What’s Going on With the Western Conference Playoff Picture?

What’s Going on With the Western Conference Playoff Picture? article feature image

The end of the season in the Western Conference is going to be bonkers, both at the top as 4 teams fight to finish top 4, and in the middle, where there are 6 teams fighting for 4 playoff spots.

Here are the current standings for seeds 5-10, all separated by 3.5 games or less, with their best odds to miss the playoffs:

  • Phoenix Suns: 34-24 (+400)
  • New Orleans Pelicans: 35-25 (+310)
  • Dallas Mavericks: 34-25 (+320)
  • Sacramento Kings: 33-25 (+240)
  • L.A. Lakers: 32-27 (+102)
  • Golden State Warriors: 30-27 (-115)

These six teams odds to miss the playoffs add up to 2.006. Since the top 4 are virtually locked in, and the bottom 5 are as well, there is almost a guarantee exactly 2 of these teams miss the playoffs. The books have so little hold here, which means there MUST be value on one of these teams to miss the playoffs. The tricky part is figuring out which one.

Phoenix Suns

The case on missing the playoffs: Phoenix has the toughest remaining strength of schedule in the entire NBA per tankathon and basketball reference. Beal can't stay healthy, and they are a twisted ankle to Booker or Durant (who has a high injury history) of being the worst team of these five.

The case for making the playoffs: Booker and Durant are 2 of the 5 best players on these teams, and if they make the play-in, they will be favored and have a good chance to win. They also have the second best net rating of this bunch.

New Orleans Pelicans

The case on missing the playoffs: New Orleans best players this season by net rating are almost all off the bench: Alvarado, Trey Murphy, Naji Marshall, and Herb Jones (a starter). When the play-in roles around, starters will play more minutes, which often diminishes the advantage of teams with a strong bench.

The case on making the playoffs: This team has the best net rating and is overflowing with talent. While there starters have struggled, those same starters have been solid in past play-in games.

Dallas Mavericks

The case on missing the playoffs: Remember last season? Dallas was 29-26 when they traded for Kyrie, then finished the season 9-18 and didn't even make the play-in. Kyrie is always a flight risk, and Luka doesn't have the most sterling health record.

The case on making the playoffs: Dallas has played much better since their trade deadline acquisitions, which while low upside, were meant to complement this version of the team. Luka is playing at an all time level, and Dallas has won 8 of their last 10.

Sacramento Kings

The case on missing the playoffs: Sacramento has the worst net rating of all of these names at -.7, and has exceeded their point different by 5.3 games. The #1 offense last season has now been average, and De'Aaron Fox is beat up.

The case on making the playoffs: The Kings could keep exceeding their point differential, especially with a healthy Fox. Mike Brown did a great job coaching in the playoffs last year, and Fox has been elite this season.

Los Angeles Lakers

The case on missing the playoffs: The Lakers haven't been good all season long. They have the second worst net rating of these teams at +.6, and LeBron is nicked up. The win last night was huge, but they are a flawed team with the 7th toughest schedule remaining.

The case on making the playoffs: Every time LeBron and AD have been healthy in the playoffs, they have been good. They are 2-0 in the play-in tournament, and have been better with Dinwiddie so far. They have a good chance to be favored in any play-in game, regardless of if they are at home or on the road. They also surged last season to get to the 7 seed, and will be motivated down the stretch.

Golden State Warriors

The case on missing the playoffs: This team is nothing without Curry, and was bad without Draymond when he was suspended. They are 12-24 against teams over .500 this season, and have killed teams below .500: none of whom they'd face in the play-in.

The case on making the playoffs: Curry is incredible, and this Warriors team has been good in playoff environment (see: 4 titles). They are well coached, and Curry is having his best clutch season. They also have the easiest schedule of these teams the rest of the way, and could push up to beyond the 9/10 range.

A quick note on the play-in tournament:

In the play-in tournament, the 7 seed hosts the 8, the 9 seed hosts the 10, and the winner of 9/10 plays the loser of 7/8. This means the 9/10 seeds have to win twice, while the 7/8 seeds have to win 1 of 2 games. There is therefore a massive advantage to finishing in the 7/8 spots. No 10 seed has made the playoffs (yet), but 9 seeds are 3-1 in the 8 seed game, though the sample size is very small or both.

For the Warriors/Lakers, I think there could be value on both. But, if they finish 9/10, one of them will win, and be a toss up against the other team. They also both have the chances to get into the 8 or higher, where they would be favored. I think there is more value on the longer odds.

Dallas and New Orleans both look to be too good, which leaves us with Phoenix and Sacramento. While Phoenix odds are juicy, they'd be favored in any play-in environment. Sacramento, on the other hand, wouldn't be favored against any of these teams, is the most likely 8 seed, and just hasn't been good enough. +240 implies they are over 70% to make the playoffs, but I think with the downside it's closer to 60%, especially since they could fall into the 9 seed.

Bet: Sacramento miss the playoffs, +240, .25u, DK (would also bet at +220 on ESPNBet)

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Nick Sterling
Apr 23, 2024 UTC