NBA: The Race for the Last Spot in Western Conference Playoffs

S. DixonContributor IIIApril 1, 2013

NBA: The Race for the Last Spot in Western Conference Playoffs

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    The only interesting playoff race in the NBA is in the Western Conference. Three teams remain in contention for the eighth and final seed: the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks are all within two games of each other.

    Obviously, scheduling will play a vital role in deciding the eighth seed. However, the most important statistic is wins. Who’s won the most games this season? Who’s won the most games lately?

    The winner of this Western Conference playoff race will be the team playing their best basketball heading into big games. Those big games are against playoff-caliber opponents. However, standings will play a crucial role in deciding the eighth seed.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Lakers went into the season as one of the favorites to contend for the NBA title, not the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Los Angeles struggled early in the season due to injuries, lack of familiarity with head coach Mike D’Antoni and an extremely competitive Western Conference. Despite a rough start that had many doubting the Lakers’ chances of making the postseason, Los Angeles sits on the doorstep of a playoff berth.

    They continue their push to the postseason Tuesday night at home against the Dallas Mavericks.

    However, the Lakers’ path to the Western Conference’s eighth seed is not easy. Even with a win Tuesday night, the Lakers’ schedule works against them. Following Tuesday, five of the Lakers’ last seven games are against Western Conference playoff teams. Los Angeles hosts the Grizzlies, Warriors, Spurs and Rockets, while playing a road game against the Clippers at Staples Center.  

    That is not a favorable schedule heading into the postseason. The only good news for the Lakers is that they will only have to travel once (to Portland) for the remainder of the regular season. If the Lakers find their way in, they will be a dangerous team.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Dallas has won four of its past five games. Despite their current hot stretch, their schedule is not favorable.

    Five of Dallas’ nine remaining games are on the road and four of their remaining games are against playoff contenders. That does not seem difficult, but the Mavericks have to make up ground on the Jazz and Lakers.

    As of Tuesday, the Mavericks are two games behind the Jazz. They need every win they can get at this point. Dallas has no more room to lose games, unlike Los Angeles and Utah.

Utah Jazz

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    Utah is a surprising team that finds itself in playoff contention. Four of their last seven games are against playoff teams. Their schedule is similar to the scenarios in Dallas and Los Angeles because they will have to win games against superior teams to earn a spot in the playoffs.

    However, Utah has something going for them that the Lakers do not: Utah has won five straight games. It is crucial that a team is playing their best basketball going into big games against good teams.

    Utah’s situation is very similar to Dallas’. Both teams are playing very well and their schedules get tougher, but Utah has a two-game advantage in the standings. If both teams keep the same pace, that gap will be enough for Utah to hold on for a playoff berth.

The Last Team In

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    Utah wins this race by default. None of the three teams has much of an advantage when it comes to scheduling.

    The Lakers are not playing their best basketball heading into their tough stretch of games, which should eliminate them.

    The Mavericks are playing well at the right time, but two games in the standings will be too much to overcome in the final weeks. Therefore, the Utah Jazz will have the privilege of playing the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the NBA playoffs.