With the Clippers' win over the Lakers earlier today, they're only 2 games (LAC wins or HOU losses) away from clinching the 3 seed. With today's game, LA clinched home-court advantage in the first round.
At this point, the Clippers are almost certainly not going to pass the Thunder to steal the 2nd seed. The Clippers would need to play perfect basketball in their last four games as well as have Oklahoma City lose three of their last 7. In my mind, at least, it's time to accept that the race for #2 is over and prepare for the reality of a 3-6 first round matchup and going on the road in the second round.
So, if the Clippers are going to end up 3rd, who will they play? There's still plenty of possibilities for that seed. Any of the bottom 6 teams of the 9 playoff contenders could end up there mathematically. Realistically, Houston won't fall that far, but the other 5 teams are all within 2 losses either direction of Golden State for the 6 seed. The general consensus seems to be that Portland (who is slipping recently) and Dallas (who haven't seemed to give the Clippers much trouble this year) are ideal opponents, whereas Golden State (who can beat you from deep), Memphis (who can beat you up), and Phoenix (who seems to have the Clippers' number) are more dangerous.
The Clippers' season series against all of these potential opponents:
Looking at the standings realistically, it seems like the bottom three teams fighting for position, Dallas, Memphis, and Phoenix, will end up in 7, 8, and 9, in some order. None of those three are likely to climb to 6 to face the Clippers. So, it should come down to either Portland or Golden State as the 5th and 6th place teams. Now, I have a firm belief that the Clippers can and will beat either of these teams in the first round. However, Golden State's capacity to play physically (read: dirtily) and shoot the crap out of the basketball seems scarier than Portland's recent regression.
Right now, Portland has 28 losses and the Warriors have 29. Both are in action tonight, and they even have a game against each other a week from today. Ultimately, their battle could be decided by Portland's final game against the Clippers, which is big because the Clippers have the potential to decide who their first round opponent is.
Peeking briefly into the Eastern Conference, it's time to start watching for any losses by the Heat and Pacers. Right now, the Clippers are tied with Miami in the loss column and ahead of Indiana. While we don't want to get ahead of ourselves, it would certainly be nice for the Clippers to finish ahead of both of these teams in order to secure home court advantage in a potential NBA Finals meeting.
The current standings heading into tonight's (but including this morning's) games:
|1||San Antonio Spurs||59-17||7|
|2||Oklahoma City Thunder||55-20||7|
|3||Los Angeles Clippers||55-23||4|
|5||Portland Trail Blazers||49-28||5|
|6||Golden State Warriors||47-29||6|
Tonight's games to watch:
Mavericks: @ Kings, 3:00 PST (Root for the Kings. If the Suns and Grizzlies make the playoffs, they're the two toughest opponents for OKC and SAS.)
Pacers: vs Hawks, 3:00 PST (Root for Atlanta. A Pacers loss helps the Clippers' chances of home court in the finals.)
Houston: vs Denver, 4:00 PST (Root for Denver. We want the Clippers' lead to grow so they can clinch the 3 seed.)
Grizzlies @ Spurs: 4:00 PST, NBATV (Root for Memphis. We want the Grizzlies to end up in the 7 or 8 seed so they can beat up OKC or SAS in the first round.)
Warriors: vs Jazz, 6:00 PST (Never thought I'd say it, but root for Golden State. Ideally, they'll pass the Blazers for the 5 seed.)
Thunder @ Suns: 6:00 PST, NBATV (Root for the Suns. They have a better chance of pulling an upset in the first round than Dallas, and it might just keep the door open for the Clippers to steal #2.)
Trail Blazers: vs Pelicans, 6:00 PST (Root for the Pelicans. If the Blazers lose, they become much more likely to end up 6th and play the Clippers in the first round.)