With 17 games left in their regular season, the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in third place in the brutal Western Conference. The Wolves are just three games ahead of the Nuggets who currently hold the eighth seed, and a whopping 11.5 game behind the Warriors for the second seed. Positions three through 10 are incredibly close. Right now, the Utah Jazz who find themselves in 10th are only five games back from the three seed. The end of the regular season is in sight, so who will claim playoff spots three-eight?
Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder haven’t been very impressive this year. With Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, you’d expect this team to be better. Still, I can’t imagine the Thunder falling out of the player, Westbrook and George are just too good. The Thunder just signed Corey Brewer, who should fill some of the injured Andre Roberson’s role. The Thunder are very thin, but because of their star players, they make the playoffs.
Portland Trail Blazers: In the last ten games, Damian Lillard has averaged just under 32 points per game. The Blazers have won five straight, and are clicking at the right time. The Blazers don’t have the easiest schedule left, they play 14 games against teams solidly in the playoff race. It won’t be easy, but I expect Damian Lillard, the most underrated player in the NBA, to carry the Blazers to the playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs: Things haven’t going well for the Spurs recently. The team went 2-7 in February, and there have been reports that Kwahi Leonard is frustrated with the organization. The good news for the Spurs is that it seems like Leonard might be nearing a return. The fact that the Spurs have played as well as they have (minus the month of February), without Leonard playing is pretty impressive. The Spurs need to start winning games now, and I have faith that the most reliable team in all of sports will make the playoffs once again.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler might miss the rest of the regular season, but the Wolves still find a way to make the playoffs. The Wolves have played the most games in the NBA, and own the tiebreaker over several teams in the playoff race. On top of that, they have a three game cushion on the number eight seed. They have a brutal stretch in front of them, their next six games are against playoff teams, and the game after that they play the Clippers who are just outside the playoffs. After that though, the schedule lightens up and the Wolves will play a lot of tanking teams. Wolves end their playoff drought despite Butler’s injury.
New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis is playing out of his mind, he’s averaging 34 points over the last 10 games. A month ago, I would have predicted the Pelicans to miss the playoffs, but how can you pick against them right now? Davis is putting up MVP-like numbers, and willing the Pelicans to victory on a nightly basis. The Pelicans are probably the least talented team of the teams in the Western Conference playoff race, but they still make the playoffs.
Utah Jazz: The Jazz have some ground to make up, but have won 12 of 14. Rookie Donovan Mitchell is making his case for Rookie of the Year, and Joe Ingels, Ricky Rubio, and Rudy Gobert are all playing great basketball. The Jazz only play three playoff teams in the next 11 games, and if they can go 10-1 or 9-2, they’ll be looking really good. Coach Quin Snyder has a serious case for Coach of the Year with how the team is playing after losing their best player in Gordon Hayward in the offseason.
With the Thunder, Blazers, Spurs, Wolves, Pelicans, and Jazz making the playoffs, that means the Clippers and Nuggets miss the cut. The Western Conference is as wild as ever, and as the season winds down, there should be meaningful basketball being played every night. Let’s enjoy the wild and unpredictable ride.