NBA Western Conference Playoff Picture Update: Confusing!

by April 14, 2008

By Sam Rubenstein

The regular season’s almost over and pretty soon we’ll be previewing all of the match-ups and various Slamonline writers will be responsible for their own series. It would be really nice if things were clear and we had some idea of what teams are playing each other, but that’s not how it works this season.

I’ll stick to the West, which has been more like a tight baseball pennant race than an NBA exhibition season. Phoenix was fading, Houston was rising, the Lakers took over, the Hornets took over, Denver got hot, Golden State got cold, San Antonio was San Antonio, Dallas collapsed, Dallas got hot, Utah became the hottest team… where are we?

As of RIGHT NOW these are the seedings with teams left to play:

1. LA Lakers vs. SAC
2. New Orleans vs. LAC, at DAL
3. San Antonio at SAC, vs. UTA
4. Utah vs. HOU, at SAN
5. Houston at UTA, vs. LAC
6. Phoenix vs. GS, vs. POR
7. Dallas vs. NO
8. Denver vs. MEM
9. Golden State at PHX, vs. SEA

I put the games between teams that are involved in head-to-head games in bold. Assume that playoff bound teams will beat those that are going home for the summer. I know, it’s a dangerous assumption, but if any of these teams lose to Memphis or Seattle at this point, they deserve what they get. Which is a slight re-seeding.

Here’s what this all means…

Tonight it’s Golden State at Phoenix. If the Warriors can find a way to win, they stay alive in the picture. A loss, and they’re out cause Denver has the tie breaker over them.

The Lakers should handle their business against the Kings, and lock up the #1 seed. If they don’t do that, then we get a huge mess that will never make sense. Here I go trying to break this down a simply as possible. It is going to get confusing no matter what. Take a deep breath. Read slowly. Do not attempt to operate heavy machinery.

1) New Orleans at Dallas – First we have to assume that the Hornets beat the Clippers. If New Orleans doesn’t go 2-0, then they leave the door open for the Spurs to catch them. If the Lakers do lose to the Kings, the Hornets can sneak back into the #1 spot to face – now this is where it gets interesting – the Hornets winning means Dallas losing. If Dallas loses, then it’s possible Denver or Golden State could catch them and flip the 7/8 seed depending on the tie-breakers involved.

Now, here’s where it really get fun… New Orleans will be playing to win, to go for the #1 seed, but they also have to watch out for the Spurs, who are right beneath them and could catch up. Even if the Lakers clinch, the Hornets still have to worry about their own slippage, losing potential home court in later rounds, or favorable match-ups. To summarize, the Hornets could be playing the Mavs to guarantee that they the Hornets, will be playing the Mavs in the playoffs. Dallas can not raise their position, they can only fall down to #8 with a loss. BUT… a Dallas win over New Orleans would go a long way to locking up the series as #2 NO vs. #7 Dallas.

Basically, it’s going to be New Orleans vs. Dallas in round one. This game could determine if that is a 1/8 series or a 2/7 series. You could see the Mavs as the #8 seed, getting no respect, facing an MVP candidate, and facing the top seed as an underdog. THE SHOE IS ON THE OTHER FOOT!

Of course if the Lakers beat the Kings and the Suns beat the Warriors, the Dallas-NO regular season game would be an exhibition of all bench players.

2) The Utah Jazz games – Again, have to assume that Sacramento will lay down and the Spurs handle them. San Antonio still has a chance to catch New Orleans at the #2 spot, but they could also drop all the way down to 5 or 6. They are in a flat-footed tie with Houston, but have the tie-breaker advantage. Assuming (again) that Houston can beat the Clippers, the San Antonio-Houston race comes down to Utah vs. each of them.

Utah goes to San Antonio and Houston comes to Utah.

Advantage: San Antonio.

Utah is 17-23 on the road, and 36-4 at home. For those of you who have come this far reading this post and are throwing your hands up saying “I don’t care, just line ’em up, play who ya play!”, the most significant point is that home court for Utah changes EVERYTHING. If they have home court in a series, they could be the favorite against just about anyone. As the road team, who knows.

Here is the key to the whole thing in simplest possible form: If Utah can beat BOTH San Antonio and Houston, they could rise up to the #3 seed, which is significant because if the #2 seed were to fall in round 1, then Utah becomes it and has that home court all the way to the conference finals.

This breakdown of the Western Conference playoffs is funny and accurate for many reasons. One of my favorites is the phrase “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” outside of Energy Solutions Arena. That is what is written on the gates of hell in Dante’s Inferno. Well played!

So there you have it. UTTER CHAOS! I’m 25% more confused now than I was before I started writing this thing.


Houston at Utah

San Antonio at Sacramento

Golden State at Phoenix

Believe it or not, we might actually know something for sure tomorrow morning.