There is less than a week left in the NBA regular season and the only drama left in the Eastern Conference playoff picture is about whether Indiana will host Chicago or Atlanta in the first round. It's pretty exciting stuff. On the other hand, basketball fans are in for a treat out west over the next few days and weeks.
Golden State has a half-game lead over Houston for the sixth spot after falling to Oklahoma City last night and the Lakers and Jazz are duking it out for the eighth spot, with LA currently one game ahead of Utah.
A lot is at stake in both races. The winner of the Warriors-Rockets battle will play Denver in the first round while the loser has to travel to San Antonio. The Jazz are fighting to extend their season, and the Lakers are hoping to avoid the torrent of criticism from fans and detractors that will come if they fail to make the playoffs.
It's always good for basketball fans when the last few days of the season actually matter, and this year they certainly do.
Take tonight, for example. Golden State will be at Staples Center to take on the Lakers in what is a huge game for both teams, Houston is hosting Memphis, and Utah - a team that essentially needs to win out - is playing Minnesota. Even though Memphis isn't playing for positioning and Minnesota is Minnesota, all three games should have the urgency and drama of playoff games.
The nice thing about the West, though, is that no matter how it shakes out the first round will be loaded with awesome matchups. The next five days are going to be a teaser for the spectacle that the Western Conference Playoffs are sure to be.
Here is my list of dream matchups for the first round:
(1) Thunder - (8) Lakers
(2) Spurs - (7) Warriors
(3) Nuggets - (6) Rockets
(4) Clippers - (5) Grizzlies
No offense Jazz fans, but I think the universe wants the Lakers to make the playoffs, if for no other reason than that no one wants to hear the talking heads focus on a team that didn't make the playoffs while actual postseason basketball is happening.
And the excitement for a Thunder-Lakers series would be huge. Remember when that was supposed to be the Western Conference Finals matchup? The intriguing thing about this series is that nothing has changed with regards to our view of the Lakers over the last few months, this season has clearly been a massive disappointment, but there's a sense that they could break out at any moment. Kobe can still win playoff games single-handedly and the Lakers potential for success this year, despite all of the evidence, has to be unsettling for Thunder fans.