By Denton Day
We have entered the home stretch of the NBA regular season. With less than 10 games left for all the NBA teams, the top dogs in the Western Conference have been able to distance themselves from the rest of the pack. The Golden State Warriors, who are still chasing an NBA record 73 wins in a season San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers have all clinched playoff berths.
Five teams will be battling it out for the final four playoff spots:
Wins Losses Games Back
5. Memphis Grizzlies 41 32 __
6. Portland 38 36 3.5
7. Utah Jazz 36 37 5
8. Houston Rockets 36 38 5.5
9. Dallas Mavericks 35 38 6
A two and a half game difference between the sixth seed and the ninth seed is going to make for a crucial final few games of the season.
The Grizzlies have a six game lead and are a few wins away from clinching their spot. However, in their final stretch of games, they play the Warriors twice, the Spurs, the Clippers, the Raptors and the Mavericks once each. Out of the five teams still looking for the playoff spot, the Grizzlies easily have the toughest road to the finish.
The Trail Blazers also take on the Warriors and they have had success against Golden State, handing them one of their seven losses earlier in the season. Oklahoma City, Miami and Boston are the only other teams with a winning record that the Trail Blazers face. Guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have been sensational since the All-Star break in February. Expect them to grab up a playoff spot.
Utah also will take on the Warriors the Spurs and the Clippers. However, the game to look out for the most on the Jazz’s schedule is on Monday April 11, when they take on the Mavericks. The game will be played at Utah and could be the deciding factor on who gets the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The fact that the Rockets train wreck of a season still has playoff possibilities is a win in itself, but obviously a playoff spot would be a lot more rewarding. Houston has a tough four game stretch consisting of the Cavaliers, Bulls, Thunder and Mavericks. Like Utah, the game against the Mavericks is possibly the most important game, although at this point, every game matters. Following the Mavericks game, the team takes on all teams with losing records; the Suns, Kings twice, Lakers and Timberwolves.
The Mavericks have the most favorable schedule in the sense that they play multiple teams that they are battling with for a playoff spot. Taking on the Grizzlies, Jazz and Rockets gives them the opportunity to not only win a game for themselves, but also steal one from those three teams. This stretch will be a test of what Dirk Nowitzki has left in the tank. Let’s face it, at 37, he’s not getting any younger.
The Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Jazz and Mavericks make the playoffs and Rockets’ disaster of a season comes to an end.