It is the home-stretch and the Houston Rockets have 24 games remaining. There are arguably five teams that will be battling for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Of those five teams, four of them happen to be in the same division—the Southwest Division. That is why I believe the eighth and final spot in the tight Western Conference will likely be handed to the runner-up in the Southwest Division.
The Southwest Division has been arguably one of the toughest divisions in the NBA since its creation in the 2004-2005 NBA season.
Results Don't Lie:
1. A team from the Southwest division has been represented in the NBA Finals in three of the past five seasons.
2. Three teams from the Southwest Division have been represented in the NBA playoffs in five consecutive years.
3. Four teams from the Southwest Division have been represented in the NBA playoffs in three of those five years.
Although this will be a down year for the Southwest division only having two teams represented in the NBA playoffs, the Southwest division will continue to put pressure on the West.
Now, of course, there are a couple of assumptions we have to make that will make the eighth seed in the Western Conference a battle for second in the southwest.
1. Dallas will win the division.
Dallas is currently first in the Southwest division and their competition is already 4.5 games behind. Dallas is on a seven-game winning streak and has won eight of the last 10. The Mavericks have been rejuvenated with the presence of Brendan Haywood and the surprising play by Jason Kidd. They seem to be hitting their stride and it would be really tough to fall out of the Western Conference playoffs.
Although Portland has only won five of their last 10 games, I believe they will be able to creep up into the seventh spot of the Western Conference playoffs. Their remaining schedule is very favorable and Brandon Roy should be able to get healthy. For much of this year, the Portland Trailblazers have had to battle injuries but have still been able to remain within the thick of the playoff race. I can't see them falling off once they get their star player back. Portland is also only 1.5 games behind San Antonio for seventh in the West and San Antonio has a tough schedule ahead of them.
3. No other western conference team will fall out of the top eight.
I am not a big fan of Oklahoma City or Phoenix but I believe that those two clubs have solid players that will be able to propel them into the playoffs. Oklahoma City has also won eight of their last 10 games and Phoenix has won seven of their last 10.
24 games remaining,
14 games against playoff teams (teams .500 or better or in a playoff spot),
10 games against sub-.500 teams,
12 home/12 away
22 games remaining,
16 games against playoff teams,
6 games against sub-.500 teams,
12 home/10 away
25 games remaining,
18 games against playoff teams,
7 games against sub-.500 teams,
10 home/15 away
23 games remaining,
17 games against playoff teams,
6 games against sub-.500 teams,
11 home/12 away
Key Games to Watch:
March 1: San Antonio at New Orleans
March 3: Memphis at New Orleans
March 5: New Orleans at San Antonio
March 6: San Antonio at Memphis
March 17: Memphis at Houston
March 31: Houston at San Antonio
April 2: New Orleans at Memphis
April 6: Houston at Memphis
April 9: Memphis at San Antonio
April 14: New Orleans at Houston
8. San Antonio: 44 - 38
9. New Orleans: 42 - 40
10. Houston: 40 - 42
11. Memphis: 40 - 42
The battle of the Southwest will ultimately come down to New Orleans and San Antonio.
I think San Antonio has a very tough schedule ahead of them but I don't think there is any way those savvy veterans are going to let their team fall out of the playoffs. New Orleans will have a couple of shots to take over the eighth spot but they will have to win some huge games on the road without Chris Paul. When Paul comes back, he may be able to propel the Hornets to a couple more victories and be able to make it tougher for the Spurs to hold on to the No. 8 spot.
I believe the Rockets will give it a good fight down the stretch but I just don't think they are consistent enough to muster out enough wins to make the postseason. If Memphis continues to play the way they have been playing, I don't see them being able to overtake any teams in the Southwest besides the Rockets. With all the fighting and battling for the final spot in the Western Conference, the winner of that eighth spot will have the privilege of playing the Los Angeles Lakers.