So I assume you saw the Golden State Warriors-Oklahoma City Thunder game Saturday night? Or at least saw the highlights? See above. Well worth your time.
In the Western Conference there are three clearly great teams … and everyone else. The Warriors' Saturday night overtime win over the Thunder pretty much proved it to me. That's why the race for the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds are so important. It allows those two teams to avoid the Warriors and Thunder — along with the second-place and equally as potent San Antonio Spurs — in the first round.
That's why we do this Dallas Mavericks NBA Playoff Chase piece each Monday. Can the Mavs stay in the hunt for the No. 5 spot? (Read this to hear the Mavs' first "official'' pronouncement of the "Drive for Five,'' and why.) Can they stay in the playoff hunt period, given how tight the race is wound for spots five through eight?
We'll take a look at how the Western Conference race is unfolding, starting with the No. 4 seed, and see how the Mavericks fit in.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (38-20 as of Sunday night, 3 1/2 games behind Oklahoma City; four games ahead of Memphis)
Last week: def. Phoenix, 124-84; lost to Denver, 87-81; def. Sacramento, 117-107.
This week: vs. Brooklyn (Monday), vs. Oklahoma City (Wednesday), vs. Atlanta (Saturday).
Status: The Clippers haven't given any ground since the post-All-Star Break schedule began. They're thriving without Blake Griffin in the starting lineup. Jeff Green has quickly emerged as a quality piece of the puzzle post-trade. The Clippers should have beaten Denver, so there's a piece that chasing teams can still grab onto. But the window of opportunity is closing.
What to expect this week: After Brooklyn, the Clippers face two quality tests against Oklahoma City and Atlanta, both at home. A win over OKC gives the Clippers a chance to make up some ground on the No. 3 seed.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (34-24 as of Sunday night, four games behind the Clippers; 3 1/2 games ahead of Dallas)
Last week: def. Los Angeles Lakers, 128-119; def. Los Angeles Lakers, 112-95; lost to Phoenix, 111-106.
This week: at Denver (Monday), vs. Sacramento (Wednesday), vs. Utah (Friday), vs. Phoenix (Sunday).
Status: Memphis took advantage of the opportunity to play the moribund Lakers twice in three days and won both, though that Phoenix loss was just plain strange. The Grizzlies are getting solid output from Lance Stephenson off the bench, as he's scored double figures in two of his first three games in Memphis. The Grizzlies are forcing teams like the Mavs to put together a hot streak to catch them, even with the loss of Marc Gasol.
What to expect this week: Four games in a week will test Memphis' depth. But a .500 week should keep Memphis in the driver's seat for No. 5.
6. Dallas Mavericks (32-28 as of Sunday night, three games behind Memphis; tied with Portland — Dallas would get No. 6 seed based on tiebreaker)
Last week: lost to Oklahoma City, 116-103; def. Denver, 122-116 (OT); def. Minnesota, 128-101.
This week: vs. Orlando (Tuesday), vs. Sacramento (Thursday), at Denver (Sunday)
Status: One had to expect the loss to Oklahoma City. But the Nuggets win was way too hard on the Mavs. It was their league-leading 10th overtime game of the season. Of course, they're 7-3 in those games. But the win over Minnesota, a game they led from the outset, gave their starters some well-earned rest. (Our Donuts recap the action here.)
What to expect this week: This is an opportunity week for the Mavericks, who face three non-playoff teams, the first two at home. Anything worse than 2-1 is unacceptable if Dallas has any chance of catching Memphis. And to Dallas' credit, it has Chandler Parsons playing his best basketball, as he himself says here.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (32-28 as of Sunday night, tied with Dallas; 2 1/2 games ahead of Houston)
Last week: def. Brooklyn, 112-104; lost to Houston, 119-105; def. Chicago, 103-95; def. Indiana, 111-102.
This week: at New York (Tuesday), at Boston (Wednesday), at Toronto (Friday), at Detroit (Sunday)
Status: The rest of the Western Conference must be thankful February is coming to an end. The Trail Blazers went 9-2 for the month, and if you dip back into late January Portland is 13-2 in its last 15. This is not a team I would want to face right now with playoff seeding on the line.
What to expect this week: This might be the week the Trail Blazers cool off a bit. During that 10-game stretch the Trail Blazers played 11 at home. Coming up this week is a four-game road slate and the first two — against the Knicks and Celtics — are back-to-back. If they falter it opens the door for Houston and Utah. If they don't, I don't see what stops them from making the playoffs, barring an injury.
8. Houston Rockets (29-30 as of Sunday night, two games behind Portland and 1/2 game ahead of Utah)
Last week: lost to Utah, 117-114; def. Portland, 119-105; lost to San Antonio, 104-94.
This week: at Milwaukee (Monday), vs. New Orleans (Wednesday), at Chicago (Saturday), at Toronto (Sunday)
Status: These Rockets truly fit into the back end of this race, as they lost to one of their key competitors for the No. 8 spot in Utah and then beat the team they're trailing, Portland, two nights later on the road. The loss to the Spurs was expected.
What to expect this week: This team may be on the verge. The Rockets released Marcus Thornton and ESPN reported they're also considering releasing Ty Lawson. Sam Dekker, their first-round pick, is returning from the D-League. Add all of that to a four-game week, with three on the road and two against Eastern Conference contenders and this could be the week the Rockets get dinged in this race.
Outside Looking In
9. Utah Jazz (28-30 as of Sunday night, 1/2 game behind Houston, 3 1/2 games ahead of Sacramento)
Last week: def. Houston, 117-114; lost to San Antonio, 96-78; lost to Brooklyn, 98-96.
This week: at Boston (Monday), at Toronto (Wednesday), at Memphis (Friday), at New Orleans (Saturday).
Status: Saturday's loss to Brooklyn was unfortunate. Otherwise the rest of last week went to form for the Jazz. The win over Houston may prove valuable at tiebreaker time.
What to expect this week: This is a brutal week for Utah. Four road games, three legit playoff teams — including two of the three best in the East — before a trip to New Orleans to face Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. This week could prove to be Utah's undoing.