How much worth is there in obtaining a chance to be demolished by the Golden State in the first round of the playoffs?
It depends on whom you ask.
For a team like Sacramento, which has gone nine straight seasons without a playoff berth, reaching the postseason as the eighth seed in the Western Conference would be amazing. On the other hand, a team like Denver, clearly in rebuilding mode and in need of a lottery pick, would just as soon elect to finish outside the top eight.
Whether they like it or not, those two teams (in addition to three others) are all in the race for the conference’s last playoff spot despite (likely) finishing with a record under .500. Take a look below for a breakdown of all the contenders.
The Jazz currently hold the eight seed with 41 games still to play. Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rodney Hood lead the way for one of the top offenses out West, and reinforcements are coming in February in the form of shooting guard Alec Burks. While Utah has under-performed relative to expectations thus far, it would still be excited for a chance to challenge the Warriors and return to the playoffs.
Gordon Hayward leads Utah in points and assists per game.
Portland Trail Blazers (19-25)
Current Position: 9th
Despite losing four-fifths of its starting lineup and a very poor defense, Portland is just a half-game behind the Jazz. Things are looking up for the Blazers, which have only 16 road games remaining after a hellacious schedule to start the season. They also own winning records against every other team competing for No. 8, which will help in case a tiebreaker is needed come April. If they want to make a serious run at the playoffs, though, losing streaks like the ones they had of seven and five games need to end immediately. Also: no more losses to Philadelphia.
As I said above, perhaps no team wants that last playoff spot more than Sacramento. With a fascinating group of players, headlined by Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings have managed to look really good on some nights and absolutely horrid on others. That’s good enough to compete for a playoff spot in this down year for the Western Conference, and they might just get it if they can limit their turnover numbers and start getting more consistency from Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi.
Sacramento head coach George Karl doesn’t always get along with star center DeMarcus Cousins, but the Kings are still on the verge of obtaining a Western Conference playoff berth.
Denver Nuggets (16-25)
Current Position: 11th
The Nuggets are two games behind the Jazz and are in the awkward situation of being too good to tank, but not quite talented enough to make the playoffs. They do not have a star on the roster, and sixth man Will Barton is the team’s best player. I would be surprised if Denver doesn’t ship off a couple veterans at the deadline to bow out of the race.
New Orleans Pelicans (13-27)
Current Position: 12th
This confusing New Orleans team has given up at least 100 points on 29 separate occasions so far in 2015-’16. Alvin Gentry took over the head coaching job in the offseason, and the Pelicans have gone south ever since, but there is still enough talent on the roster to make a late run plausible.