With just 12 days left in the NBA regular season, nearly all of the playoff spots are locked up. Only the 8th seed in the West is left up for grabs. And with only a few games left, it has come down to a three-team race between the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks.
Today, in Saving The Skyhook’s first roundtable discussion, our writers take a look at the race and give you their pick for who will wind up with that 8th and final spot.
Quentin Haynes (@Haynesenburg) – Give me Utah. Not only are they currently holding on to the 8th overall spot, but their remaining schedule has those two Minnesota games, and that’s where I think Utah will sneak in. Los Angeles has a tough set of remaining games, and so does Dallas. Utah has a brutal one, but Golden State, Minnesota (twice), and New Orleans seem like winnable games. If Utah can snag the Denver or Oklahoma City game, I think they get in. (Editor’s note – Submitted on Wednesday)
Taylor Armosino (@tarmosino) - The Jazz are the team that makes the most sense here due to their manageable schedule moving forward, including a crucial home and home with the mighty Timberwolves, and the fact that they hold the tiebreaker with the Lakers. Having said that, I can’t trust Tyrone Corbin to press the right buttons down the stretch, and so I’m going with the Lakers. They play 5 of their last 7 games at home, really 6 of 7 because one of those ‘road games’ is against the Clippers, where they’re 26-11 on the season. Tuesday night’s huge win over Dallas was possibly the best the team has looked all season and one would have to think they’re going to play with that same sense of urgency from here on out. Despite all their flaws, Bryant and Howard have played well as of late and they now have Pau Gasol back in the fold. Los Angeles has the talent to go on a small run here to end the season and I think they’ll probably go 5-2 in these last 7. Although the cards are stacked against them, given that they must finish with one more win than Utah, the Lakers are a much more talented than the Jazz and I think they pull out that 8th seed.
Sonny Giuliano (@SonnyCG) - Lakers. It absolutely has to be the Lakers. You would probably guess that this is either a chalk pick (Los Angeles has the slightest leg up in the standings on the date of publication), an talent-will-win-out pick, or a “Please let’s not watch Utah get manhandled by San Antonio in the 1st Round again” pick. I’m going against the grain, and I’m going to say this is a fate pick. I believe in the idea of Sports Gods, and Basketball Gods in particular. If there is such a thing, they will give us a Spurs/Lakers 1st round series. I want Kobe and Duncan, both in the middle of resurgent seasons of sorts, to battle one more time in the playoffs while father time, salary cap rules, and David Stern will allow it. It’s too perfect not to happen.
Reece Hooker (@ReeceJHooker) - Lakers – Following their convincing effort against the Mavericks, I’d be a fool to bet against the Lakers. They have all but one game at Staples for the rest of the season (including one ‘away’ game against the Clippers). Their one away game is one I predict them dropping, against the Blazers on the second half of a back-to-back at the Rose Garden, a venue where the Lakers are 6-23 since 1996 during regular season games. They face tough opposition in their final home run – the Grizzlies, Clippers, Warriors, Spurs and Rockets, but it all seems to be coming together for L.A. and I can’t see Kobe Bryant nor Steve Nash letting their team miss post-season action this year, not with so little time left in their careers.
Jack Maloney (@jmaloney9) – With the Mavericks currently 3 games back of the Lakers, and only a few games remaining, the race will come down to the Jazz and the Lakers. The Lakers are holding on to the 8th seed by a 1/2 game over the Jazz at the moment, and have played one less game. And despite having the toughest schedule in this final stretch, the Lakers are my pick to get the final playoff spot. They looked fantastic in their crucial win over Dallas on Tuesday, Dwight Howard is starting to look like his old self recently, averaging 20 points and 15 rebounds in the last 5 games, and Kobe Bryant is still playing at an extremely high level. While they certainly haven’t looked like the dominant team myself and others expected them to be this season, I’ve always believed they would do enough to get to the playoffs, and I’m sticking with that belief.
Mike Hallihan (@MikeHallihan) -
I’m going with a simplistic and scientific method to predict who takes the 8th seed in the Western Conference. The almighty power of the simulation.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (39-36)
(Remaining games = 7 | 5 Home, 2 Away)
Vs. Grizzlies – WIN – Tough home win
@ Clippers – LOSS – Toss up
Vs. Hornets – WIN – Easy
@ Blazers – WIN – Blazers have too many injuries and are out of the picture
Vs. Warriors – WIN – Lakers owe the Warriors
Vs. Spurs – LOSS (Pop will probably “rest” some guys)
Vs. Rockets – WIN – Last game, Kobe finishes with a bang
Finishing Record: 44-38
The Lakers have got this. They aren’t going down without a fight and these last seven games, with the Jazz so close behind them, they’ll be desperate. They do have a collection of tough teams to play, but four of those games are at home and by the time the final three roll around, those teams might have little to play for, having clinched a spot (especially the Spurs, and we ALL know about Popovich’s “resting” strategies). I think even if the Lakers can go 4-3 (worst case scenario), they’ll hang on to the spot. With 5 at home (technically 6 with the Clippers), they should finish 5-2.
UTAH JAZZ (39-37)
(Remaining games = 6 | 3 Home, 3 Away)
Vs. Hornets – WIN – Pfft, easy
@ Warriors – LOSS – Overmatched in Oakland
Vs. Thunder – LOSS – Thunder on a mission to clinch top seed
Vs. Timberwolves – WIN – Home win
@ Timberwolves – LOSS – Timberwolves playing very well recently
@ Grizzlies – LOSS – Grizz as tough at home as Jazz are
Finishing Record: 41-41
The Jazz are already at a disadvantage with one more game played and one back in the loss column. They play so well at home, but only have three of their remaining six at Energy Solutions Arena. Having the Timberwolves back-to-back may look easy on paper, but this team has been playing very well of late and if Kevin Love comes back to get a few games in, they become really tough games. The Warriors and Thunder may or may not have anything to play for with seeding slots, but either way, they’re tough games. Even if the Jazz were to finish 4-2 in these six, that still puts them a game behind in my opinion. I think they end up going 2-4 down the stretch.
DALLAS MAVERICKS (36-39)
(Remaining games = 7 | 4 Home, 3 Away)
@ Kings – WIN – High scoring, close game, but a W
@ Blazers – LOSS – They have to lose at least one of these seven
Vs. Suns – WIN – Phoenix, bleh
Vs. Nuggets – LOSS – Nuggets fighting for playoff positioning, something to play for
@ Hornets – WIN – Tough game, but get the win
Vs. Grizzlies – WIN – Desperation
Vs. Hornets – WIN – 2nd win over Hornets in 3 games, strong finish to the season at home
Finishing Record: 41-41
The Mavs are already way behind the other two teams. Realistically, they’d have to rip off all seven wins to even finish with a 43-39 record, which still might not get the job done. The 1-point, last-second loss to the Nuggets REALLY killed them. They certainly do have some weaker teams remaining with the Kings, Hornets (twice), Suns and banged up Blazers. If I’m being generous and putting them at 5-2 down the stretch, that still leaves them short. The reality is that they’ve dug too deep a whole in the past week to dig out. Oh well, there’s always free agency coming up, right Cuban?