At this time of year, it’s fun to look back on where expectations stood coming into the season. I can only speak for myself here, but I thought there was clear top four pecking order in the West, in order: Golden State, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City. In mid-March the Blazers and Pelicans have upset that order, with a little help from Kawhi Leonard‘s quadriceps and the Thunder’s rollercoaster. Now we still might end up with the projected top four, given Kawhi’s expected return and the razor-thin margin for error beneath the Warriors and Rockets. But it’s genuinely surprising to look at the current pecking order for me. I had thought Portland reached its full potential over the past couple seasons and that their ill-advised spending spree in the summer of 2016 would limit their ceiling. They are now clearly the third-best team in the West. I also assumed the Pelicans would be scraping at the margins of the 8-seed and that Minnesota would need another year before reaching 4-6 seed range. But what do I know? I also thought Memphis was going to be back in the playoffs this year (yikes).
One team I correctly predicted would be fighting for the 8-seed is the Utah Jazz. But the way they’ve gotten here is truly mind-boggling. At one point they were 19-28 after losing to the horrible Hawks. An 18-2 run came out of nowhere, punctuated by an 11-game streak and their current 6-game win streak. Yesterday they took over the second half to beat the Pelicans in New Orleans, despite Anthony Davis‘ post-ankle-sprain triple-double. And Donovan Mitchell did this foolishness:
Right now I like the Jazz to make it to the dance.
The other semi-surprise from yesterday was the injury-depleted Warriors losing a lead late and ultimately the game to Minnesota. Karl-Anthony Towns hit a beautiful fadeaway in the final minute and got his own rebound for a putback score that iced the game. The Warriors are fundamentally a different team without Steph Curry. There’s my Captain Obvious take for the day. But, seriously, the Quinn Cook/Shaun Livingston combo is such a downgrade at point for them, they may want to punt this 1-seed race and hold Curry out until he’s 100 percent. We’ve seen what happens to the Warriors in the playoffs with a hobbled Curry.
Here’s an interesting Warriors tidbit, by the way. Their last six losses have come against Northwest Division teams: Blazers twice, Thunder, Nuggets, Jazz and now T-Wolves. I’d say they need to avoid the Northwest in the playoffs but it may not be possible. All five of these teams could conceivably make it again. The Great Northwest, indeed.
With that, let’s look at tonight’s action:
Spurs @ Rockets – San Antonio ends its 3-game bloodbath of a road trip tonight in Houston, after losing to both Golden State and OKC. The Rockets reveled in trouncing their Dallas rivals last night and expect to follow it up with more of the same tonight against their I-10 enemies. Rockets win, 114-97.
Kings @ Thunder – The poor, poor Kings keep ending up in this column as the resident punching bags for contenders looking to steady the ship. OKC is still working out fit and inconsistency issues, but the Kings will help paper over pretty much anything. Just ask the Nuggets! OKC wins at home, 121-90.
Heat @ Trail Blazers – The game I’ll be watching most closely tonight. Miami is surging at the right time as they look to climb up the East seedings. Dwyane Wade may miss the game tonight and Portland is a buzzsaw at home. I’ll take the Blazers in a close one, 98-96.
Picks record since March 5 – 17-10