The NBA playoffs start in just 6 days. It's hard to believe the season is almost over and our summer full of hot takes and foregone conclusions has evaporated. It's fair to say that, for the most part, the teams that we expected to see at the big dance are all making their way there. The franchises that have fallen short have been far from surprising. Maybe you expected Detroit to squeak in or you may have been one of many who didn't see this Memphis mess coming. Perhaps you knew Victor Oladipo would transform into the incredible player he's become and you may have even placed Donovan Mitchell in the top 5 of your draft board. Regardless of your predictions, at the end of the season it seems as if we could have guessed the top 8 in each conference before the ball hit the court in fall. What I didn't see coming was the importance of the very last week of the regular season. We find ourselves with our eyes glued to multiple screens each night as every single game seems to have some kind of significance in the western conference. OKC, Denver, Utah, New Orleans, Minnesota and San Antonio are all on the brink of falling out of the playoff picture and it couldn't have me more excited.
Each of these teams has two games remaining. One thing we know for sure is that 47 wins gets you in. Teams with 46 wins are the Jazz, Pelicans, Spurs and Thunder. Denver and Minnesota each have 46, it's going to be tight, but here's who is going to make it.
Games Remaining: Lakers, Trail Blazers.
The Jazz are the team that I have that gut feeling about. The feeling that says "they're in", then also goes "but are they?" They play the Lakers tonight which would have been easy to call a win last season, but after the Lakers young core has shown grit and the stubborn ability to win the occasional tough one it's not such a sure thing. If they succeed tonight, the pressure is off, but if they don't they'll face a massive test in Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, oh boy. If it comes down to that match up my confident stomach may have just been hungry. Anything short of Portland resting a few key pieces makes this an unfavourable task for Mitchell and the Utah Jazz.
Are they in? Yes, I think so.
San Antonio Spurs
Games Remaining: Kings, Pelicans.
Let me start with, yes, the Spurs are in. San Antonio needs just 1 win to secure a spot in the playoffs and their next game comes against the Sacramento Kings. The Spurs have swept the season series so far and have won all three of those games by a combined total of 31 points. I don't think Coach Pop is worried and neither should Spurs fans... about making the playoffs. That Kawhi shit is a straight up nightmare. Finally they play the pelicans but a win against the Kings helps this game matter a little less.
Are they in? Most definitely.
New Orleans Pelicans
Games Remaining: Clippers, Spurs.
I hate to say it, but I think the Pelicans have to be my pick to fall out. Despite being a game ahead of Minnesota and Denver, I see the Clippers playing hard and having the lack of pressure result in the team as a whole having fun. As we've seen in the past, a team who's having fun can be a dangerous one. This paired with the best coach in the league coaching for his team's life in San Antonio and the baffling inconsistency of everyone around Anthony Davis gives me the heebie jeebies. Call it another gut feeling but I just can't shake it.
Are they in? I don't think so.
Games Remaining: Grizzlies, Nuggets.
I'm not going to lie, I have no faith in the Wolves. The fact that I saw their matchup with Memphis and thought "oh boy that could be a close one" should tell you that if I had to do a trust fall I'd rather have my little sister catch me than that entire organization. That being said, the way the Wolves have played this year leads me to believe that if Thibs has to kill every decent basketball player on their team by playing them nine thousand minutes a game to get them there, he will. Somehow, they'll end their playoff drought.
Are they in? Barely.
Games Remaining: Trail Blazers, Timberwolves.
Denver is coming on at just the right time. Their match up with the Blazers will be tough but Portland is playing them and Utah to end the season and may be thinking about resting up before the playoffs. If Nurkic sits that game out, I think Jokic has his way and the game is theirs, if he doesn't and Portland is at full strength, well damn, they better bring it against the Wolves. Don't get me wrong, I'm picking Denver to beat Minnesota and sneak in, but shit, the pressure.
Are they in? They sure are.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Games Remaining: Heat, Grizzlies.
The Thunder can win both of these games, right? I mean, they have to. I don't have a lot more to say other than if this team doesn't make the playoffs we have to take a good hard look at the triple double and recognize that we should calm the f**k down about it, right?
Are they in? They better be. So yes, they are.
Depending on who you're rooting for, this could be the most stressful thing you've experienced all year, or if you're like me, you're zoned in with a smile on your face, cackling like Mr. Burns at every make or miss that may decide the fate of these 6 teams. Either way, you have to be loving this, this is the NBA at its best.