NBA Playoff Odds: Analyzing the Western Conference Postseason Race
Getty Images. Pictured (L-R): DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs, Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors, Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers.
With less than a month left in the NBA regular season, the race for the postseason gets more interesting by the day. Since the NBA added a play-in tournament allowing two extra teams the opportunity to make the playoffs, the postseason race is deeper than we’ve seen in past years.
With sportsbooks still offering odds on teams to make or miss the playoffs, let’s take a look at which teams have the best chance to make the postseason in each conference.
Below I’ll tackle to Western Conference, but you can check out my analysis on the Eastern Conference here.
Portland Trail Blazers
Playoff Odds: Yes -278 | No +210 (DraftKings)
The Trail Blazers were being priced as if they are a lock to make the playoffs — their yes/no odds -1115/+600 at DraftKings entering last weekend — but that has dropped significantly since.
Entering Tuesday, the Blazers are 32-28 with a Pythagorean Expectation of just 29-31, which suggests they’re fortunate to be over .500. It’s possible that is starting to catch up to them as they have lost five straight games and eight of their past 10.
The Blazers have engineered late-season pushes to make the playoffs in past years, but this time could be different. Damian Lillard is fighting through a hamstring injury, and there are rumblings that head coach Terry Stotts is on the hot seat. Like every other season in the Lillard-Stotts era, the Trail Blazers are excellent on offense and downright abysmal on defense.
This season those attributes are being pushed to the extreme despite having a capable wing defender in Robert Covington on the roster. Portland ranks fifth in Offensive Rating (117.3) and 29th in Defensive Rating (117.6) in its non-garbage-time minutes, according to Cleaning the Glass.
The defense has been so bad that the team is winning almost exclusively because of Lillard’s late-game brilliance. In the 35 games the Trail Blazers have played that have reached clutch-time, the they have 22-12 record with a 126.4 Offensive Rating and 100.0 Defensive Rating.
The Blazers have the second-toughest remaining strength of schedule with 12 games to go. Eight of those games are on the road, including a six-game road trip with games against the Memphis Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets, and Boston Celtics. The Blazers close the season against the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets and could be in real jeopardy if those teams aren’t resting players.
I’m not saying Portland will miss the playoffs, but it feels like it’s on a path toward a play-in game for the second straight season. Lillard has saved this team time and time again, but you have to wonder is the clock running out on this incarnation of the Blazers?
Playoff Odds: Yes -121 | No -106 (DraftKings)
After the Dallas Mavericks suffered a 113-95 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this month, Luka Doncic was critical of the NBA’s play-in tournament concept.
“I don’t understand the idea of a play-in,” Doncic told reporters. “You play 72 games to get into the playoffs, then maybe you lose two in a row and you’re out of the playoffs. So, I don’t see the point of that.”
I’ll reserve judgement on his feelings, but if there’s any team that has the right to the complain, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies. They were the first victims of the the play-in game that was established last season in bubble. Many felt it was created primarily for the purpose giving Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans every opportunity to make the playoffs.
Although the Pelicans didn’t make the playoffs, the Grizzlies were eliminated in the play-in game by the Trail Blazers. One season later, Memphis finds itself in the exact same position. Entering Tuesday, they are sitting eighth in the West and would face the Blazers in the No. 7 vs. No. 8 matchup if the standings hold.
Will last season’s play-in game experience help the Grizz? I’m not so sure.
The Grizzlies rank 16th in Offensive Rating (112.4) and 10th in Defensive Rating (111.5) in their non-garbage-time minutes, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Ja Morant hasn’t skipped a beat after his stellar rookie campaign despite dealing with injuries to start the season. Grayson Allen is in the midst of the best season of his young career as well.
Jonas Valanciunas has been unleashed in ways the Toronto Raptors never dreamt of, while De’Anthony Melton might be one of the most underrated players in the league and is coming off their bench. The Grizzlies also welcomed the return of Jaren Jackson Jr. last week.
All in all, they feel like a playoff team, but based on their meltdowns, I don’t know how confident I am that they can actually win a play-in game. Entering Tuesday, they sit 2.5 games behind the Mavericks for the No. 6 spot in the West.
The Grizzlies have the fifth-easiest remaining strength of schedule in the league and while their odds to make the playoffs moved from +110 a few days ago to -121, betting “Yes” on their playoff prop may be a bargain if you have the stomach for it.
Golden State Warriors
Playoffs: Yes -106 | No -114 (FanDuel)
The Golden State Warriors go as Stephen Curry goes. Unlike previous seasons, there’s no Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, or Andre Iguodala, and most of the other role players who proved that there is strength in numbers are gone.
Curry is the only player who matters for this team. The Warriors are scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and 100.9 points with him off.
While the Warriors are essentially a one-man offensive show, they rank seventh in Defensive Rating, holding opposing teams to 111.1 points per 100 possessions in their non-garbage-time minutes, according to Cleaning the Glass. As long as the Warriors can get a solid offensive output from someone outside of Curry on one of his more human shooting nights, they can compete on a nightly basis.
Entering Tuesday, the Warriors sit 10th in the West, a half game behind the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs for the eighth spot, with 11 games to play — and they play the Grizzlies in the final game of the season. They’ll play four road games during their final push, but they do have the fourth-easiest remaining strength of schedule in the West.
With two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, three against the New Orleans Pelicans and matchups with the Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, the bulk of the Warriors’ schedule comes against teams with records below .500. The Warriors have made a living beating up bad teams; they’re 16-7 against teams below .500 and 15-24 against teams above .500.
Over the past few days, their odds to make the playoffs have moved from +110 to -106 at FanDuel. I think the Warriors have a good chance at not only making the play-in game but taking the eighth seed in the conference.
San Antonio Spurs
Playoffs: Yes +245 | No -320 (FanDuel)
Entering Tuesday, the San Antonio Spurs are tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for eighth in the Western Conference, but there’s not a lot to love about this team.
I mean honestly, these aren’t your father’s Spurs. You know, the Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard-led Spurs? We’re a long way from that.
Gregg Popovich is still around, but this current Spurs team is average and lacks the identity we saw from the best squads of Popovich’s run. They rank 17th in Offensive Rating (111.5) and eighth in Defensive Rating (111.2) in their non-garbage-time minutes, according to Cleaning the Glass.
The Spurs are led by DeMar DeRozan, a good individual scorer who doesn’t exactly fit today’s game — DeRozan doesn’t shoot 3-pointers at a high rate (1.4 attempts per game) or an efficient clip (25.7%).
The Spurs collectively don’t take many 3s at all, ranking last in frequency (30.3%) and 18th in percentage (36.4%). (If you’re not shooting 3s as a team, you’ll consistently find yourself facing a math problem.) The Spurs also don’t score in the paint much either. They rank 20th in shot frequency at the rim and 21st in shooting percentage at the rim.
Where this team thrives is in the mid-range, which has long been DeRozan’s strength. That’s good, since teams often allow opponents relatively open shots from this area of the floor, but if you can’t score efficiently from 3-point range or the rim, you likely won’t have a top-tier offense.
In typical Spurs fashion, they play solid enough defense to put themselves in position to beat just about anyone.
Still, it’s hard to be excited about this team.
I think the Spurs have the lowest ceiling of all the teams in the postseason race out West. With the toughest remaining strength of schedule in their final 13 games, I see why oddsmakers have their playoff odds juiced so heavily toward “No”.