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Tonight is a very important night for determining West playoff matchups

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Breaking down the West standings heading into a pivotal weekend.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I am once again asking you to check in on the Western Conference standings with me:

Notes

  • The Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns continue to flip flop in the standings based upon which team plays on which day. Heading into Friday, the Jazz have a one-game lead on the Suns; however, the Suns hold the tiebreaker, meaning that if the Jazz slip up just once, they might find themselves with the second seed. That could be a tangible difference if, as it appears might be possible, that the Los Angeles Lakers might fall into the play-in tournament.
  • Conversely, the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers continue to flip flop in the standings depending on the day at the third and fourth seeds. The Nuggets own the tiebreaker there, but with the Clippers having one more win, the Nuggets slide down to the fourth seed and would face the Dallas Mavericks at fifth. This would be an ideal situation for the Nuggets with the Clippers and Lakers battling in the first round on the other side of the bracket.
  • The trio at fifth, sixth, and seventh continues to circle each other, but it appears that the Mavericks have accumulated a slight lead. Of the six remaining games the Mavericks play, only one (Memphis Grizzlies) comes against a team in the play-in tournament. All others are against teams on the outside looking in. It won’t be easy for Dallas, a team that struggles against sub .500 teams, but they do have the inside track.

Projected Records, courtesy of FiveThirtyEight season predictions:

  1. Utah, 53-19
  2. Phoenix, 51-21
  3. LA Clippers, 49-23
  4. Denver, 47-25
  5. Dallas, 42-30
  6. Portland, 41-31*
  7. LA LAkers, 41-31*
  8. Golden State, 37-35
  9. Memphis, 36-36
  10. San Antonio, 33-49

*Denotes projected results of a head-to-head tiebreaker

Updated Magic Number Scenarios for Denver:

  • Clinch Home Court Advantage = 1 combined Nuggets win or Mavericks loss
  • Clinch Top-3 Playoff Spot = 6 combined Nuggets wins or Clippers losses
  • Clinch Top-2 Playoff Spot = 9 combined Nuggets wins or Suns losses

Denver’s hopes for a top two seed are almost entirely dead. It would mostly likely involve the Nuggets winning out for the rest of the season and for Phoenix to go .500 in their remaining games. Denver likely isn’t going to try excessively hard for a two seed though. They want to keep their options open with the Clippers down the stretch, doing their best to navigate the field and avoid the Lakers. Denver needs six more combined wins and Clippers losses to ensure they get the three seed. With six games to go, they could ensure it by simply winning out.

Games to Watch this week from Monday to Thursday (all times MDT):

DEN @ UTA, Friday @ 7:00pm — The Nuggets and Jazz are both banged up in the backcourt for this one, but both will surely go hard for a win. The Jazz want the top seed in the playoffs badly, and the Nuggets could spoil their fun.

LAL @ POR, Friday @ 8:00pm — This is the most important game of the season for seeding purposes. The battle to avoid the play-in tournament will occur on the second night of a back-to-back for the Lakers, who will potentially be within both LeBron James and Anthony Davis. If the Blazers win, they move into an outright lead in the standings over the Lakers while also maintaining a tiebreaker. Nuggets fans: root for the Blazers.

BKN @ DEN, Saturday @ 8:00pm — If the Lakers win on Friday, they gain a much larger probability to earn the fifth seed in the playoffs and avoid the play-in. If that’s the case, the Denver may need this game to stay within striking distance of the third seed in the playoffs. It will also be nice to get an NBA Finals preview. (*wink)

SA @ POR, Saturday @ 8:00pm — The Nuggets remain Blazers fans in almost any situation. The more games they win, the more likely they are to face the Nuggets in the first round. Though every matchup projects to be a difficult one, a series against the Blazers is something Denver could manage.

NYK @ LAC, Sunday @ 1:30pm — If, for some reason, the Nuggets need the Clippers to lose going forward, this would be a decent opportunity for it. Sunday matinee games often get weird, and though Nuggets fans know the Knicks aren’t great, maybe they can steal one from the Clippers here.

PHX @ LAL, Sunday @ 8:00pm — This is an interesting matchup. If the Nuggets still have any dreams of moving up to the second seed, then the Suns have to lose this one. If the Nuggets are still hoping for the Lakers to fall to the play-in game, then the Lakers have to lose this one. It’s unclear which scenario the Nuggets need/want right now, but maybe another couple of days will offer some clarity.