With 1 month left in the ’10-’11 season, the playoff race in the Western Conference is as close as ever. After the Blazers’ 2 recent losses, I was a little nervous about the Blazers’ chances at making the playoffs so I decided to look at the games that are left this season to see how things may shake out.
I don’t think there is any doubt that the San Antonio Spurs are going to claim the number 1 seed in the west this year. I also think that Dallas is going to hold on to the number 2 spot, which leaves the Lakers at number 3 and Oklahoma City at number 4. After the top 4 seeds it gets much more complicated.
I decided to take a closer look at the teams that currently hold seeds 5 through 11. As of 3/14/11 (before any games on 3/14 are completed) those teams are, in order:
6) New Orleans
Denver has 16 games left. Out of those 16 games, 7 are against teams currently in the top 11 seeds in the Western Conference. This means that just under half of their remaining games have major playoff implications. In the following 16 games, I predict that Denver will go 6 and 10, finishing with a record of 46 wins and 36 losses.
New Orleans has 14 games left. Out of those 14 games, 12 are against teams currently in the top 11 in the Western Conference. New Orleans has the toughest upcoming schedule when you look at playoff contenders. The only 2 games not against teams in the Western Conference playoff hunt are Boston and Indiana (2 teams currently in the Eastern Conference top 8). I predict that New Orleans will go 6 and 8, finishing with a record of 44 wins and 38 losses.
Memphis has 15 games left. Out of those 15 games, only 5 are against teams currently in the top 11 in the Western Conference. They also play teams such as Golden State, Minnesota, Sacramento, and the Clippers (twice) to finish out the season. Memphis is also without Rudy Gay, due to a shoulder injury and there is currently no timetable for his return. Despite Memphis’ easier schedule, I think that without Rudy Gay they will struggle a bit to finish the season. I predict that Memphis will go 7 and 8, finishing with a record of 43 wins and 39 losses.
Phoenix has 18 games left. Out of those 18 games, 10 are against teams in the top 11 seeds in the Western Conference. Out of these 7 teams, Phoenix has the most games leading up to the end of the season and over half of their remaining games are against Western Conference playoff contenders. I predict that Phoenix will go 11 and 7 in their remaining games, finishing with a record of 44 wins and 38 losses.
Utah has 15 games left. Out of those 15 games, 11 are against teams in the top 11 of the Western Conference. Utah has arguable the toughest schedule left this season, 2nd maybe to New Orleans. They play the Lakers and New Orleans twice and also play Oklahoma City and Dallas once in these last 15 games. I predict that Utah will go only 6 and 9 in these last 15 games, leaving them with a final record of 40 wins and 42 losses. The loss of both Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams has definitely left a hole in Utah’s playoff hopes.
Houston has 15 games left. Despite the loss of Yao Ming this season, Houston has managed to exceed expectations. Houston faces Western Conference playoff competitors in only 5 of their remaining games. The rest of their schedule includes games against teams such as Charlotte, Golden State, New Jersey, Sacramento, and Minnesota. I predict that Houston will finish out the season with 9 wins and 6 losses, finishing with a record of 42 wins and 40 losses.
As for Portland, there is of course some home team bias involved in this analysis. Portland has 16 games left in the season. Of those 16 games, 10 are against teams in the top 11 spots in the Western Conference. Although the schedule also includes games against teams such as Cleveland, Washington, and 2 against Golden State, the remaining portion of the Blazers’ schedule is by no means easy. 10 of Portland’s 16 remaining games are at home, which is of course an advantage. I predict that the Blazers will finish this season with a record of 12 and 4. That may seem overly optimistic, but to do this, the Blazers only have to take care of home court (10 games) and win 2 others. 1 of their remaining away games is the last game of the season versus Golden State. If the Blazers are able to win 1 additional road game, they can go 12 and 4, finishing the season with 49 wins and 33 losses.
If my predictions hold true, then the Western Conference will turn out as follows:
1) San Antonio Spurs
2) Dallas Mavericks
3) Los Angeles Lakers
4) Oklahoma City Thunder
5) Portland Trail Blazers (49-33)
6) Denver Nuggets (46-36)
7) Phoenix Suns (44-38) - tie breaker over New Orleans
8) New Orleans Hornets (44-38)
9) Memphis Grizzlies (43-39)
10) Houston Rockets (42-40)
11) Utah Jazz (40-42)
Even if the Blazers slip up and lose 2 of the games I expect them to win, they would end up with a record of 47 and 35, still ahead of New Orleans and in 5th place. Which means as long as the Blazers manage to win 10 of their remaining 16 games, they would end up in 5th place in the Western Conference.
In order to win 10 games, all the Blazers really have to do is protect home court through the end of the season. So if you have tickets to upcoming games, I’m asking you to come and cheer as loud as you can. If you don’t have tickets, think about getting some and coming out to support the Blazers. They need our help leading up through the end of the season.
Now, what do you think of my predictions? What do you think of our potential match up with Oklahoma City in round 1 of the playoffs? Who needs to step up to ensure the Blazers' make it to the playoffs?
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