Moore’s Western Conference Playoff Picture, Scenarios, Projections: It’s a Bloodbath
Photo credit: USA Today Sports. Pictured: James Harden and Stephen Curry
- Who will make the 2018-19 NBA playoffs from the Western Conference?
- Matt Moore runs through the complete playoff picture, including the current standings, the potential scenarios and projections for where it will all land.
The NBA playoffs begin in 40 days. The season has less than 20 games remaining for most of the teams in the league.
We are in crunch time. Have a bad week? There goes home court. Have a bad two weeks? Your playoff spot might be in jeopardy.
This is when things get toughest, between the exhaustion, injuries and pressure. It’s go time.
Here’s a look at the Western Conference NBA playoff picture entering the games on Tuesday, March 5.
Magic numbers refer to the combination of wins and losses by the closest team in contention (and by extension, all subsequent teams) to secure a spot in question.
For example, if a team’s magic number is four for a playoff spot, they need four wins to clinch a playoff spot … or three wins and the ninth seed to lose one game … or two wins and the ninth seed to lose two games … or one win and the ninth seed to lose three games.
Western Conference Playoff Picture
1. Golden State Warriors (44-19)
Playoff spot: They locked this up when they hired Steve Kerr five years ago.
Homecourt: I’m willing to say they’re a lock for a top-two seed. Magic number for home-court first round is 14, for homecourt in the second-round it’s 15. Those are both low enough that the Warriors get there. They can go 9-10 and reasonably still clinch.
Getting home court over Denver is a significantly higher 18. If Houston or OKC make a significant run for the 2-seed, you can expect Golden State to turn on the jets to finish No. 1 so they have home court.
If it’s still Denver they’re chasing, the Warriors may coast out.
Golden State knows it doesn’t want to mess around with a potential Western Conference Final Game 7 in Houston or Oklahoma City, but Denver — nor any other team — having home court doesn’t scare the Warriors.
Regardless of how close Houston came last year, you still get the sense they’re not really scared by anyone in the West. And honestly, it’s a reasonable position.
2. Denver Nuggets (42-21)
Playoff spot: Denver’s magic number is 10, that’s a lock.
Homecourt: This looked a lot better a week ago before a three-game losing streak with Golden State looming Friday. Denver is really struggling since the return of Isaiah Thomas shuffled its rotations.
The Nuggets’ magic number for a top-four seed and homecourt in the first round is 16. That’s a lock in the Eastern Conference, but Denver doesn’t play in the Eastern Conference.
It’s just very possible that Portland, Houston, or Utah (or some combination of the three) make a run of winning 14 of their final 19 or better, which puts a ton of pressure on Denver.
The Nuggets have 19 games remaining; how many do they need to secure that magic number of 16? Do they need to go 12-7 vs. the eighth-best schedule by opponent win percentage?
Denver has a four-game East coast road trip coming up vs. mostly playoff teams. Looking at its schedule, I can only find nine games that feel like Denver should win instead of being predictable losses or coin flips.
Will two out of the quartet of Portland, Houston, Utah and OKC lose seven more games down the stretch?
Controversial option alert: Slipping might honestly be better for Denver long-term.
There are a lot of questions about how Denver will fare in a playoff series. A slide to third and a potentially tough matchup vs. Utah, Portland or OKC would lower expectations to a degree, and while a first-round loss in that spot would be disappointing, it wouldn’t be the embarrassing debacle of 2-7 upset to San Antonio or the Clippers.
On the other hand, if the Nuggets do hold on, they should beat either of those teams in a series, and if they do, they very likely get Utah, Portland or OKC — teams they match up decently against.
The Nuggets have no shot vs. Houston. The matchup is somehow worse for them than the rest of the league, and the rest of the league has a lot of trouble with the Rockets.