76ers look dangerous when adjusting for playoff rotations

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Kyrie Irving significantly affected the Celtics’ record this season. Isaiah Thomas held a defining role on the Cavaliers for a while. Tristan Thompson played plenty for Cleveland, too.

But Irving (injured) and Thomas (traded) will have nothing to do with Boston’s and Cleveland’s playoff fortunes. If Thompson falls from the Cavs’ postseason rotation, neither will he.

Yet, any season-long metrics – including win-loss record – commonly used to predict the playoffs factor in those players. So, I’ve found how many points per 100 possessions teams score and allow when five players projected to be in the postseason rotation are on the floor together.

This is hardly a perfect measure. Teams rarely announce their playoff rotations, so we’re left with my predictions of which players will receive regular playing time in the first round. The minutes distribution among players in the adjusted rating can vary from what it’ll be during the playoffs. This doesn’t take into account opponent quality. Some teams have larger samples than others. Home-court advantage is not considered.

But I find it useful, another data point among the many necessary to evaluate the upcoming playoffs. It shows how the players we project to see on the court the next couple weeks have played together, without someone else affecting the chemistry.

Here’s each team’s offensive, defensive and net ratings adjusted from the regular season to counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the first-round playoff rotation (using nbawowy! to calculate):

Eastern Conference

3. Philadelphia 76ers

  • Offensive rating: 110.6 to 110.1
  • Defensive rating: 106.1 to 99.4
  • Net rating: +4.5 to +10.7

1. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 116.1 to 118.5
  • Defensive rating: 107.8 to 108.2
  • Net rating: +8.3 to +10.3

7. Milwaukee Bucks

  • Offensive rating: 111.1 to 116.7
  • Defensive rating: 111.4 to 109.1
  • Net rating: -0.3 to +7.6

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 115.0 to 116.4
  • Defensive rating: 113.9 to 109.1
  • Net rating: +1.1 to +7.3

8. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.2 to 113.4
  • Defensive rating: 110.6 to 108.1
  • Net rating: +0.6 to +5.3

6. Miami Heat

  • Offensive rating: 108.2 to 112.1
  • Defensive rating: 107.8 to 107.4
  • Net rating: +0.4 to +4.7

5. Indiana Pacers

  • Offensive rating: 111.2 to 111.7
  • Defensive rating: 109.7 to 108.0
  • Net rating: +1.5 to +3.7

2. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 109.7 to 106.6
  • Defensive rating: 105.9 to 104.1
  • Net rating: +3.8 to +2.5

Western Conference

1. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 118.0 to 124.3
  • Defensive rating: 109.1 to 112.1
  • Net rating: +8.9 to +12.2

5. Utah Jazz

  • Offensive rating: 109.5 to 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 105.3 to 100.7
  • Net rating: +4.2 to +11.2

6. New Orleans Pelicans

  • Offensive rating: 111.2 to 115.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.7 to 105.3
  • Net rating: +1.5 to +9.9

3. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 111.2 to 113.6
  • Defensive rating: 108.5 to 108.1
  • Net rating: +2.7 to +5.5

8. Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Offensive rating: 115.1 to 116.5
  • Defensive rating: 112.9 to 111.4
  • Net rating: +2.2 to +5.1

7. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 109.6 to 112.4
  • Defensive rating: 106.5 to 108.1
  • Net rating: +3.1 to +4.3

2. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 115.1 to 109.0
  • Defensive rating: 108.6 to 106.7
  • Net rating: +6.5 to +2.3

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 112.9 to 114.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.3 to 111.9
  • Net rating: +3.6 to +2.3

Observations:

    • The 76ers’ projection doesn’t include Joel Embiid, who expects to miss Game 1 against the Heat. Replace Richaun Holmes with Embiid, and the 76ers’ offensive/defensive/net ratings jump to 116.9/98.6/+18.3. Wow!
    • These rankings could overrate the 76ers, though. Their schedule softened late, after Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli arrived post-buyout. Counting those two in the postseason rotation could skew the sample.
    • Nearly all teams annually see their net rating improve once adjusted for the playoff rotation. This year, three teams get worse with the adjustment. All three – Celtics (Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis), Warriors (Stephen Curry) and Thunder (Andre Roberson) – are missing key players due to injury.
    • The adjustment pegs four lower seeds ahead of their first-round opponent – Bucks over Celtics, Jazz over Thunder, Pelicans over Trail Blazers, Spurs over Warriors.
    • Utah became a different team once Rudy Gobert got healthy.
    • The Pelicans projected postseason rotation is especially tight. They might need to rely more on lesser players than projected here, lest they risk getting worn down.
    • Whichever team drew depleted Boston was clearly in (relatively) good shape. The Bucks might be the best of the teams – also, Heat and Wizards – that were in the running.
    • I expected the Cavaliers to improve even more with the adjustment. Isaiah Thomas trying to play his way back into form was so destructive for them. Perhaps, LeBron James dialing it up will be enough for them to win the East again.
    • The Rockets’ offense will be awesome. They’ll miss Luc Mbah a Moute defensively.

Report: Corey Brewer to play in Game 1 for Thunder

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When Andre Roberson went down injured for the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder floundered about for a while. Roberson was the key fifth starter with their four stars, a lock-down, elite defender who the Thunder had figured out how to use (or, hide) on offense and not hurt them. Without Roberson, the Thunder looked lost.

Until they brought in Corey Brewer (who was bought out by the Lakers and waived). The solid veteran wing has stabilized that starting unit. Which is why when Brewer sprained his knee in the final game of the season Wednesday night, there was concern. Good news for OKC, he should play, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

When Brewer is out on the court with the rest of the starting five (Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Steven Adams) the Thunder essentially play their opponents even (-0.5 net rating). (For comparison, that same for with Roberson was +14.2 per 100 possessions).

Oklahoma City will face a team that counters their strengths in the first round: Westbrook and the Thunder want to attack, the Utah Jazz funnel everything into the future Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and challenge those attacks. OKC should be able to slow Donovan Michell and the Jazz offense down, but scoring will not be easy. This will be a physical series.

And the Thunder will need Corey Brewer in it.

PBT Awards: All-Defense

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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Kurt Helin

First team

Second team

Outside of the center spot, this was challenging to fill out because there were tough factors to balance. OKC’s Andre Roberson was by far the best defensive guard in the league, but injuries limited him to just 39 games — is that enough? (I ultimately decided no.) Also at forward there were a lot of deserving guys, but Tucker has been crucial to the improved, switching defense in Houston and he deserves to make the cut (even over Jimmy Butler). A lot of tough calls in a deep year for this award.

Dan Feldman

First team

  • G: Victor Oladipo, Pacers
  • G: Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
  • F: Robert Covington, 76ers
  • F: Al Horford, Celtics
  • C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Second team

  • G: Jrue Holiday, Pelicans
  • G: Andre Roberson, Thunder
  • F: Anthony Davis, Pelicans
  • F: Draymond Green, Warriors
  • C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

I was looking for the players with the biggest defensive impacts for the season. But so many of the NBA’s top defenders on a per-possession basis missed significant time due to injury and/or having a limited role: Andre Roberson (who could’ve been Defensive Player of the Year if he stayed healthy), Dejounte Murray, Jimmy Butler, Thabo Sefolosha, Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid and Aron Baynes. It was tough to compare them to not-quite-as-good defenders who affected more possessions: Jrue Holiday, Victor Oladipo, Paul George, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Al-Farouq Aminu, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Clint Capela.

Dane Carbaugh

First team

  • G: Dejounte Murray, Spurs
  • G: Victor Oladipo, Pacers
  • F: Jayson Tatum, Celtics
  • F: Draymond Green, Warriors
  • C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Second team

  • G: Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
  • G: Andre Roberson, Thunder
  • F: Paul George, Thunder
  • F: Al-Farouq Aminu, Trail Blazers
  • C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

The great part about this season is the defensive rise of a lot of young players coupled with the immediate, clear impact that has had on their team’s success. Dejounte Murray has looked like a real replacement for Tony Parker and a further evolution of that position for the Spurs. Jayson Tatum has been incredible, and as we said at the beginning of the year the only way for the Celtics to succeed was for their youngsters to step up. Joel Embiid has (mostly) stayed healthy and been a monster. Butler slots into a guard spot as he’s played 80% of his minutes there, per Basketball-Reference.com.

NBA Power Rankings: Rockets back on top behind MVP-to-be Harden

Associated Press
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The Houston Rockets are back on top of the power rankings, with the Raptors now second, and the Trail Blazers holding steady at fourth despite the end of their win streak. At the bottom, Phoenix has “reclaimed” the last spot and are winning their race to keep Deandre Ayton in Arizona.

 
Rockets small icon 1. Rockets (56-14, Last Week No. 2). Things look good for the Houston Rockets: They almost certainly will finish with the best record in the NBA, James Harden almost certainly will win the MVP, Ryan Anderson is back in the rotation giving Mike D’Antoni another three-point shooter to lean on (although how much Anderson can be used in playoff matchups remains to be seen), and after the dramatic 115-111 win in Portland Tuesday night the Rockets’ schedule softens up. D’Antoni has kept his rotations tight and not rested guys very often, how much will that change down the stretch?

 
Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (53-18, LW 1). The Thunder snapped the Raptors’ 11-game win streak Sunday, but don’t read too much into that one loss: It was Toronto’s third game in four days and it showed in their legs late. Toronto plays each of the other two top teams in the East twice, starting with Cleveland Wednesday (the Celtics start next week), which makes for interesting storylines, but be careful drawing big conclusions from those games: If I’m Dwane Casey and I have a strategy I like vs. Cleveland, I’m not breaking it out for a regular season game (maybe beyond a couple of possessions at most). Save your best strategies for the games that matter.

 
Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (53-18 LW 3). Golden State should get Stephen Curry back Friday vs. Atlanta — he would have been back last weekend if this were the playoffs, but the Warriors have conceded the one seed and now are working on just getting their team healthy and rested before the postseason. With Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson banged up, the Warriors health is something to watch over the final few weeks of the season. The team says that everyone will be healthy come the start of the playoffs, and if so they will be a fully formed Voltron again, but if not the equation changes some.

 
Blazers small icon 4. Trail Blazers (44-26, LW 5). Despite the loss to the Rockets and the end of the 13-game winning streak, Portland seems to have nearly locked itself into the three seed in the West (and the way they are defending they should be favorites in the first round). One interesting stat that could play a role in a postseason series: the Blazers have the worst shooting percentage of any team in the league at the rim, 57.1% (not including garbage time numbers, this stat via Cleaning the Glass). Also, they are 27th in the league in corner threes attempted, just 5.5% of their shot attempts.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (48-23, LW 4). The Marcus Smart thumb injury and surgery is a big blow, especially depending upon how much of the playoffs he misses. Smart is Boston’s best perimeter defender and a central part to the best defense in the NBA this season. Boston is more vulnerable in the first round without him, but would really miss him in a second-round matchup (especially if that is Cleveland). Kyrie Irving is getting a second opinion on his knee and could miss more time than originally thought, but he should still be back for the postseason, giving Boston’s offense a much-needed boost.

 
Thunder small icon 6. Thunder (43-30 LW 6).. Corey Brewer has given the Thunder a tremendous lift since getting picked up after the Lakers’ waived him. Brewer is scoring 11.7 points per game, shooting 38.2 percent from three, playing competent defense, helping them speed up the pace, and generally giving them the fifth starter they needed since Andre Roberson went down. Brewer with the other four starters — Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Steven Adams — is +11.3 per 100 possessions. All this seems unsustainable at this level, in fact, the numbers fell back considerably after the loss to Boston, but still this move has been a big pick up for the Thunder, who had won six in a row before Tuesday.

 
Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (40-31, LW 10). The Jazz had won nine in a row before Tuesday’s punch-to-the-gut loss to tanking Atlanta. Still, Utah seems destined for the playoffs (which should get Quin Snyder some Coach of the Year votes down the ballot). It’s still all about the defense for this team: Their Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Rudy Gobert lineup has a defensive rating of just 76.4 since Crowder was traded to the team (and they use that lineup heavily). This is a tough playoff out for whoever lands them. It’s good to see Dante Exum back on the floor.

 
Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (39-30, LW 9). They have won three in a row and still have the easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way — 9-of-13 games against teams below .500. The Sixers are just one game back of the four seed — home court in the first round is not out of the question. But there are questions: How hard does Brett Brown and the organization push for that four seed vs. make sure Joel Embiid gets some rest down the stretch before they lean heavily on him in the postseason? And how much can they up his 31 minutes a game average in the playoffs?

 
Pacers small icon 9. Pacers (41-30, LW 7). Injuries have caught up with the Pacers, Domantas Sabonis is still out with an ankle issue, and Myles Turner missed a little time, all of which meant more Al Jefferson than the Pacers would like to see and a couple of losses. The Pacers need some quality wins — like vs. the Pelicans, Clippers, and Heat coming up this week — because of the teams in the mix for the 3/4 seeds in the East (Cleveland, Washington, and Philadelphia are in there, too) the Pacers have the toughest remaining schedule. That includes a West Coast road swing starting next Tuesday in Golden State.

 
Cavaliers small icon 10. Cavaliers (41-29 LW 12). Kevin Love is back (he looked pretty good dropping 18 in his return from a broken hand) and Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. should be back in the rotation soon as well. Cleveland survived a recent road trip with a 3-3 record but need to rack up wins — and find some cohesion on defense — to keep the three seed and home court in the first round of the playoffs. Interesting test Wednesday against Toronto (they catch the Raptors on a back-to-back).

 
Wizards small icon 11. Wizards (40-30, LW 14). The Wizards are a good three-point shooting team, hitting 37.6% of their triples once you remove the garbage time stats from the equation (via Cleaning the Glass). Which makes you wonder why they are 23rd in percentage of their shots taken from three — if you can make them, take them. What matters most to this team is the return of John Wall, which may not be that far off — Scott Brooks thinks he could get into some 5-on-5 drills in the coming days, the last step before suiting up.

 
Spurs small icon 12. Spurs (41-30, LW 16). The death of the Spurs has been greatly exaggerated. Just a reminder not to completely count them out, the Spurs have won four in a row and it appears they will extend their playoff streak to 21 seasons. This Spurs run of wins has come like so much of their season: Incredible defense — 0.88 points per possession allowed through the four games — and enough offense courtesy LaMarcus Aldridge to get the “W” (he’s averaging 30.25 points per game over the streak). Bet the under when the Spurs and Jazz play Friday.

 
Pelicans small icon 13. Pelicans (41-30, LW 5). It’s not only the Anthony Davis show since DeMarcus Cousins went down, Jrue Holiday has stepped up, too — he is shooting 41.1% from three in his last 15 games, adding the spacing the Pelicans need. In the wake of owner Tom Benson’s death, his wife Gayle runs the show now and there are not going to be big changes, according to sources. Also, the rumors that she’s going to sell the team are not true (at least not for a while, the Pelican’s lease runs through 2024). New Orleans won the first game of a rare back-to-back-to-back at home, something forced by the leaky roof postponement against the Pacers earlier this season.

 
14. Timberwolves (41-31, LW 8). The Timberwolves have gone 5-5 without Jimmy Butler, and Tuesday night against the Clippers was what we need to see more of from this team. First, Karl-Anthony Towns was getting touches and shot attempts (through the first 8 Butler-less games he was getting just one more shot attempt per game than he did during the rest of the season). Second, there was leadership on both ends from Andrew Wiggins, who had one of his better defensive nights. Minnesota is now three games up on the Clippers and the Timberwolves have a much easier schedule the rest of the way, they are going to make the playoffs.

 
Heat small icon 15. Heat (38-33, LW 19). With no Dwyane Wade, in a very close game with Denver last weekend, it was Josh Richardson isolation at the end of regulation then James Johnson at the end of overtime. Neither really got to their spots on the floor for a quality shot (fortunately for Miami it dominated the second OT, so no need to look for another option). With an easier schedule than the stumbling Bucks, Miami may be destined for the seven seed and a date with Boston in the first round.

 
Nuggets small icon 16. Nuggets (38-33, LW 15).. Denver has started a crucial 7-game road trip 0-2, including a gut-punch loss to the Grizzlies (and the 2OT one to the Heat stung, too). Just since the start of March, the Nuggets have lost to the Mavericks, Lakers, and Grizzlies — that lack of urgency and consistency is why they are two games out of the playoffs and with difficult prospects to climb back in (fivethirtyeight.com has them with a 12% chance of getting in). The Nuggets have gone 11-23 on the road this season (they are 27-10 at home) and if they don’t change their road woes around this week the playoffs will be out of reach.

 
Clippers small icon 17. Clippers (37-33 LW 13). Since the All-Star break, the Clippers are 24th in the NBA in defense, and their problems were evident Tuesday night when they had no answer to the Jeff Teague/Karl-Anthony Towns pick-and-roll and were roasted in the second half because of it. Tough road games ahead against the East coming up next — at Milwaukee, Indiana, and Toronto — and with the Clippers 2.5 games back of the Jazz and the final playoff spot, they need to find some road wins fast.

Bucks small icon 18. Bucks (37-33 LW 18). The Bucks are going to make the playoffs — in large part because the teams behind them in the East have collapsed — but that’s not what people around the league are talking about with this team. The question is who will be the next coach? This is going to be a coveted job — getting to coach Giannis Antetokounmpo and a host of good role players who just need a better system in place — plus the team will be moving into a new arena. Will Bucks ownership spend what it takes to get a name/high-level coach?

 
Lakers small icon 19. Lakers (31-39 LW 17). Remember a few weeks back when Lonzo Ball torched the Spurs from three because, as coach Gregg Popovich admitted after the game, their game plan was to go under the pick and dare him to beat them from deep, then Ball did just that? Teams in the NBA learn, they are now trailing over the top on Ball, not letting him have uncontested looks, and since Spurs game he’s shooting just 23.1% from three (and 30.3% overall). Ball is good from three if he gets some room and his feet set, but teams have figured that out and are taking his space away.

Pistons small icon 20. Pistons (32-39, LW 20). Detroit has played poorly of late and is going to miss the playoffs. What happened in Detroit? Blake Griffin is getting blamed for it. Stan Van Gundy likely will lose his GM title for it (and we’ll see if he is back as coach next season). However, the reality is this team came apart when point guard Reggie Jackson got hurt. Since he went out Dec. 27 the Pistons were 12-25 without him — they were 19-14 with him. Jackson returned Tuesday in a limited role (15 minutes) but it will be too little, too late for the Pistons this season.

 
Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (30-41, LW 21). Nicolas Batum is going to miss some time to deal with chronic tendinitis in his left Achilles — a real concern because that doesn’t exactly heal well. Much like Mike Conley in Memphis, it requires constant monitoring and plenty of rest during the season. Before the All-Star break the Hornets were a middle of the pack defensive team in the NBA. Since the break they are 26th in the NBA giving up 6.6 points more per 100 possessions.

 
Kings small icon 22. Kings (23-49, LW 24). No team of late has given a higher percentage of minutes to first and second year players than the Kings — and there have been bright spots. Specifically, back-to-back wins last weekend against Miami and a banged-up Golden State team where rookie point guard D’Aaron Fox was making clutch plays. The Kings have started out 0-1 on a six-game homestand at the Golden One Center where the home fans can get a good look at the young players themselves.

 
Nets small icon 23. Nets (23-48, LW 25). Part of what the Nets wanted to do after the All-Star break is give a lot of minutes to D’Angelo Russell and see what they really have in a player eligible for a contract extension this summer. He has shown flashes of both an ability to score and ability to lead a team, but the simple matter is the Nets have been 4.8 points per 100 possessions better this season when he is off the court, with most of the improvement coming on the defensive end. My guess is Russell is back next season without an extension and hits restricted free agency in 2020.

 
Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (26-45, LW 28). New York easily took care of Chicago on Monday night, meaning the Knicks almost certainly will enter the lottery in the nine slot (a 6.1% chance of jumping up into the top three). Few people around the league expect Jeff Hornacek to keep his job past this season, but who replaces him? Mark Jackson’s name gets mentioned. New York would be wise to get David Fizdale in early and talk to him. Whoever gets the gig, with Kristaps Porzingis likely out for the first half of next season, the new coach needs a long leash to build a culture that can win with KP in a couple of seasons.

 
Bulls small icon 25. Bulls (24-46 LW 22).. Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine are two of the young cornerstone pieces the Bulls think they have going forward. One problem, when they are on the court together this season, the Bulls get outscored by 19.1 points per 100 possessions. When those two are paired, the Bulls score less then a point per possession and are sieve defensively. This is over the course of 308 minutes, so while there is certainly noise in that number it’s not inconsequential. Chicago may not be able to keep both.

 
Mavericks small icon 26. Mavericks (22-49 LW 23). Whatever Mark Cuban says — and he should be far more focused on off the court Dallas issues right now rather than on it — the Mavs players are not tanking. The team just went 1-3 on a recent road trip, but in the losses they took the Raptors to overtime and played both the Nets and Pelicans tight. Another week, another milestone for Dirk Nowitzki, who is now fifth on the NBA’s career regular season games played record.

 
Magic small icon 27. Magic (21-50, LW 26). With Elfrid Payton shipped West, D.J. Augustin has played well as a point guard for Orlando since the All-Star break. It’s a lone bright spot in an offense where Aaron Gordon missed time, Evan Fournier is still out, and after some impressive play lately Jonathon Simmons missed Tuesday’s game against the Raptors.

 
Hawks small icon 28. Hawks (21-50, LW 27). Atlanta is 1-1 to start a six-game road trip thanks to a surprising win over the Jazz Tuesday. Dennis Schroder went off in that game for 41. Before that, the bright spot for the Hawks lately has been Taurean Prince, who dropped 38 points Saturday, and now has two 35+ point games this season, the first Hawk to do that since Joe Johnson.

 
Grizzlies small icon 29. Grizzlies (19-51, LW 30). Tyreke Evans is back on the court, and not surprisingly the Grizzlies’ 19-game losing streak came to an end. If the “Most Improved Player” award were still the “Comeback Player of the Year” award Evans would be in the mix, despite playing just 51 games (so far). Evans has averaged 19.5 points a game and shot 39.2% from three, he’s going to make more money than the Grizzlies can afford this summer and they will lose him.

 
Suns small icon 30. Suns (19-53, LW 29). Losers of nine in a row, the Suns have “reclaimed” the bottom spot in the rankings. The Suns are on pace to finish the season with the worst offense and the worst defense in the NBA by net rating — an “impressive” feat. They will probably have the best lottery odds going into it (25% chance at No. 1), and if they get the top pick you can bet they would love to keep DeAndre Ayton in Arizona.

Projecting final standings in wild West playoff chase

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It’s going to come down to the little things: a lucky bounce here, a sprained ankle there, a made three from the corner under pressure. Unpredictable things — but that’s not going to stop us.

And it’s going to take 46 wins to make the playoffs in the West (last season Portland got in at 41-41).

The West playoff chase is compelling because it is so deep and tight. Right now Houston and Golden State are playoff locks, but after that just 3.5 games separate Portland as the three seed and the Utah Jazz, currently 10th. With just under a month to go in the season, anything can happen.

I sat down and projected out the rest of the season, and here’s what I got, down to projected final record and remaining strength of schedule — it’s going to take those 46 wins to get into the dance (which may be too much for Los Angeles and Denver). But one bounce, one ankle could change this entire dynamic.

 
Rockets small icon1. Rockets: 64-18 proj. record; .483 remaining opponent winning percentage. It’s going to be a coin flip at the end of the season between Houston and Golden State for the top record in the NBA. I’ve put Houston on top for a less-than-empirical reason: Houston wants the top seed, James Harden wants the MVP, and Mike D’Antoni will push for those things while the Warriors will not care about seeding. The Rockets will get what they want.

 
Warriors small icon2. Warriors: 63-19 proj. record; .447 remaining opponent winning percentage. The Warriors have by far an easier schedule the rest of the way than the Rockets, however, they also care less about getting the top seed and will rest guys down the stretch (such as Curry with this ankle, Andre Iguodala with his wrist, and Kevin Durant will get some nights off, too). Coach Steve Kerr cares far more about getting Iguodala and Jordan Bell back healthy than he does the team’s playoff seed.

 
Blazers small icon3. Portland, 48-34 proj. record; .538 remaining opponent winning percentage. The Trail Blazers are seventh in the NBA in defense on the season, and since the All-Star break they are second in the league giving up less than a point per possession — that (and the fact they have outperformed their point differential for the season) is why this team stays at the three seed. We know they can get buckets with Damian Lillard at the helm (especially in the clutch, where he’s been special), but it’s the other end of this floor that makes Portland more of a threat. This team not only gets home court in the first round, they could well win that and advance to the second.

 
4. Minnesota 47-35 proj. record; .474 remaining opponent winning percentage. One of the hardest teams to project from here on out because they don’t have Jimmy Butler, who got them buckets and solidified their defense. That said, in this scenario the T-Wolves get the four seed over OKC because they won the head-to-head tiebreaker (3-1). Butler or no there still a lot of talent on this roster — they need to keep feeding Karl-Antony Towns like they did Sunday against the Warriors — but the Timberwolves have a tough stretch coming up at the Wizards, at Spurs, then home to Houston. They lost two-of-three before the Warriors, if they struggle in the next three does it get into the head of a young team? Their schedule softens up after that.

 
Thunder small icon5. Oklahoma City 47-35 proj. record; .556 remaining opponent winning percentage. It’s difficult to project where this team lands because they are so wildly inconsistent. Watch the Rockets destroy them as happened last Tuesday (attacking Carmelo Anthony mercilessly) and you think the Thunder will be in trouble against any team in the West in the first round, or just getting into the postseason. Watch them shred the Spurs as they did Saturday night and you’re reminded of the elite talent on this team and why they can be such a tough out in the playoffs. Oklahoma City is simply not as good as we thought preseason (especially without Andre Roberson), but they are good enough to make the postseason, and maybe make the second round depending on the matchup.

 
Pelicans small icon6/7/8. New Orleans 46-36 proj. record; .549 remaining opponent winning percentage. In a conference race this tight, why wouldn’t there be a three-way tie for the final playoff spot? There are too many scenarios to get into the three-way tiebreaker for this ending, so for the purposes of this projection, we will call them all even. Anthony Davis only missed one game with his tweaked ankle, this is a team that looks like its recent run was enough to get back to the postseason (the Pelicans are 7-2 since the All-Star break but only have outscored teams by 1.1 per 100 possessions, they’ve been a little lucky). They need a little more luck the rest of the way.

 
Spurs small icon6/7/8. San Antonio 46-36 proj. record; .566 remaining opponent winning percentage. If the Spurs don’t make the playoffs, does the league even still hold them? This is the hardest team to project for a couple of reasons. First is they have the toughest schedule of any West team chasing the postseason, including two more against the Rockets and one against the Warriors. Second is Kawhi Leonard. He is reportedly going to return on Thursday vs. New Orleans, but for how many minutes? And how long does it take him to shake off the rust? If he gets back to form, both the Warriors and Rockets would like to avoid the Spurs in the first round, Leonard is that good, he changes everything. But the Spurs have to make it first, and that’s far from a given.

 
Jazz small icon6/7/8. Utah 46-36 proj. record; .489 remaining opponent winning percentage. The Jazz grab one of the last spots thanks to a soft schedule the rest of the way — although they do have two against the Warriors remaining — and the fact they have had the best defense in the NBA since the All-Star break, allowing well under a point per possession. Rudy Gobert would be the clear Defensive Player of the Year if he wasn’t going to have missed 25+ games this season due to injury. So long as Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio can generate just enough offense, the Jazz will make the cut.

 
Clippers small icon9. Clippers 45-37 proj. record; .553 remaining opponent winning percentage. That the team who lost Chris Paul last summer and traded Blake Griffin in the middle of this one is still in the playoff conversation is a testament to what a good job Doc Rivers has done as coach this season. Lou Williams is going to win Sixth Man of the Year going away, and DeAndre Jordan is still a force inside. But the Clippers have a tough schedule the rest of the way — two each against the Trail Blazers and Pacers that will be key — and almost no margin for error.

 
Nuggets small icon10. Denver 44-38 proj. record; .553 remaining opponent winning percentage. Denver has found a nice young core in Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris, and their offense is top 10. However, their 23rd ranked defense (once you remove gargage time stats, via Cleaning the Glass) is going to leave them on the outside looking in when all is said and done. They have two games against Minnesota and one against Portland remaining, win those and the dynamic changes.