Playoff picture is taking shape in the NBA

By Jalon Dixon, Columnist

With less than 10 games to go, teams across the league are jockeying for their seeding in the NBA Playoffs.

Now that the Los Angeles Lakers have officially been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the talk of the town is hovering around the teams who are still in the mix. With one or two games separating teams from either being fourth atop the conference or floating at the bottom around seventh or eighth, the playoff picture is constantly changing by the day.

After spending the majority of the season as a top three seed in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder now find themselves in the sixth spot with an identical record of 43-30 to the Utah Jazz who sit right behind them. Despite being led by a pair of top five MVP candidates this season in Paul George and Russell Westbrook, who is reinventing his image as secondary option, the Thunder have lost six of their last 10 games, plummeting to the middle of the pack. Despite their talent, the real question for them is how much more could they fall?

Then, there are the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers, who both have taken the league by storm this season as two undiscussed teams and putting the league on notice. Veteran talent, good coaching and team basketball have resulted in the Nets and Clippers finding their groove as they look to snatch the spotlight from their “big brother” franchises, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks.

The Nets currently sit as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and are tied with the Detroit Pistons. Led by guards D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert, this team is playing together and looking like a force in the East that teams like the Boston Celtics and Philadelhpia 76ers may want to keep their eye on as a potential first round matchup. As a team that loves to run up and down the floor and relies heavily on their athleticism and an aggressive inside presence, the Nets may surprise people come postseason time.

The Clippers are still surprising people to this very day. As a team that most considered to be rebuilding, the Clippers have been counted out all year and that belief only grew when they traded forward Tobias Harris to Philadelphia. Despite what most may have believed, the Clippers currently are the fifth seed in the West with a 44-30 record and are just 2.5 games back from the three seed. However, they are also 1.5 games ahead of being the eighth seed. With so much riding on these last few games, the Clippers may actually have the most to gain and lose as we come down to the wire.

Another team to keep your eyes on is the Denver Nuggets. After spending the last two season just barely missing the playoffs, the Nuggets have skyrocketed in the standings, becoming one of the most improved teams in the NBA. Denver is tied for first with the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference with a record of 49-23. As a red hot team led by star center Nikola Jokic and the sniper back court of Jamal Murray and Garry Harris, look for the Nuggets to try and send a statement by holding onto that number one seed heading into the playoffs. With the combination of talent they have to go alongside the home court advantage that comes with playing in the altitude of Denver, they could be a bigger force in the postseason than most are willing to admit.

With all these teams fighting for seeding, the difference between winning and losing becomes even more crucial. Win, and you maintain your spot or even move up to better solidify your chance of victory in the postseason. Lose, and you fall to the bottom of the playoff picture and risk an early exit. These last few games will set the stage for the matchups in the 2019 NBA playoffs.

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