4 teams race for final 3 playoff spots out West


A noticeable gap has emerged atop the NBA’s Western Conference standings. Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston, LA Clippers and Portland have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, with the sixth-place Warriors 4.5 games behind fifth. Assuming the top five seeds remain the same, there will be a four way battle for the final three playoff seeds between Golden State, Phoenix, Dallas and Memphis, who’s on the outside looking in right now. This is a shame, considering the Grizzlies would be the third seed in the East. If I had to pick three of those teams to make the playoffs, it would be Golden State, Phoenix and Memphis; the Grizz have been right there, and they finally are back to playing well with the Conley-Randolph-Gasol trio healthy.

Some thoughts about the past week: Blake Griffin was named Western Conference Player of the Month, which I don’t have a big problem with, but let’s not forget Kevin Durant averaged 33-8-7 in February, compared to Griffin’s 30-11-4. The Clippers were 7-4 as a team while the Thunder were 6-5, so no much difference there. I believe Durant deserved the honor more, but both guys played out of their minds in February, so I’d rather just enjoy their stellar play than get uptight about who had a marginally better month. Speaking of the Clips, they absolutely annihilated the Lakers Thursday 142-94, a record for winning margin in that series. The Clippers blew the game wide open by outscoring the hopeless Lakers 44-13 in the second quarter. Lob City is playing the best basketball out of anyone in the league right now, and finally look like a scary team come postseason time.

Moreover, last night the Spurs showed everyone that they’re still one of the best teams in the league with a 111-87 beatdown against the Heat. Tim Duncan had a typical, quiet, great Duncan game: 23 points on 9-13 from the field, 11 rebounds, 2 assists and a block; Tony Parker looked like the Artful Dodger with his array of masterful shots in the paint, and San Antonio held LeBron James to his second-worst shooting night of the season. The Spurs are now half a game behind OKC for first in the West after the Suns won a thrilling affair over the Thunder last night. The Spurs’ season has been remarkable considering all the injuries they have faced and Gregg Poppovich should win Coach of the Year (as he should pretty much every year), but he won’t because everyone takes San Antonio’s excellence for granted.

Some noteworthy games this upcoming week are Phoenix at LA Clippers on Monday; Portland at Memphis, Houston at Oklahoma City and Dallas at Golden State on Tuesday; Portland at San Antonio and Golden State at LA Clippers on Wednesday. Holy schnikes, what a week of action out West! The most exciting matchup will be Suns at Clippers, especially seeing Goran Dragic, who is playing the best basketball of any point guard in the league right (yes, really) against Chris Paul, the consensus overall best point guard. Also keep an eye on Warriors at Clippers; these teams are developing into legitimate rivals, and have some bad blood between them after a Christmas game where Blake Griffin was wrongfully ejected. If an altercation happens, Andrew Bogut’s elbows are sure to be involved.

That’s six high-quality games in the next three days, involving title contenders and playoff teams fighting to keep their postseason hopes alive.