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Playoff Picture: Where all 15 West teams stand after All-Star break

The push for the playoffs and Play-In Tournament will be a tight race in the West over the final 6 weeks.

The Mavs acquired Kyrie Irving before the trade deadline to pair with NBA leading scorer Luka Doncic for their playoff push.

The NBA season resumes on Thursday after an action-packed All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City. Here’s how the Western Conference playoff picture stands with the Play-In Tournament less than two months away.

In the Playoffs

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas dropped three in a row going into the All-Star break. Coming out of it, we’ll learn quite a bit from an upcoming six-game homestand that could ultimately decide the season. Yes, the team made waves in pulling off the blockbuster trade that landed eight-time All-Star Kyrie Irving to pair with the NBA’s leading scorer in Luka Doncic. But Dallas gave up its best perimeter defender (Dorian Finney-Smith) in the trade, weakening an already sieve-like unit. The Mavs are 0-2 so far with the Doncic-Irving pairing, and just 22 games remain, with three teams (New Orleans, Golden State and Minnesota) breathing down their necks in the conference standings.

Dallas needs to hit the ground running during the upcoming homestand because, after that, just six games remain at American Airlines Center for a team that is 12-19 on the road. The porous defense should improve once anchor Maxi Kleber (torn hamstring) returns. Kleber, who is the team’s best defender, missed 33 games while Tim Hardaway Jr. (hamstring) and Davis Bertans (calf) have been out nursing injuries. Doncic believes the Mavs have “a dangerous team” when fully healthy, and merely advancing to the postseason isn’t the immediate goal. Dallas wants home-court advantage. The club sits just 2 ½ games behind No. 3 Sacramento and 1 ½ games behind the fourth-seeded Phoenix Suns, but just two ahead of the No. 11 Utah Jazz.

Coach Jason Kidd will need to optimize his rotations around new addition Irving and franchise star Doncic while implementing the reinforcements returning from injury. If he’s successful and the team stays healthy, it could end up peaking at just the right time. But ultimately that won’t be enough to lift Dallas over its defensive issues and beyond the Western semis.

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets return from the All-Star break with a 5-game lead atop the Western Conference.

Hopefully, Denver rested up adequately during the break because it faces three significant tests over these next four days with road trips to Cleveland (25-6 at home) and Memphis (24-5 at home) on Thursday and Saturday, followed by a Sunday home clash against the LA Clippers. Luckily though, the Nuggets put in the hard work over their first 59 games to build enough cushion (a five-game lead over the No. 2 Grizzlies) to prioritize health down the stretch while priming rotations that will include trade deadline acquisitions Reggie Jackson and Thomas Bryant.

Reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic will likely capture the award for the third time in a row if he remains healthy and continues to produce gaudy numbers while leading his team to the No. 1 seed. That would bring about immense pressure for Jokic and the Nuggets to thrive in the playoffs. But they appear suited to do just that. If you haven’t been paying attention, second-leading scorer Jamal Murray (20.2 ppg) and Michael Porter Jr. (16.8 ppg) are finally rounding into form for the league’s top offense (117.6 offensive rating) after missing last season with injuries, while Kentavious-Caldwell Pope and Bruce Brown are thriving in their first season with the team.

“We know what we’re doing,” Jokic said after the All-Star Game. “We believe in the basketball system that we have built over the years. It’s still working. Nothing can affect us from the outside. We are thinking about ourselves and just how to get better.”

If Denver maintains good health and improves its 13th-rated defense over these next 23 games, it will head into the playoffs ready to make a serious run at its first NBA Finals appearance. The Nuggets will likely have to knock off the Phoenix Suns in the conference finals to get there. But they’ve got the depth to do it.

LA Clippers

All-Star Paul George (left) and a healthy Kawhi Leonard welcome a slew of new players for LA’s playoff push.

Russell Westbrook has officially signed with the Clippers. Despite his tumultuous tenure with the Lakers, this move might prove to be the right fit as he’ll be surrounded by strong shooting wings in Kawhi Leonard and former Thunder teammate Paul George. Westbrook provides the Clippers with a healthier and more athletic playmaker over John Wall, who was jettisoned prior to the trade deadline. The former Kia MVP can push the pace and is capable of driving to the bucket to get his own shot, or he can kick it out to shooters. But will bringing Westbrook aboard disrupt the team’s momentum, considering it won 10 of its last 14 outings going into the break? In addition to Westbrook, LA added several other new pieces at the trade deadline including Eric Gordon, Bones Hyland, and Mason Plumlee. With 21 games left, the Clippers appear to possess the ideal mix of veterans and strong coaching to adjust quickly enough to hit the postseason firing on all cylinders.

But most importantly, Leonard has returned to form as one of the league’s most dominant two-way forces after sitting out last season recovering from a torn ACL. While trying to implement Westbrook, the Clippers play their first six games coming out of the break against the top three teams in the West (Denver, Memphis and Sacramento), with two more matchups against teams fighting to make the playoffs (Minnesota and Golden State). The Clippers appear to be all-in on chasing a title now, and they’ll certainly be in the mix as one of the most dangerous teams in the postseason. LA has the toughest remaining schedule in the Western Conference and will need to quickly decide the scope of Westbrook’s role.

Even if everything doesn’t come together the way they hope, the Clippers are talented and well-coached enough to advance at least to the conference semifinals.

Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis begins a challenging post-break stretch after struggling as it headed into the All-Star weekend.

As it turns out, Memphis isn’t exactly “fine in the West,” having lost nine of 13 games going into All-Star weekend while teams such as Phoenix and Dallas improved at the trade deadline by making blockbuster deals. “Definitely got to look at Phoenix now with adding [Kevin Durant],” Grizzlies star guard Ja Morant told Golden State forward Draymond Green during the All-Star Game broadcast. “Obviously, we can’t shy away from [the Warriors]. Everybody knows y’all [are] always in contention. [But] still Boston [is the team to beat], man. But yeah, I’m still fine in the West.” We’ll see. But it’s clear Memphis needs experienced veteran Steven Adams back in the fold as quickly as possible. Adams suffered a knee injury on Jan. 22, and the Grizzlies would lose six of their next seven games. The veteran big leads the NBA in offensive rebounding (5.1) and is close to being reevaluated for a potential return.

Memphis resumes its season Thursday with a brutal 11-game stretch that features seven road contests. Six come against dangerous opponents in the Sixers, Nuggets, Lakers, Clippers, Mavericks, and Heat for a team that owns a road record of 11-17. How Memphis fares during that stretch could affect this team’s postseason seeding. The Grizzlies are trying to work new addition Luke Kennard into the primary rotation, and his pinpoint deep shooting (44.9%) should only help the team’s 15th-rated offense.

The brash, young and experienced second-place Grizzlies are currently three games ahead of No. 3 Sacramento in the West, and the break came at just the right time. During an 11-game winning streak earlier in the season, Memphis owned top-five ratings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Grizzlies hope to return to that level over the last 25 games, and it’s certainly possible.

Memphis will make it out of the first round of the playoffs, but from there it’s a crapshoot for a young team poised to become a legit contender for years to come.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns could be primed for a deep playoff run after acquiring All-Star Kevin Durant from the Nets.

We’ve seen a total of 23 different starting lineups so far with Phoenix, which has successfully navigated a slew of injuries resulting in a combined total of 48 missed games between Devin Booker and Chris Paul to currently be sitting at fifth in the West. But 24 is the operative number here, as the implementation of new addition Kevin Durant will mark the team’s latest and most dangerous starting lineup. “That’ll be a transition for the staff, not so much [for] the players, to figure out what groups work with what, and how to close quarters, and look at the history of different guys’ rotations and try to mesh them well,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “The one thing we have to do now is [figure out] Kevin’s rotation over the course of his career and see which one best fits how we play [Booker], Chris, and [Deandre Ayton].”

Durant hasn’t played since Jan. 8 but is expected to make his Suns debut either Sunday against the Bucks or the following Wednesday in Charlotte. Paired with three-time All-Star Booker, Durant provides the Suns a pick-your-poison element similar to what we’re seeing between Doncic and Irving in Dallas. Who do you double-team? That’s a question Suns opponents are sure to ponder in the near future. Still, there’s a little concern about continuity after Phoenix gave up Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson to land Durant. A generational talent like Durant will quickly assuage that, and bench reinforcements appear on the way in Cameron Payne, who hasn’t played since Jan. 4, and Landry Shamet, who has been sidelined since mid-January. In addition to landing Durant and T.J. Warren, Phoenix also added experienced and talented depth in Darius Bazley and Terrence Ross.

Durant’s presence added to the nucleus of Booker, Paul and Ayton instantly pushes Phoenix into the category of a serious contender. Just a half-game behind the Clippers, the Suns will likely wind up with home-court advantage. We’ll see them in the Western Conference finals.

Sacramento Kings

Sacramento emerges from the All-Star break sitting at No. 3 in the West.

Currently third in the West, Sacramento eyes ending its NBA-record 16-year playoff drought, and it’s wild to think the Kings could do it while seizing home-court advantage. Sacramento just needs to successfully navigate a fairly strong schedule to close out the regular season, and that won’t be easy as it is one of four teams in the league with six back-to-back sets remaining.

Moving forward, the Kings need to find a way to better handle the tougher competition. They finished the first 57 games with a record of 11-17 against teams sitting at .500 or better while registering a mark of 21-8 matched with teams below .500. Defense has been an issue (115.2 rating) for a Kings team that can fill it up offensively (No. 2 in league offensive rating at 117.3).

“The biggest thing is demanding [consistency],” said NBA Coach of the Year candidate Mike Brown. “Somebody told me that, especially at this point of the year, slippage is invisible, meaning guys are a little tired. When you get some slippage, that’s when bad habits creep in. So, we as a staff first have to be aware of that, and make sure we let our guys understand where we’re coming from.”

The young Kings likely won’t advance beyond the first round, but they’ll be back again next season, ready to take the next step.

Play-In Hopefuls

Golden State Warriors 

Stephen Curry remains out with a leg injury as the Warriors look to return to the playoffs.

The Play-In Tournament isn’t where the Warriors want to be. So, you’ll see the veteran-laden defending champions operating with a sense of urgency to avoid playing extra games that could gas the squad through four rounds in the playoffs. With 24 games remaining, the Warriors are at.500, just one game behind the sixth-place Mavericks in the standings, and the starting lineup – despite a record of 14-13 together – is outscoring teams by 21.9 points per 100 possessions.

The problem is we don’t know when the starting lineup will be together again. Stephen Curry has been out since Feb. 4 dealing with partial tears in two ligaments in his lower left leg. The team said it would re-evaluate Curry after the All-Star break, but the superstar guard sounded somewhat pessimistic recently while discussing when he might be healthy enough to return.

The Warriors initially thought they bolstered their perimeter defense by reacquiring Gary Payton II in a four-team trade, but he’s expected to miss at least a month due to an abdomen injury. So, help doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon. Still, it’s tough to count out a team with championship DNA. The Warriors need to improve their defensive effort, and players such as Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole need to step up in Curry’s absence.

“It’s now or never,” Green said. “You’ve got to come out of the break, win, and do it at a high level. Or you go home at the beginning of April. I wouldn’t be happy with that, but that will be the result if we don’t get there.”

The 1999 Chicago Bulls represent the last reigning champ to miss the playoffs the following season. Golden State will advance, most likely through the Play-In Tournament. But don’t count on a long stay if Curry and Payton aren’t back in time for the Warriors to regain enough cohesion to enter the postseason humming.

Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James and the Lakers will try to avoid missing the playoffs for a 2nd straight season.

Before Sunday’s All-Star Game, LeBron James called Los Angeles’ remaining schedule “23 of the most important games of my career for a regular season.” But, regardless of the team’s revamped roster and best efforts, you can expect the Lakers to fall squarely into Play-In Tournament territory at the conclusion of the regular season. They’ll be lucky to get there, too. The Lakers currently sit two games out of the final Play-In spot and 4 ½ games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, which drastically reduces the club’s margin for error.

The schedule doesn’t help either. The Lakers emerge from the All-Star break with a home clash against Golden State (10 ET, TNT) followed by back-to-back road outings at Dallas and Memphis. Not to mention, they play five of their last seven regular-season games on the road, where Los Angeles is 13-18. The Lakers missed the postseason last year, too, marking the fourth time in James’ 19 seasons that his team didn’t qualify. “I don’t want to see myself not being part of the postseason for two years straight,” he said. “It’s not part of my DNA.”

If anything, the All-Star break might’ve slowed progress for a Lakers team that dealt away Russell Westbrook and added a slew of new players at the trade deadline in D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Davon Reed, and Mo Bamba.

The West is so tight that it’s not impossible for the Lakers to mount a late-season rebound that catapults them into the playoffs. But the truth is there’s just not enough time for the club to develop the requisite synergy to thrive when the stakes are highest. Even if James and Anthony Davis manage to push Los Angeles past the Play-In Tournament, a first-round exit awaits on the other side. The Lakers won’t be able to handle any of the potential top two seeds in the West.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves have had to battle through significant injuries as they try to clinch a Play-In berth.

The last two seasons under coach Chris Finch are evidence that Minnesota typically plays better after the All-Star break than before. But Karl-Anthony Towns hasn’t hit the floor since Nov. 28, and the Timberwolves had already lost three in a row when he suffered a calf injury that could keep him out of the lineup until mid-March. The Timberwolves owned a record of 10-11 when Towns suffered that injury and have since gone 21-19. Minnesota traded away point guard D’Angelo Russell, replacing him with 15-year veteran Mike Conley. Despite Conley’s veteran leadership, experience, playmaking ability, and familiarity with former Utah teammate Rudy Gobert, the Timberwolves aren’t really in a better place now than before they swapped out point guards. Finch has mentioned that maturity is what Minnesota has needed all year, and Conley provides that.

But the veteran floor general won’t be able to fix all that ails the Timberwolves, nor will the stellar play of superstar shooting guard Anthony Edwards, who racked up 31 points or more in three of his last four games headed into the break. Currently sitting at No. 8 in the West, Minnesota will only slide further back if it can’t eliminate turnovers and learn to execute late in games consistently on the defensive end. The Timberwolves are 11-17 on the road and play eight of their last 21 games outside the friendly confines of the Target Center. Not good.

At this point, Minnesota would be lucky to overcome its warts to advance to the Play-In Tournament. Even then, the Timberwolves likely wouldn’t survive to reach the eight-team bracket.

New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans continues to wait on the return of Zion Williamson, who has been out with an injury.

Two days before Valentine’s Day, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin delivered the heartbreak of Zion Williamson re-aggravating a hamstring injury during a ramp-up to return to play that will keep him sidelined for multiple weeks. Williamson had already missed 20 consecutive games, and that number ticked up to 22 going into the break. “I think we’re looking at multiple weeks past the All-Star break that he’ll be back,” Griffin said.

The Pelicans struggled to a record of 8-14 without Williamson on the floor, including a 10-game skid from mid-January to early February after a brief stay atop the West just before the turn of the new year. This team’s fortunes hinge on the potential mid-March return of Williamson. The Pelicans need him on the floor with Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum for as many minutes as possible in this final stretch to get to the postseason or a potential berth in the Play-In Tournament. Interestingly, this group has played together this season in just 10 games, which isn’t nearly enough time to gain the requisite chemistry for the trio to reach its full potential. After missing 29 straight games due to a toe injury, Ingram is returning to form, scoring 25 points or more in six consecutive outings going into the All-Star break.

With Ingram and McCollum leading the way, New Orleans possesses enough firepower to earn a postseason berth by way of the Play-In Tournament. But like last season, they won’t triumph in a playoff series without Williamson.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The young Thunder currently sit in 10th place, the final slot for the Play-In Tournament.

The rebuilding effort in OKC appears to be near completion, and even without the help of No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren, the league’s youngest team continues to develop at a rapid pace under coach Mark Daigneault. “It’s exciting,” said 20-year-old guard Josh Giddey, the No. 6 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. “It’s a perfect spot for where I wanted to be able to grow with the guys. We’re all in very similar parts of our careers, and we’re all kind of headed on the trajectory together. We started from pretty low, and we’re slowly building that back up. I love the team we’ve got. The organization is awesome, and I’m really excited for the future.”

With 24-year-old point guard and first-time All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leading the way, Oklahoma City currently sits at the No. 10 spot in the West, but is just a game out of seventh place, having won three out of four going into the break. The club has already surpassed its win total from last season (24-58 in 2021-22), and development remains the goal. Playing in high-stakes situations over the last 25 games only enhances that. The Thunder hit the road for their first two games coming out of the break at Utah and Phoenix before hosting a six-game homestand that they’ll need to take advantage of to stay in contention.

“The race for the Play-In, almost all the playoff spots, are so close we have the same mentality: we need every game,” Gilgeous-Alexander said at All-Star Media Day. A road trip out West in late March presents a formidable test with two outings against the fourth-place Clippers, before the Thunder face the desperate Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back set, followed by a matchup at Portland.

Oklahoma City’s youth, remaining schedule and good health thus far give it a solid shot at earning a Play-In spot or an outright berth in the postseason. If the Thunder wind up in the eight-team playoff bracket, you can count on an early exit. But at the very least, this young OKC squad should learn and grow from the experience to build on its bright future.

Utah Jazz

First-time All-Star Lauri Markkanen looks to drive Utah into the playoff picture down the stretch.

Expectations certainly weren’t through the roof at the start of the season, considering Utah traded away Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell while also bringing in new coach Will Hardy. So, when the Jazz briefly held first place in the West back in November, it was somewhat of a surprise. Utah has since fallen back to reality, enduring a pair of three-game skids and two five-game losing streaks in the midst of dropping five of its last seven just before the break. Further complicating matters is the club reshuffled its roster at the trade deadline, adding Damian Jones, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Russell Westbrook (the sides would later agree to a buyout) in addition to a future first-round pick (from Lakers) in a three-team trade that sent veteran Mike Conley to Minnesota, while also moving Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt to Los Angeles.

The Jazz continue to stack their war chest of assets (15 first-round picks through 2029) for the future, while somehow managing to remain competitive thanks to a young core that includes three players from the Mitchell trade: first-time All-Star Lauri Markkanen, 2022 first-round pick Ochai Agbaji and Collin Sexton. There is also rookie Walker Kessler, who was selected No. 22 in the 2022 Draft, as well as veteran guard Jordan Clarkson. The club is just two games out of sixth place, and Hardy will keep this team in the mix down the stretch. But Utah needs to survive a six-game road trip in early March that features two games at Oklahoma City, one in Dallas and one against a seventh-place Miami team looking to move up in the East standings.

The Jazz wrap up the regular season playing three of their last four at home. So, expect Utah to compete to the very end. But ultimately the Jazz will fall short of advancing to the Play-In Tournament.

Portland Trail Blazers

Several injuries have slowed Portland’s progress as it tries to get into the Play-In Tournament.

Portland needed a reset, having lost four of six games going into the All-Star break despite Damian Lillard racking up monster numbers during that stretch. The seven-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 31.4 points, but the team didn’t do much at the trade deadline to add help. Portland dealt forward Josh Hart to the Knicks for Cam Reddish and a protected first-round pick, in addition to bringing in Matisse Thybulle and Kevin Knox, while sending Gary Payton II to Golden State. Like the Lakers, the Blazers sit on the edge of Play-In territory, just a half-game out of the No. 10 spot and 1 ½ games outside of an outright playoff berth.

It’s unlikely Portland can recover sufficiently from its current injury situation to make a real push. Center Jusuf Nurkic (left calf) has played a grand total of two minutes during the month of February. Anfernee Simons suffered a sprained ankle on Valentine’s Day and won’t play in Portland’s first game out of the break. Justise Winslow remains out with an ankle injury suffered on Dec. 21. So, although the Blazers are listed here as Play-In hopefuls, it’s unlikely they’ve got the firepower outside of Lillard to get them there. The Blazers face Sacramento on the road on Thursday (10 ET, League Pass) before a Feb. 28 matchup at Golden State. A six-game road trip out East in early March could seal Portland’s playoff fate relatively early with contests at Atlanta, Boston, and Philadelphia on deck. The Blazers then start April on a four-game trip that features two postseason locks in Memphis and the LA Clippers and one playoff hopeful in the Minnesota Timberwolves, before the home regular-season finale against the Warriors.

If Portland somehow advances to the Play-In Tournament, that’s as far as this team goes.

Lottery Bound

Houston Rockets

Houston will continue to build around its youthful roster as it looks toward the future.

The young Rockets entered the break with the worst record in the NBA, and at the trade deadline, the club managed to become even younger. Yes, Houston continues to prioritize youth and salary flexibility, while collecting future draft assets. And it makes sense. After all, the Rockets will have plenty of salary cap space this offseason to build around a young, exciting core of prospects such as the explosive Jalen Green (the No. 2 pick in 2021) and Jabari Smith Jr. (No. 3 pick in 2022) on a roster that also includes Kevin Porter Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr., Alperen Sengun and Tari Eason. Two of the three veterans – Danny Green and Justin Holiday — the club acquired at the deadline are already gone, while Frank Kaminsky remains. “Ideally, you don’t want to roll out 10 guys who are first-, second- and third-year guys, but these are guys who play hard, try and learn and are improving,” Houston coach Stephen Silas said. “So, that’s where we’re at.”

Rockets governor Tilman Fertitta won’t let the team stay there long. “We are going to have the most cap space this summer of any team in the NBA, I believe,” said general manager Rafael Stone. “We’re going to have a lot of room to sign free agents to make trades into that space to really transform the team.” A coming lottery pick helps with that endeavor, too.

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio’s young core is led by rookie Jeremy Sochan (left) and forward Keldon Johnson.

Youth and draft capital rule the day for the rebuilding Spurs, and they’ve amassed 13 first-round picks through 2029 for a grand total of 28 picks over that span. San Antonio general manager Brian Wright envisions multiple avenues for the Spurs to return to perennial postseason contention, which is why the club continues to focus on developing young talent while working to stockpile picks through trades.

As expected, San Antonio moved veterans Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson at the trade deadline. The club currently sits half a game ahead of Houston for the worst record in the NBA and is surely headed for the Draft Lottery, where it could land a generational player such as Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson. Either fits nicely with a promising young core that includes Tre Jones, Keldon Johnson, rookie Jeremy Sochan (No. 9 pick in 2022) and Devin Vassell.

San Antonio projects to own plenty of cap space this offseason, even after absorbing the salaries of Devonte Graham and Khem Birch in trade deadline deals. Jones is currently the team’s only extension-eligible player, and he could open even more cap room by agreeing to a long-term deal. The youth infusion in San Antonio has energized coach Gregg Popovich, who turned 74 in January, and he’s shown no signs of a desire to call it a career. Still, you’ve got to wonder how much patience the future Hall of Fame coach possesses for this long rebuild.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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