With the end of the regular season just a week away, the Western Conference Playoff Picture is heating up despite all eight teams having already clinched their spot. Following a loss at the hands of conference leader Golden State, the Nuggets fell further back of the Warriors and now Nikola Jokic and company must focus on holding off the surging Houston Rockets.
Winners of eight out of their last ten games, the Rockets are clicking on all cylinders and look to have shaken off whatever rust existed after working Chris Paul and Clint Capela back into the rotation. James Harden has continued his otherworldly play and continues to serve as the offensive catalyst for the Rockets in yet another MVP-worthy season.
Western Conference NBA Playoff Picture
Western Conference Playoff Standings
1. Golden State Warriors (53-24)
2. Denver Nuggets (52-26)
3. Houston Rockets (51-28)
4. Portland Trail Blazers (50-28)
5. Utah Jazz (48-30)
6. Los Angeles Clippers (47-32)
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-33)
8. San Antonio Spurs (45-34)
As things currently stand the Western Conference playoff matchups would shape up to look like:
Golden State Warriors vs San Antonio Spurs
Greg Popovich always gives the Warriors trouble but without his most fearsome weapon in Kawhi Leonard, this Spurs team simply doesn’t have the two-way play to match up alongside the Warriors. That said, you can never count out the master tactician Popovich to devise an otherworldly gameplan that levels the playing field a bit.
Denver Nuggets vs Oklahoma City Thunder
In what would be one of the most exciting first-round matchups, the young and dynamic Nuggets would get to face the star-studded Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver has swept all four of the matchups between the two teams on the year and while the Thunder should make things fun, they likely won’t be able to take down the Nuggets.
Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are the team that nobody wants to face and despite being the lower seed in this matchup, hold a 2-1 winning record over the Rockets this season. The Rockets are playing some of their best basketball on the year at the moment and just blew out the Clippers but keep an eye on this matchup for a potential first-round upset.
Portland Trail Blazers vs Utah Jazz
This looks on paper to be a nightmare matchup for the Trail Blazers. The Jazz have been locked in defensively as of late and are playing like one of the best teams in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers notoriously fall apart in the playoffs and while Lillard should still do Lillard things, look for the Jazz to clamp down on the rest of the Blazers.
Nuggets and Rockets battling for the Second Seed in Western Conference Playoffs
Sitting just one and a half games back of the Denver Nuggets, the Houston Rockets are making a late-season push for the second seed in the playoffs. The two teams are likely to meet in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs – so long as the Rockets can survive the Clippers.
The Nuggets have a dangerous final four games against the Trail Blazers (twice), the Jazz, and Timberwolves. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see them go 2-2 over this span while the Rockets win out against the Knicks, Suns, and Thunder.