NBA Playoff Picture 2022: Final West Bracket After Pelicans Beat Clippers

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIApril 16, 2022

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

The New Orleans Pelicans are officially the final team in the 2021-22 NBA playoff field after beating the Los Angeles Clippers 105-101 in the play-in tournament on Friday.

With that, the entire playoff picture is set. The only other puzzle piece entering Friday was figuring out the final Eastern Conference playoff representative, and that was taken care of when the Atlanta Hawks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-101 earlier in the evening.

It'll be a quick turnaround to the postseason as proceedings will start 1 p.m. ET on Saturday. The No. 4 Dallas Mavericks will kickstart Saturday's four-game playoff slate with the No. 5 Utah Jazz. The other four playoff series will begin Sunday.

As far as the Western Conference goes, here's how the bracket looks alongside some notes on each series.

Western Conference Matchups: Round 1

No. 1 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans

No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves

No. 3 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets

No. 4 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

Western Conference Semifinals

No. 1 Suns/No. 8 Pelicans winner vs. No. 4 Mavericks/No. 5 Jazz winner

No. 2 Grizzlies vs. No. 7 Timberwolves winner vs. No. 3 Warriors/No. 6 Nuggets winner

Western Conference Finals

Semifinal winners (highest seed has home-court advantage)

No. 1 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans

The Phoenix Suns were far and away the best team in basketball during the regular season, winning 64 games despite missing Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton for a combined 55 contests.

The defending Western Conference champions are looking to finish the job started last year when they fell to the Milwaukee Bucks in six NBA Finals games.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans' run to the playoffs has been remarkable. They started the year 1-12 but finished over .500 the rest of the way and took down the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs. This was despite missing star forward Zion Williamson all year with a broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

Credit to the Pels for even getting here, but the Suns are the heavy favorites for a reason in this series and should advance.

No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves

The Memphis Grizzlies' timeline has accelerated rapidly. They have the deepest team in basketball, hands-down, and one of the NBA's brightest stars in Ja Morant. Memphis doesn't really have a notable weakness given how well everyone meshes together and fills gaps on the team.

The Minnesota Timberwolves revolve around a big three of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D'Angelo Russell. Edwards, a second-year pro, looks like a perennial All-Star and someone who could lead the NBA in scoring someday.

Minnesota could absolutely give Memphis a series if the Towns/Edwards/Russell trio goes to work, but the Grizzlies' depth looks like the X-factor on the surface.

No. 3 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets

Warriors guard Stephen Curry is ready to return from a sprained ligament in his left foot, although he will have a minutes restriction for Game 1.

A limited amount of Curry is better than no Curry at all, of course, and the Warriors are ready to welcome back their star player (25.5 PPG).

Meanwhile, likely NBA MVP Nikola Jokic leads the Denver Nuggets into the playoffs hoping for a deep playoff run.

He's averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game on a team that was without Jamal Murray (torn ACL) all season and Michael Porter Jr. (lumbar spine surgery) for all but nine games.

Jokic might need an All-World performance to keep Denver in this series, but he's certainly capable of delivering one.

No. 4 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

All eyes are on Mavericks superstar point guard Luka Doncic, who is expected to miss Game 1 with a strained left calf. The Mavs aren't the same team without him (8-9).

On the plus side, the Mavs have home-court advantage, and the Jazz enter the playoffs reeling with losses in seven of their past 11 games.

Still, without Doncic, the Jazz are the clear favorites in this series. It's almost a race against time for the Mavs, who would be the favorites with Doncic on the court. It doesn't help that Game 2 is on Monday, so Doncic wouldn't have much more time to get ready for that one.

As for Utah, the onus is on All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to lead this team out of the doldrums and perform more like 2020-21, when the Jazz were the top seed in the Western Conference. If that Utah team reappears, then the Mavs will face an even bigger uphill climb.


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