The Race For The Final Spots In The West
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Race For The Final Spots In The West

With around 10 games left in the season, four teams battle for the final playoff seeds in the much declined NBA Western Conference.

daniel-zepeda
Daniel Zepeda

In a season that has seen the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs lay waste to their opponents, the top two teams of the West has been decided for quite some time. And with all eyes on them, along with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers keeping tight grasps on the third and fourth seeds, little attention has been paid to the bottom of the conference.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Rightfully so. With the top four teams of the West practically set in stone, and with the assumption that it will all come down to either Golden State or San Antonio representing the Western Conference, finding out who will fill out the rest has been an after thought.

The final three seeds in the Western Conference are are separated by a a game and a half with less than a month of basketball to be played. The Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz all occupy the final three seeds, with the Houston Rockets on the outside, just half a game behind the Mavs and Jazz.

Each team has different season storylines that have brought them here, but come April 13, one of these teams will be stuck on the couch watching the other three bid for an upset.

Can Portland Stay In the Driver's Seat?

Since the All-Star break, the Trail Blazers have gone 10-8 to find themselves in the sixth seed in the West at a 37-35 mark. Back up even further, and you can really see something special.

On Dec. 23, Portland lost 115-89 to the New Orleans Pelicans to drop to 11-20 though just over 30 games. Since that game, the team has gone 26-15, putting up winning streaks of at least three games on five different occasions. Portland also went on a season defining run of winning 14 of 16 games from Jan. 23 to March 1.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Portland has 10 games left on the slate and their fate is in their hands. They've exceeded all expectations this year after losing four of five starters from last year's squad. The Trail Blazers have seven more games at home and three on the road, including the Warriors at Oracle and the Clippers in the Staples Center.

Their remaining schedule has a 49.8 winning percentage, as they'll get back-to-back games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings, along with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets to end the season. 

Big Game To Watch

The Trail Blazers take on the Miami Heat on April 2 in Portland. The Heat got the better of the Blazers in the teams only meeting this season with a 116-109 win, in which Damian Lillard scored 32 points and dished out nine assists, but Portland couldn't push through. The Heat are 16-11 against the West this year, so Portland will need to prepare for a fight and a tough game against the fifth-seeded Heat.

Mavs Fight To Stay Alive

For as hot as the Blazers have been, the Mavs have gone just as cold. Over their last 10 games, Dallas has dropped eight games and their two wins came from an overtime thriller against Portland and a 107-96 win at Charlotte against the Hornets.

Since the break, Dallas have gone 6-10 to drop to 35-36 to barely hold onto the seventh seed. With a tough remaining schedule, and the recent loss of starting forward Chandler Parsons, it will take all hands on deck for the Mavs to see the playoffs.

Dallas has 11 games left in the season and few games can be considered a cake walk. They'll play seven playoff teams including Golden State, the Clippers and Utah on the road and will finish out the year with Houston and San Antonio at home in their final five games.

Their final 11 opponents boast a winning percentage of 54.1 percent. At 15-19 on the road this year, Dallas will have to steal some key road  games to stay in the playoff picture.

Big Game To Watch

The final three games of the season for Dallas consists of the Clippers and the Jazz on the road, followed by their season finale at home against the Spurs. Since the Mavs are currently tied for the seventh seed in the West with the Jazz, that final matchup with Utah could be what decides all the marbles.

The two have split games this season, with the Jazz stealing one from Dallas in the final seconds and in overtime. Utah tied things up in the final seconds after trailing for most of the game and squeaked by 121-119 in Dallas.

Don't Count Out The Jazz

Perhaps the biggest surprise team of all this season has been the Utah Jazz. The team finished 2014-2015 with a 38-44 record and a 25-57 record the year before that. So it to say anyone was writing Utah's name into the playoffs during the preseason this year would be a stretch.

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless, the Jazz have played around .500 basketball this season, and in a weakened Western Conference, that might be all you have to do. Utah dipped down to 19-25 after the Detroit Pistons handed them a tough 95-92 loss at home.

After that game, the Jazz won their final seven games to reach the All-Star break at 26-25 and within striking distance. Utah has managed a below average 9-11 mark since the break, but has been tough to beat at home all season long, going 22-13 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. 

With 11 games left, Utah has almost an even split of five home games and six road games. With a remaining schedule win percentage of 48.2 percent, that ranks second-lowest among the four teams competing for final spots in the West.

Despite a solid home record, the Jazz will be tested by the Warriors, Spurs and Clippers down the stretch. Their final three games consist of a trip to Denver, their last home game against Dallas and then ending the year with the Lakers in Los Angeles.

Big Game To Watch

The Jazz have back-to-back home games against two of the top four seeds in the West against the Spurs and Clippers. After that, they hit the road for two of their last three games. The Jazz have not been great on the road, 13-23, and will desperately need at least one win against San Antonio or Los Angeles.

The Clippers are 21-15 on the road so they will be the team the Jazz should look for the win against. After two games in a row against the Lakers, the Clippers could come out lazy which would play into the hands of Utah. If the Jazz can get a win against the Clippers, and continue to play well at home, they should keep hold of that final seed in the West.

Does Houston Deserve A Playoff Birth?

The Rockets have been the biggest disappointment of the 2015-2016 season. After reaching the Western Conference Finals last season, Houston looked towards their stars James Harden and Dwight Howard to push Golden State for a championship birth. Fast forward to today, and you'll find a team that doesn't play defense, doesn't play together and could miss out on the playoffs all together.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Houston stands at 35-37 and are half a game back from Dallas and Utah for the seventh and eighth seeds and just two games behind Portland for the sixth seed. The Rockets have the easiest schedule among those four teams and play six of their final 10 games at the Toyota Center in Houston.

The last four games of the season for the Rockets are the Phoenix Suns and Lakers at home, a trip to Minnesota and their season finale against Sacramento. Before that, the Rockets will have a four-game Eastern Conference slate against playoff contenders Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers. They'll welcome the Chicago Bulls before facing the Thunder.

The Rockets are 16-21 on the road this year so playing five of their final seven games of the season at home will benefit them greatly. However, if they can't at least try to play .500 against their East opponents and Oklahoma City, they might be out of the hunt before long.

Big Game To Watch

The Rockets are 2-1 so far this season against their Lone Star rival Dallas Mavericks. Their game will be in Dallas and off a home matchup against OKC in Houston. The Rockets beat the Mavs 100-96 in the only game in Dallas so far and in their last matchup, defeated the Mavs 115-104 in Houston. Houston will look for another big win against Dallas in the Metroplex before they can take advantage of their easy remaining schedule.

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