By Alfonso Madrigal Contributor
With the NBA regular season wrapping up soon, the Western Conference playoff race will surely be one the most contested in a long time.
The eighth-seeded Utah Jazz are only three and a half games behind the Portland Trailblazers, who are third in the West. The Jazz are currently on a seven-game winning streak, and look poised to push their way into the playoff picture after looking like a bottom feeder team at the start of the season.
The Trailblazers have gone on a nine-game winning streak themselves, and have beaten the Golden State Warriors twice in the last month but fell short to…you guessed it, the Jazz. Between the two teams, the Trailblazers have won 13 out of their last 16 games against above .500 teams, while the Jazz have seven out of 15 against above .500 teams. As both teams continue to push for a spot in the playoffs, it will be interesting to see if they continue with their stellar form.
The Oklahoma City Thunder started off the season surprisingly slow, then seemed to figure out their issues. They’re now back to looking like the team that started the season. They’ve won only five out of their last eight games, with a 33-26 record. While they’re currently fourth in the conference, they’re only two games ahead of the 10th seeded San Antonio Spurs.
Eleven out of the Thunder’s 14 remaining games are against above .500 teams, which means Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Russell Westbrook need to come together and carry the team into the playoffs. Nonetheless, Oklahoma ranks 29th in the league in assists, meaning that the trifecta rarely passes to the team’s role players. This is something that will have to change if the Thunder is trying to get home-court advantage in the playoffs.
However, with the injury to Jimmy Butler of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Thunder can capitalize and pass them in the standings, as they hold an identical record of 39-29. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs are in danger of not making the playoffs for the first time since the 1996-1997 season, as they’ve lost eight of their last 10. With speculation that Kawhi Leonard might return sometime in the regular season, there may still be hope for the Spurs and their postseason streak.
The Los Angeles Lakers have also been on a roll after the All-Star break. They have won seven of their last nine and are starting to become consistent on both ends of the floor. Don’t count the Lakers out on this late playoff run, because they are leading the league with the best pace.
Regardless of who ultimately makes the playoffs, this year’s race had it all. It’s been entertaining and dramatic thus far, and will only continue to heat up as the regular season comes to an end.