There were plenty of headlines around the Association throughout this week but I decided to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture around the league before the final month of the regular season. On average there are about 21 games left for each team, with the Clippers having only 18 games left and the Timberwolves having 24 games left. Everyone else is in between but there are still so many things that can happen and every single match up could change before the postseason begins.
Eastern Conference: There seems to be three different clusters in the eastern conference this season, the first being Miami who is on absolutely fire right now (16 game win streak) and looks like a lock for the top seed in the conference. At eight games back, I don’t see the Knicks or the Pacers making a real threat to the Heat’s number 1 seed. Now, the race between the Knicks and Pacers is very interesting because even though the Knicks have more home games, they face more teams with a +.500 record. There is a Knicks-Pacers game in the final week of the season so that could very much determine a critical 2/3 position in the standings. The next cluster is the 4-7 seeds that are all within 1.5 games of each other. Here’s the most important factor to these teams: out of those four seeds, which is the most likely to avoid Miami early? The East is going through Miami, there’s no doubt about that but when would a team likely to upset the Heat be most comfortable facing them? The Bucks could get hot for a week but I still see them locked into the 8th seed.
Western Conference: Like in the east, the west also includes groups of sorts with the Spurs and Thunder leading the pack with no signs of down. I thought the Parker injury would derail in the Spurs a bit but from the looks of things, they’re not going to give up the top spot. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Durant and co. go on a hot streak and put real pressure on San Antonio. The next three teams (Clippers, Grizzlies and Nuggets) are all very dangerous and sort of “dark horse” teams that can interchange. Any of those teams are more than capable of making noise and taking the top two teams to seven games and pulling off an upset. Bringing up the rear are still interesting teams but I don’t see them as a real threat to the rest of the conference. Last but not least, Bryan’s Lakers continue to make headlines with quotes and their ability to realistically stay in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Lakers have a stretch coming up (8 of 10 on the road) that could very well decide their season’s hopes. Who knows, maybe the Lakers’ final game of the season against Houston could decide the 8th seed.