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Blake Griffin had the Clippers in a good position at the top of the Western Conference, and the Jazz also had good footing in the playoffs. But both teams have struggled as of late and dropped in the standings. Photo by Jason Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
The Eastern Conference is pretty much decided, but out in the West, there are three different races going on.
The Spurs and the Thunder are battling it out for the top seed and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Only one game separated the two teams earlier this week, with the Spurs holding a slight lead.
Behind them are the Clippers, Nuggets, and Grizzlies. Before the All-Star break it looked like the Clippers were keeping pace with the Spurs and the Thunder as one of the best teams in the West. But it is a long season, and the Clippers have settled into the second tier group.
The Grizzlies took the third spot from the Clippers, who took it right back. Earlier this week only ½ of a game separated the three teams, with the Clippers barely in front.
It is somewhat surprising to see the Grizzlies and Nuggets in this position. After trading Rudy Gay, it looked like the Grizzlies would just fade away, but they have been one of the best teams in the West since the All-Star break. The Nuggets do not have star players, but they pushed their winning streak to 13 games when they knocked off the Thunder on Tuesday.
As for the Clippers, Knicks forward Kenyon Martin may have said it best when he said that all of that high speed, up and down basketball that the Clippers play works well in the regular season, but come playoff time, when teams slow down the pace, it does not work. Well it is getting close to playoff time, and the Clippers are 0-4 against the Spurs, Thunder, Nuggets, and Grizzlies since the All-Star break. If they are not careful, they may take a step back from last year instead of a step forward.
The third playoff race is for the final spot, and it is also to avoid playing the Spurs or Thunder in the first round.
The Lakers are winning games right when the Jazz, Rockets, and Warriors have all had slumps. With the way the Lakers have been playing since the All-Star break, it looks like they can hold off the Jazz, who started this week a game behind for the final playoff spot, and it looks like the Lakers could move up as far as the sixth seed, which would allow them to avoid the Spurs and Thunder.
Earlier this week the Lakers were two games behind the Warriors, and the two teams play each other twice. Out of those teams, who ever can get to the sixth seed can have a chance to compete in the first round. The other team teams may be going home early.