By Hocine LOUKKAF
The Rockets will have to keep winning to outpace the Warriors.
-Houston Rockets (49-13)
With 15 wins in a row including an important last one against the Celtics, it may finally be the year for Houston and pretending MVP Harden (31pts 9as). Houston has a good mix of star scorers (Harden, Paul, Gordon) and defensive minded players like Tucker or Mbah a Moute. Capela has been pretty good with 16ts 12rbds and 2+blks per game in February.
-Golden State Warriors (49-14)
The Warriors had three losses against potential playoffs opponents including a hard one at home against OKC. Yet, they got their revenge with a 32pts collapse of the Thunder and are just behind the Rockets by a loss. Durant had at least 20pts during the last six games.
-Portland Trailblazers (37-26)
Despite three losses against Eastern Conference teams (including Toronto and Boston), Portland has been pretty good lately with against the Warriors, OKC and Minnesota. They’re currently on a six wins streak. Since February 9, Lilliard has been on fire with five 35+pts games including a 44pts on 14/25 shooting against the Warriors.
-New Orleans Pelicans (36-26)
Cousins’ injury was supposed to be the end of the playoffs hopes for the Pelicans. Yet, they have found the resources (and benefited from a pretty light schedule) to keep pushing. Davis is averaging 33pts and 14rbds over the last ten games. Mirotic has brought his shooting and helped the team play without Cousins (15pts 8rbds). Holiday is hot as he is averaging 26pts and 7.5as during Nawlins’ current eight wins streak with at least 20pts in every win. Last but not least, Okafor has brought some needed centr minutes with 5.6rbds and 1.8blks in 15min.
-Minnesota Timberwolves (38-28)
With only a 4-wins margin between the third and the tenth in the Western Conference, every game is important. Minnesota knows it as they lost they heart and soul, Jimmy Butler who will be sidelined at least until the end of March. They also lost their two last games against direct opponents, Portland and Utah, and will now face Boston, Golden State, San Antonio, Houston and the Clippers.
-San Antonio Spurs (36-27)
Last time the Spurs missed the playoffs was in 1997, which resulted in first draft choice Tim Duncan. San Antonio lost eight of their last ten games. They also have to handle Leonard’ injury, which has not been able to return yet, a situation Which has ignited a lot of bad buzz by the media. Except for Memphis and Orlando, the Spurs will only face playoff bound teams in March, which will not help them.
-Oklahoma City Thunder (37-28)
The problem is pretty simple. Except their win against the Warriors, OKC hasn’t won any game against a playoff bound team since January 28. Over the last six games, including four wins against lottery bound teams (Orlando, Sacramento, Phoenix, Dallas), the trio of Westbrook, Anthony and George has shot 118/304 from the field, good for 39% …
-Denver Nuggets (35-28)
As usual, Denver counts on team chemistry to perform and rally the playoffs they have missed since the 2012-13 season. Since February 1, the Nuggets won eight of their last eleven games, two of their losses against the Rockets. Gary Harris is one of Denver numerous performers behind Jokic as, except for a poor 6 pts game against Houston, he scored at least 23pts on 50+% FG in every game.
-LA Clippers (34-28)
After Griffin trade, the Clippers benefited from a pretty light schedule to stay focused on the playoffs with a 7-3 record (home loss against Houston, away losses against Philly and the Warriors) . They still managed to beat Boston at Boston with a strong performance by DeAndre Jordan. March is harsher with nine out of fourteen games away from home.
-Utah Jazz (33-30)
Despite losing Hayward, the Jazz is still playoff bound behind super rookie Donovan Mitchell. Yet, they may regret their January losses against New York, Atlanta or Charlotte. Since January 24, Utah went 14-2 and needs to maintain their winning spirit to get one of the last playoff spots.
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