier defense come April.
Here’s the remaining strength of schedule for each team, courtesy of Tankathon. Remember — the higher the ranking, the harder the schedule.
|Team||Remaining Strength of Schedule (as of Feb. 25)|
|Trail Blazers||.487 (21st)|
Outside of the T-Wolves and the Lakers, every team currently in the hunt is in relatively good shape in terms of strength of schedule during the final stretch of the season.
As for my predictions, I believe the Timberwolves will eventually fall out of the picture due to their schedule. The Clippers can’t keep up without Tobias Harris’ consistent production, so they’ll also drop out of the eighth spot. I see Houston, buoyed by a healthy Clint Capela and Chris Paul, taking Portland’s spot at No. 4 with the Trail Blazers falling to the fifth seed. Utah retains its playoff position behind a soft schedule and stellar defense.
The Lakers get three more opportunities to play the Clippers and Kings, and James will put pressure upon himself to win those games, propelling the Lakers into the postseason as the roster gets healthier across the board.
Sacramento, who already has this season’s series tiebreaker over San Antonio, gets one more game against the Spurs. The Kings also get the Clippers once, but don’t have the tiebreaker. That being said, I see Sacramento sneaking into the postseason behind the heroics of Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox, pushing San Antonio out of the playoffs for the first time since 1996-97.