With 5 teams left and 4 playoff spots open, one of the Grizzlies, Blazers, Mavericks, Jazz, and Rockets stand to get an early summer break. If the season ended today, the Grizzlies would capture the 5th seed, followed by Portland, Dallas, and Utah in that order, with Houston ending their season outside the playoffs. Before the Golden State game, Portland held the 5th seed, and though it was only for a few hours before Memphis claimed it again, Blazers fans are starting to consider a 5th seed entry into the first round as a real possibility. The Blazers have four games left in their season, and the worst record they can finish with as of today is 41-41. In order to clinch a playoff spot, they would have to have a worst possible record better than the best possible record of all of the rest of the teams in the playoff race. The Grizzlies could finish 46-36, the Mavericks and Jazz could finish 44-38, and the Rockets could finish 43-39, so therefore they have yet to clinch a spot. Even so, they are a game and a half above Dallas and Utah, and two games above Houston. Barring an equally untimely and unexpected slide to end the season, Portland will definitely make the playoffs. Considering that Portland was projected to be the 28th best team coming in to the season by ESPN and 25th by nba.com, the fact that they are in contention for 5th seed is impressive. Not only are they in contention, it is a very real possibility.
Memphis, who currently hold the coveted 5th seed, are on a 6 game slide, as would be expected considering how many injuries the team has been dealing with pretty much all season. In addition, their final 5 games are against the desperate Bulls at home, at the Mavericks who are, of course, in the western playoff hunt, at home versus the Warriors, at the Clippers who recently brought Griffin back, and again versus the Warriors in Oakland. In short, Memphis is (probably) screwed. On the other hand, Portland’s remaining schedule is not nearly as difficult. They play in Sacramento on Tuesday, and then they have a three game home stretch against the Thunder, the Timberwolves, and the Nuggets. Of the remaining teams that have yet to be eliminated, Portland probably has the easiest schedule, considering they do not have to play the Spurs, Warriors, or any of the other teams in the hunt like the other four teams do. In addition, Portland currently has the tiebreaker over Memphis, Houston, and Utah, thanks to their 9-4 division record, but not against Dallas. Dallas plays Houston, Memphis, and Utah in their final 5 games in addition to their matchups with the Clippers and Spurs. The difficulty of the remaining teams' schedules as well as the ease of Portland's remaining games leads one to believe that Portland will finish above the rest. Although the Rockets have a fairly easy stretch of games in front of them, Portland has the advantage of being two and a half games above them and not being nearly as dysfunctional. As it stands today, it looks like Portland has the best chance of finishing with the 5th seed and facing the Clippers in the first round rather than the Thunder if they finished 6th, or even worse the juggernauts that are Golden State and San Antonio if they placed 7th or 8th. If Portland had championship aspirations, they would definitely prefer to finish 5th, considering they would face the Clippers, then the Warriors, and then the Spurs. A 6th seed finish would slot them against the Thunder, the Spurs, and then the Warriors, assuming the west plays out as expected. Considering Portland matches up somewhat well against Golden State, they would prefer to face them as early as possible, not to mention there are doubts on how well the Clippers can adjust to the return of Griffin. Even so, only the most delusional Blazers fans see Portland winning the west. At best, Portland can expect to provide a challenge in the first round and potentially advance to face one of San Antonio or Golden State. Taking the dire outlook this team had before the season even started into account, making the playoffs is a huge achievement for this young Blazers team and it will provide a bounty of valuable playoff experience, even if it means giving up their first round pick to Denver.