As the 2009-10 regular season draws to a close, the playoff picture in the West remains nearly as difficult to predict as the NCAA Tournament has been this March (you didn’t have Butler and Michigan State in your Final Four, did you?).
Perhaps the only thing that appears a sure thing for the Lakers is that they’ve more than likely locked up the No. 1 seed thanks to a 6.0 game lead on second place Dallas and 6.5 game edge on both Denver and Utah with just nine games to play. In fact, L.A. would need to lose at least six of their nine games to join Dallas with 25 losses and give the Mavs a chance at going undefeated.
It’s just as likely that Memphis (38-25) doesn’t catch San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland, all of whom are 9.5 games back of L.A., for the final playoff spot, so these appear to be the eight teams in the mix.
Western Conference Playoff Standings (Team, Record, Percentage, Games Back)
1) L.A. Lakers (54-19, .740, 0.0)
2) Dallas (48-25, .658, 6.0)
3) Denver (48-26, .649, 6.5)
4) Utah (48-26, .649, 6.5)
5) Phoenix (48-26, .649, 7.0)
6) San Antonio (48-28, .611, 9.5)
7) Oklahoma City (44-28, .608, 9.5)
8) Portland (45-29, .649, 9.5)
As you can tell, L.A. could realistically play … well … anybody in the first round. The final three teams do (Spurs, Thunder, Blazers) appear the most likely, while OKC and S.A. have far more difficult schedules than does Portland.
Spurs: @ Nets, Houston, Orlando, @ Lakers, @ Sacramento, @ Phoenix, Memphis, @ Denver, Minnesota, @ Dallas
Note: Four really tough road games isn’t ideal for Gregg Popovich and Co., but the Spurs did just smack the Celtics around in Boston.
Thunder: @ Philly, @ Boston, @ Dallas, Minnesota, @ Utah, Denver, Phoenix, @ Golden State, @ Portland, Memphis
Note: Aside from Minny, even their home games are tough, with Denver, Phoenix and Memphis heading into OKC to face a team making its first playoff push.
Trail Blazers: NY Knicks, @ Denver, @ Sacramento, @ L.A. Clippers, Dallas, @ L.A. Lakers, Oklahoma City, Golden State
Note: With how tough OKC’s schedule is, that second-to-last game in Portland could be the Trail Blazer’s chance to stick the Thunder in the eight spot for good.
Stay tuned over the next two weeks as things fall into place; of course, the Lakers may not know whom they’ll see until the final day of the regular season on April 14.