Who Will Be The Odd Team Out in The West?

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Who Will Be The Odd Team Out in The West?

In the wild western conference, there is a clear separation between the upper echelon teams and the bottom dwellers. 

Golden State, Memphis, LA Clippers, Minnesota, Oklahoma City, and Sacramento fans all waived goodbye to their team's playoff chances somewhere in between training camp and the beginning of 2009. 

That leaves nine teams who all feel that they are a playoff caliber squad, and each team can make a compelling argument.

At this point, with each team still to play 20-25 games before the end of the season, only the Lakers can sit comfortably knowing the playoffs are a lock. 

San Antonio and Denver, barring a monumental collapse can probably be thrown into that category as well. 

This leaves six teams for five playoff spots.  Either Houston, Portland, New Orleans, Utah, Dallas or Phoenix will watch the playoffs from their couch. 3.5 games separate the six teams.

I've broken down each of the six teams, and given my opinion on whether or not they have what it takes to make this year's playoffs. 

Keep in mind that by difficult games, I mean games against teams with winning records and by easy games, I am referring to games against teams with .500 records or worse.

 

Houston 37-22 (.627)

Remaining Schedule Breakdown:
Home games: 11
Road Games: 12
Easy Games: 9
Difficult Games: 14

Prognosis: I think many people thought Houston might be the odd team out when McGrady was lost for the season.  The Rockets have gone 6-1 since then, though, and they seem to have a clearer identity than in years. 

This is a great defensive team whose offense can be very effective in half court sets going through Yao. 

The Rockets will be tested, however, down the stretch with 14 of its remaining 23 games against teams with winning records.  I think they may slip a few spots, but I fully expect them to make the playoffs.

 

Portland 36-22 (.621)

Remaining Schedule Breakdown:
Home Games: 13
Road Games: 11
Easy Games: 12
Difficult Games: 12

Prognosis: The Trail Blazers have surprised many people this year.  Even though everyone dubbed them a team on the rise, I don't think anyone would have dreamed that they'd have a legitimate chance to earn a 3 or 4 seed in the playoffs. 

With more remaining home games (where they're 23-5) than on the road, the Blazers have one of the easier paths the rest of the way, though it's certainly not in the bag. 

We will really see what this young team is made of the rest of the way, and with Roy at the helm, I expect nothing more than the Blazers to be back in the playoffs for the first time in six years.

 

New Orleans 35-22 (.614)

Remaining Schedule Breakdown:
Home Games: 11
Road Games: 14
Easy Games: 13
Difficult Games: 12

Prognosis: I fully expect the Hornets to make a good run at the 4 seed and a chance at home court advantage in round one.  Though they face 14 more road games, 9 of those are against teams at .500 or worse. 

Look for Chris Paul to put the team on his back and prove to the world what we all know already: that he's the best point guard on the planet.

Utah 36-23 (.610)

Remaining Schedule Breakdown:
Home Games: 9
Road Games: 14
Easy Games: 9
Difficult Games: 14

Prognosis: The Jazz have had a rough season.  Injuries have been a huge problem as no Jazz player has played in every game.  Their three leading scorers have missed a combined 66 games (Boozer 44, Williams 14, Okur 9). 

On top of the that, their long time owner Larry Miller passed away a little over a week ago.  In some ways, Utah has no business being in this discussion, but to Jerry Sloan's credit, the team is poised to make another playoff run, and with the team healthy for the first time, I see no reason to count them out.

Dallas 35-23 (.603)

Remaining Schedule Breakdown:
Home Games: 12
Road Games: 12
Easy Games: 10
Difficult Games: 14

Prognosis: Dirk Nowitzki hasn't missed the playoffs since his second season in the league.  Even though he has been criticized in the past for his lack of production once he gets to the playoffs, nobody has ever doubted his ability to carry a team into the playoffs. 

Along with Jason Kidd, and Josh Howard, the Mavericks have the talent to rise as high as the number 3 seed by the time it's all said and done.  There is just too much experience on this team for me to count them out, even with the injury to Jason Terry.

Phoenix 33-25 (.569)

Remaining Schedule Breakdown:
Home Games: 12
Road Games: 12
Easy Games: 10
Difficult Games: 14

Prognosis: Losing Amare for the season has obviously been a big blow to the Suns, and does not bode well for their chances to slip into the playoffs.

One guy whose all too familiar with the playoffs, Shaquille O'Neal, is not ready to mail it in and has actually played a bit like the Shaq of old since Stoudemire's eye injury, averaging roughly 26 points, 9 boards, and 2 blocks. 

If he continues to put up numbers like that, Alvin Gentry's team has a chance.  Count me as one person who does not think he will keep those numbers up. 

That, and they play 14 of their final 24 games against teams with winning records, and it looks like the hill might just be too steep for Phoenix to climb.

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