HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With 13 days and 105 games left in the regular season, things are starting to clear up a bit.
The only two teams that are locked into their playoff position are the two No. 1 seeds, Atlanta and Golden State. And while the Cavs seem to have the 2 seed locked up and the Wizards would have a tough time climbing out of fifth, Eastern Conference matchups are generally in flux.
The Raptors and Bulls are currently tied for the 3 seed. The Bucks got a couple of big wins last week, but still have some work to do to hold onto sixth. And the 7 and 8 seeds are still very much up for grabs. Both Brooklyn and Boston have tough remaining schedules and Miami just lost Dwyane Wade again.
The Western Conference is a little more clear. The Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies are in a tight race for the No. 2 seed. The Portland Trail Blazers need just one win (or a Thunder loss) to clinch the Northwest Division and a top-four seed. The Dallas Mavericks would have a tough time moving out of the 7 seed and the 8 seed is down to just two teams (Oklahoma City and New Orleans).
That clarity allows us to start looking at potential matchups and where we might find an upset or two.
The Warriors’ first victim
Overall, the Warriors are 20-4 against teams 2-9 in the West. Andrew Bogut missed each of the last three losses, which took place in December and January. The only time they lost to a good West team with Bogut in uniform was Nov. 11.
Statistically, the Warriors the best team we’ve seen since the 1995-96 Bulls and the best team in the league by a wide margin. At this point, it’s fair to ask if, in predicting the NBA championship, you would pick the Warriors or the field.
The Pelicans have the tie-breaker, but the Thunder have a 1 1/2 game lead and an easier remaining schedule. New Orleans plays five of their final eight games on the road (three of seven for OKC) and six against teams over .500 (four for OKC).
Serge Ibaka‘s return would make the Thunder a stronger opponent, but there’s nothing to suggest that the Dubs wouldn’t win their first series in four or five games.
Hosting the Mavs
Though Dirk Nowitzki had a couple of rough shooting nights in Houston, all four Mavs-Rockets meetings have been within five points in the last five minutes.
Dallas’ games against Memphis haven’t been as close, in part because the Mavs haven’t been able to slow down the Grizzlies’ bigs. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined to average 39.5 points on 55 percent shooting in the four games.
The 3-6 scrum
The Rockets and Spurs play each other twice next week, while the Grizzlies and Clippers each have one more meeting.
The Blazers would probably prefer to see the Grizzlies stay in the 2-3 spots, rather than fall into fifth. But that’s the only 4-0 sweep within this group.
So, while both Houston and Memphis should be gunning for the 2 seed, everybody else should be prepared for a competitive first round series.
The playoffs are 15 days away and they’re going to be great, even if the Warriors look like the clear favorite.