April 9, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets small forward Danilo Gallinari (8) releases the basketball during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets defeated the Warriors 123-84. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
There's no Clippers game tonight, but with seven of the top ten Western Conference teams in action (every team the Clippers really care about except for the Grizzlies) there's plenty to pay attention to.
The big game is the last game -- the Lakers are hosting Denver in the fourth straight game they are playing without Kobe Bryant. The purple and gold have had mixed results without the Mamba so far -- they were blown out in Phoenix, eked out a win in New Orleans, and then blew out the Spurs in San Antonio. The Nuggets have plenty of motivation -- they're currently tied for the last two playoff spots with the Rockets, and no one really wants to be there facing the prospect of playing either the Spurs or the Thunder in the first round. They're within a half game of sixth -- but also within a game and a half of ninth. The Nuggets just got Danilo Gallinari back which makes them as healthy now as they've been in a long time. Obviously Denver can give the Clippers a huge assist by winning tonight.
The Lakers at number three lay at one end of the spectrum of interest for the Clippers -- Utah and Phoenix at nine and ten are at the other end. Phoenix, who have won 2 of 3 games versus the Clippers so far this season, actually has the better chance of passing the LAC in the standings, despite being a half game behind the Jazz. By my math, the Clippers magic number against the Jazz is 2, and against the Suns is 3. The bottom line is, losses by either of these teams is a good thing. There's basically no chance at this point that the Clippers could miss the playoffs -- but with only four playoff appearances in that last 28 seasons, I'm sure we'll all be a lot more relaxed with the postseason is clinched. Utah plays at New Orleans, while Phoenix is at Houston. Neither the Jazz nor the Suns are particularly good road teams.
One huge advantage the Clippers have heading into their final seven games is that they hold the tie-breaker over the five teams directly behind them in the standings. So while they can clinch a higher finish than Utah fairly soon, the same is also true in comparing them to Dallas and Denver and Houston as well. Basically, the Clippers are almost guaranteed a top five finish as of now. According to my new favorite website, playoffstatus.com, there's a better than 97% chance that the Clippers will finish with the fifth seed or better -- a 64% chance that they'll get a top four seed and home court advantage. One reason that percentage is so high is because Dallas, Houston, Denver, Utah and Phoenix will spend a good portion of the next two weeks playing each other (as with the Suns and Rockets tonight) -- some one has to lose each of those games, and no matter who loses, it's good news for the Clippers.
Which all means that in reality there are only two teams we need to be watching -- the Lakers and the Grizzlies. For all intents and purposes, barring a complete collapse by one of them, the Clippers, Lakers and Grizzlies will finish third, fourth or fifth in a yet to be determined order. So...
LET'S GO NUGGETS!