The Western Conference playoffs race features four teams on the bubble and fighting for spots in the play-in tournament including the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and New Orleans Pelicans.
Who would’ve thought that the Minnesota Timberwolves would be sitting pretty in the #7 seed in the Western Conference playoffs standings and two full games ahead of the LA Clippers and 3.5 games ahead of the Lakers?
|WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF BUBBLE|
|10||Portland Trail Blazers||25-34||23.5|
|11||San Antonio Spurs||23-36||25.5|
|12||New Orleans Pelicans||23-36||25.5|
The Phoenix Suns are running away with the #1 seed in the Western Conference after they opened a 6.5-game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the #2 seed. The Suns will not have Chris Paul for remainder of the regular season, so we will see if the Warriors can challenge them for the top spot.
Timberwolves and Clippers
After years of ineptitude, have the Timberwolves finally turned the corner? The Timberwolves (31-28) are three games over .500 and ready to finish strong in the last quarter of the season. Karl-Anthony Towns is fresh off an upset victory in the NBA All-Star 3-Point Contest, so Towns and the T-Wolves are feeling good about themselves in the final stretch of the season. They’re just 2.5-games behind the Denver Nuggets in the #6 seed.
You have to give Ty Lue some credit with the LA Clippers (30-31) this season, who are missing All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to injuries. There’s a chance both players return in the postseason, but the cardiac Clippers did a heck of the job holding the line without their big guns. The Clippers are two games behind the Timberwolves, but they’re also just 1.5-games ahead of the LA Lakers.
LeBron James and the Lakers could stumble into the playoffs. They will have to finish out the rest of the season without a healthy Anthony Davis, who is nursing a foot and ankle injury. He’s out indefinitely, which means it’s up to LeBron to help the Lakers hold off the other teams on the playoffs bubble. Perhaps Russell Westbrook will snap out of his funk after the team kept him on the roster after they were unable to find a trade partner?
A lot of experts suggested that Westbrook and the Lakers would not be a good fit, but very few people expected the Lakers (27-31) would be four games under .500 at the All-Star Break. We’ll see if the Lakers finish strong, or if they fizzle out completely. The season went sideways and even the mighty LeBron was unable to save it.
Of course, there’s still a chance that the Lakers secure the #8 seed in the play-in tournament with a chance to upset the #1 Phoenix Suns in the first round. That’s a pipe dream, but some die-hard fans and LeBron stans think anything is possible once the playoffs begin.
The Lakers were one of the preseason favorites to win the 2022 NBA championship, but they’ve sunk to +4500 odds at the All-Star Break. That’s the lowest they’ve been all season, despite a heavy flow of money in the offseason and at the start of the season.
Bubble: Trail Blazers, Spurs, Pelicans
The Portland Trail Blazers (25-34) imploded their team at the trade deadline, yet they still hold down the #10 seed in the Western Conference. Damian Lillard is out for the rest of the season while he recovers from stomach surgery. The Blazers traded CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans, and they also traded away Norman Powell — their only other legitimate offensive threat to the Clippers. If the Trail Blazers are truly punting on the season, that means the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans have a shot to overtake them on the Western Conference playoffs bubble.
The San Antonio Spurs (23-36) and New Orleans Pelicans (23-36) are both on the playoffs bubble and just two games behind the Trail Blazers. The Spurs did not make any major moves at the trade deadline to indicate they’re a legit contender at the play-in tournament. However, the Pelicans tipped their hand when they acquired McCollum. The Pelicans have an additional scorer aside from Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas to provide instant offense.
The Pelicans will make a run at the playoffs and the play-in tournament without Zion Williamson. The former #1 pick in the NBA Draft been rehabbing an injury away from the team in Portland and about to go under the knife for a second surgery to fix his fractured foot. Zion has not played a single game with the Pelicans this season, and he was called out by both McCollum and former teammate JJ Redick for his weird behavior as a detached teammate.