On the morning of Monday, March 5, the Clippers were 29-30 in seventh place in the West, and the Warriors were 26-35, in 12th place, 4 games behind the Clippers and a half game ahead of Portland.
Two weeks later, the Clippers were 30-36, the Warriors were 32-36, the Warriors were in 8th, the Clippers a game back, and based on the trends, it seemed like it was all but over.
Today, the Clippers are back ahead by a half game, and after two straight road wins (and three out of four), seem to have a legitimate chance at the playoffs once again. Indeed, CoolStandings has them at 58.8% making the playoffs, with the Warriors at 28.8% and no one else as high as 15%.
Citizen mp pointed out the importance of the relatively easy April schedule in a Diary on March 12. And in fact the remaining March schedule (UTA, WAS, HOU, @SAC, @POR), although not what you would call soft, is significantly cushier than the Warriors' March slate (WAS, @LAL, SAS, PHO).
Much will be determined by these two teams' ability to compete at home against quality opposition. The Clippers have the aforementioned Jazz, Wizards and Rockets coming up in the next three, followed by the Lakers and Nuggets at the beginning of April. The Clippers haven't fared well against good teams anywhere this season, but basically, if you can't be expected to win better than half of those, then why even make the playoffs? The Warriors have the Wizards, Spurs, Suns, Jazz and Mavs coming to Oakland before all is said and done. Which team will win more of those games? I'd certainly rather have the Rockets, Lakers and Nuggets then the Suns, Spurs and Mavs!
If the Clippers have the lead on March 31st, they should make the playoffs. They have an easier April schedule than the Warriors, and will be in a position to control their own destiny, with 4 of their remaining 9 games against teams under .500 and three more against the underwhelming Lakers and Nuggets. With so much to play for, if they can't beat teams chasing them (Hornets, Kings) and teams they are chasing (Lakers) in the last weeks of the season, they don't deserve to make the playoffs.
But it's far from a foregone conclusion. The Warriors have been playing really well, and certainly have a chance to take a lead into April. Beating the Spurs and/or the Suns at the Oracle will not be easy, but they just beat the Mavs by 17 a couple Mondays ago. In short, the Dubs may simply be playing well enough to earn the last spot. But hopefully the Clippers will at least push them.
At any rate, the Clippers have what any team would want: a chance. And as of now, they are in the driver's seat. It would be nice to have Sam Cassell behind the wheel, and if he can play, I'll call them the favorite.
There is one more possibility of course. I'll call it the dream scenario. If the Lakers (who haven't won a game this month in which Kobe scored less than 50) continue to struggle, both the Clippers and the Warriors could catch them. It would undoubtedly be too much to hope for, that after trailing them all season the Clippers catch and surpass the Lakers in the season's final month. But with two hallway games left, the Clippers can have a lot to say about it. Win those two, and you're only talking about making up 2 more.
I can dream, can't I?