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The penultimate dance: a snapshot of the stormy battle for the playoff positions in the West - Voila! sport


The Lakers have the toughest schedule of games waiting, the Warriors don't seem ready for another championship run, the Clippers are mostly looking down, and will Phoenix be able to connect in time?

The reaction of the fan LeBron James sat down next to her (from Twitter)

The NBA regular season will end in less than two weeks, most teams have 6-7 games left, and it's going to be a particularly dramatic time.

The battles for the position in the West are the closest that I can remember and include nine teams ranked between places 4-12.

Almost every place has a very high significance: the fourth place gives home advantage in the first round, the sixth gives an automatic ticket to the playoffs, any place between 7-10 has significance regarding the situation within the play-in tournament, with the tenth place giving the last ticket to the last chance tournament.

The battles for the position in the West include the reigning champion, one of the favorites for the championship and several teams that were considered very strong candidates at the start of the season.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Steph Curry will take part in them, a foursome that holds nine of the eleven MVP titles of the last finals.

Some of the top youngsters in the league will also take part, led by Luka Doncic.

The groups that do not take part in these struggles are also interesting.

From the top is Sacramento, which will soon officially guarantee a place in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, a year when the Prime Minister was Ehud Olmert and the MVP was Steve Nash.

From the bottom is Portland, who gave up another year on the playoffs and is busy "fighting" for the fifth place from the end.

This is a picture of the current situation.

I won't go into potential tiebreakers between the teams because there are too many of them:


4. Phoenix Suns (35:40)

Remaining games: Minnesota (B), Denver (B), Oklahoma City (H), San Antonio (B), Denver (B), Lakers (H), Clippers (B).

Current fitness: Waiting for the Messiah.

Kevin Durant managed to play three games in Phoenix before he was injured in the warm-up for the first home game, since then it looks like a team in waiting that is struggling to gather energy and figure out what its new rotation should look like.

The Suns lost six of seven games before rallying for the last two wins.

KD is expected to return soon, the question is in what capacity and whether the team will be able to connect in time.

What's the direction: Phoenix thinks big, but will reach the playoffs with very little running time with its new star.

Even before that, she needs to make sure she doesn't get involved in the location battles.

The six losses in the last two weeks put her in the fight for places 4-8, and she really hasn't secured her place in the top six yet.

The remaining schedule features mostly home games, but most of them against strong teams, including two direct position battles and two intriguing meetings with Denver, in what could be a promo for the second round. Her tiebreaker situation is good, so she is in a good position to keep the fourth place, but she Can't afford another voltage drop.

In what capacity will he return?

Kevin Durant (Photo: Reuters)

5. Los Angeles Clippers (36:40)

Remaining games: Memphis (H), Memphis (H), New Orleans (H), Lakers (B), Portland (B), Phoenix (H).

Current fitness: mediocre, as at every stage of this unimpressive season.

Even though Kawhi Leonard is back, despite such a deep roster, something about this team refuses to connect.

Tyronn Lue's team looks listless and scattered and relies too much on outside shooting.

Now the injury of Paul George has also been added to the equation, it is not certain that he will be able to return to the regular season, which further complicates the picture for the Clippers.

What is the direction: the gaze should be down and not up.

Three teams have one less loss and are in a good position to overtake the Clippers, certainly when it is on its way to two away games in Memphis, which wants to secure second place and has not yet given up first.

It also lost tiebreakers against Minnesota and New Orleans.

With George's injury, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if the Clippers find themselves in the playoffs eventually, maybe even a derby there.

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On the way down?

Russell Westbrook (Photo: Reuters)

6. Minnesota Timberwolves (37:39)

Remaining games: Phoenix (H), Lakers (B), Portland (B), Brooklyn (H), San Antonio (H), New Orleans (B).

Current fitness: very good.

Karl Anthony Towns is back from a very long injury, Anthony Edwards is back from a short injury and the Wolves finally have a full roster.

There is a lot of good news from the secondary players as well: Mike Connelly and Kyle Anderson have taken over the management of the game and bring wisdom and logic to the attack, Jayden McDaniels is becoming an increasingly significant offensive player, Naz Reed looks like the one who has already lost the role of the substitute center.

The team came together at exactly the right moment for four impressive consecutive victories.

What's the direction: Minnesota is next to Golden State in places 6-7, it has a reasonable schedule and in its current form it can definitely maintain a place in the top six and even climb a little higher.

If you want to complicate matters, then the current sixth place is considered the most attractive in this area.

Right now, and likely to remain the case, it leads to a first-round series against inexperienced Sacramento and a half that also includes Memphis, instead of one that includes Denver and Phoenix.

There may be teams trying to target the sixth seed, and for Minnesota this may be the best chance to do something in the playoffs this year.

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Will they climb up?

Anthony Edwards (Photo: Reuters)

7. Golden State Warriors (37:39)

Remaining games: New Orleans (B), San Antonio (B), Denver (H), Oklahoma City (B), Sacramento (H), Portland (H).

Current fitness: depends on which day.

This whole season is one long wait for Golden State to get together already, every time it seems like it's happening another frustrating loss comes, like the last and critical loss to Minnesota.

While there are enough effective supporting players of all kinds (including Gary Payton Jr. who returns to play), and in general a staff no less good than the one that won the championship, it is the seniors who fail to maintain stability and focus.

What the direction is: The schedule is quite comfortable and could help the Warriors return to the top six, with the issue of the attractive sixth place being very relevant for them as well, but it is far from obvious that they will not need a play-in.

In any case, when it comes to a champion the more important question is whether she has another big playoff run in store, whether she has one last dance or will we realize in retrospect that last season was that last dance.

Nothing in this season gives the feeling that there is energy for another big campaign, but there are also precedents for veteran teams that only really connected in the playoffs.

Despite everything, it's still too early to eulogize Steph Curry and his team.

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Steph Curry and Draymond Green (Photo: GettyImages, Justin Ford)

8. New Orleans Pelicans (37:38)

Remaining games: Golden State (H), Denver (H), Clippers (B), Sacramento (B), Memphis (B), Knicks (B), Minnesota (H).

Current fitness: suddenly good.

After a long period in which New Orleans looked like a team that couldn't mentally deal with Zion Williamson's lingering injuries, a team that was discouraged by the constant waiting for a star, suddenly five consecutive victories came that brought the Pelicans back to business.

Although four of them were against the best of the league, winning in a row is always difficult and can create positive momentum.

Brandon Ingram finally looks like the player from last year, Trey Murphy is already one of the best outside shooters in the league and suddenly you can remember that last season this team looked good and reached the playoffs even without Zaion.

What is the direction: the other side of the coin is that the Nemusot camp is over.

The schedule from here on out is going to be tough.

The good news is that it includes direct meetings with the Clippers, Wolves and Warriors, the three teams ranked above the Pelicans, which will give them a chance to get a head start in the fight for the top six.

But it makes more sense that the real battle for New Orleans will be for a place in the top ten, in the play-in, and with several strong teams lurking below it, it won't be easy to keep the place.

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The summer camp is over.

Zion Williamson (Photo: GettyImages, Sean Gardner)

9. Los Angeles Lakers (38:37)

Remaining games: Chicago (H), Minnesota (H), Houston (H), Utah (H), Clippers (H), Phoenix (B), Utah (B).

Current fitness: The Lakers have formed an identity of a fighting and efficient team around Anthony Davis in recent weeks, they have managed to close gaps, enter the play-in picture and even threaten a place in the top six.

Austin Reaves and Jared Vanderbilt look like players that can be built on for many years.

All this happened without LeBron James, and precisely in LeBron's comeback game the Lakers lost to Chicago.

Most teams would emphasize the buds of optimism, but in LeBron's team the expectations are different.

What is the direction: nothing is easy in this season of the Lakers, and the end is not expected to be either.

Their schedule may be the toughest remaining, as it includes a five-game road trip and six of the seven games are against teams in contention (unless Utah has officially lost interest).

The return of a star from a long injury often requires renewed adjustments, certainly in a team where some of the rotation players have barely played with him, and the Lakers have no time for adjustments.

But this is a team that is in good shape and its urgency is much greater than most others in this environment, which is often decisive.

It's still hard to imagine this team doing anything in the playoffs, but it's less far-fetched than a month ago.

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In his group the expectations are different.

LeBron James (Photo: GettyImages, Meg Oliphant)

10. Oklahoma City Thunder (38:37)

Remaining games: Charlotte (B), Detroit (B), Indiana (H), Phoenix (B), Golden State (H), Utah (H), Memphis (B).

Current fitness: playing well and enjoying every moment.

OKC has won 9 of its last 13 games, which has pushed them into playoff playable territory.

This happens first of all thanks to the promising quartet of Shea Gilges Alexander, Josh Giddy, Lou Dort and Jaylen Williams, one of the quality and surprising Rockies of the season.

All four are 24 years old or younger, and together with the intriguing Chet Holmgren could create one of the most promising fives in the league for several good years.

On the bench there are some other interesting youngsters and some supporting players who fit in nicely.

The Thunder's tanking era is over.

What's the direction: A playoff this season would be a bonus for OKC, but it's a bonus that's definitely attainable.

They are favorites to win the next three games, Utah on the penultimate day may already lose interest and Memphis on the last day may let the stars rest, so there are enough places to get victories in them even without the direct struggles.

Don't be surprised if the Thunder finish on a positive note with a good play-in position, leaving a bigger team out.

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A bonus that can definitely be achieved.

Shea Gilges Alexander (Photo: Reuters)

11. Dallas Mavericks (39:37)

Remaining games: Philadelphia (H), Miami (H), Atlanta (H), Sacramento (B), Chicago (B), San Antonio (B).

Current fitness: Oi a-baruch.

Tonight's victory over Indiana mitigates the distress a bit, but it was preceded by two completely unnecessary losses to the weak Charlotte (who deserves compliments for the fight in the last few weeks).

Before these losses, it was still possible to talk about a slightly faltering team due to injuries and an uneven roster, after which it was already a real crisis that sent the team of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving even out of the play-in.

Luca shows signs of someone who is starting to lose patience, Kyrie is never the solution to a mental crisis, the squad that was not upgraded after the Kyrie trade is very low and includes too few good defenders, Jason Kidd has no solutions.

What's the direction: It doesn't look good.

Dallas is in the midst of a difficult road trip in the East and it could end it too far away from tenth place.

There are already voices that claim that it is better this way, a crisis that cannot be ignored is better than an illusion that the current squad has a chance, a summer in an emergency atmosphere is better and maybe also a top 10 pick (Dallas' pick goes to the Knicks but the top 10 is protected) to try to build the upcoming squad around Doncic He has the coach he deserves.

And on the other hand, it's flawed.

He's been on the decline in recent months, but if he returns to the MVP ability he's had for much of the season it could be the difference between staying out of the playoffs and being a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.

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No solutions?

Luka Doncic (Photo: Reuters)

12. Utah Jazz (40:35)

Remaining games: San Antonio (H), Boston (H), Brooklyn (H), Lakers (B), Oklahoma City (B), Denver (B), Lakers (H).

Current fitness: weak and good for him.

Utah was not supposed to be in playoff contention and made no effort to stay in it.

After weakening herself at the deadline, she began to lose at a higher rate, but finds quite a few reasons for optimism in these losses.

Walker Kessler is a legitimate Rookie of the Season candidate and a formidable defensive center in the making with good hands in the paint on offense, recently Tylen Horton-Tucker and Uchai Agbaji have also shown they have something to offer.

That's what matters to Danny Ainge right now.

What is the direction: out.

After tonight's loss to Phoenix, it can be said that Utah is a foot and a half out of playoff contention, also because of its lack of interest.

Except for the upcoming game against San Antonio, there won't be many easy opportunities for victories, and it is certainly possible that Utah will spend the last week as one of the teams that has already lost interest in the season.

  • sport

  • NBA


  • Dallas Mavericks

  • Los Angeles Lakers

  • Golden State Warriors

  • Phoenix Suns

  • Los Angeles Clippers

Source: walla

All sports articles on 2023-03-28

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