NBA Western Conference playoff push
In the always competitive NBA Western Conference, the race for the postseason has become one of the toughest in sports. Teams are often separated by only a few games and can find themselves out of the hunt unless they can put together consistent records in the home stretch of the season.
Here is a look at how each team may fare for contention of the sixth through eighth seed in the west:
6th seed: New Orleans Hornets (37-28)
The Hornets sit 1 1/2 games out of the fifth seed with 17 games left to play. Their remaining games feature 11 at home with nine against teams with a .500 record or better. New Orleans has won 19 and lost 18 against teams with .500 or better records throughout the season. The Hornets will need consistent play from their starters besides Chris Paul, who is leading the team with 15.9 points and 9.6 assists per game to remain in the playoff hunt, especially with their gauntlet of a schedule against above .500 teams in 15 of their remaining 17 games.
7th seed: Portland Trailblazers (35-27)
Portland is only 1/2 game behind New Orleans and features a relatively similar schedule. With 20 games left, the Blazers have 14 against teams with a .500 or better record with half at home and half away. Portland has won 15 games and lost 22 against teams .500 or better this season. The team made a great move for Gerald Wallace at the trade deadline but will need LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy to help carry the team in the final weeks.
8th seed: Memphis Grizzlies (35-29)
Memphis may have the easiest path on this list to one of the lower seeds. They have 18 games left with 11 at home and 11 against teams with a .500 record or better. The Grizzlies are only 1 1/2 games behind New Orleans but will need to overcome an 18-22 record so far against .500 or better teams. If Memphis can take advantage of their schedule and play well with their core of younger players, they could move up to a higher seed and make some noise in the playoffs.
9th seed: Phoenix Suns (32-29)
The Suns are just on the outside of the playoff hunt and could make a move if the Trailblazers or Hornets stumble. Phoenix has 14 of their 21 remaining games against teams with a .500 record or better evenly split at seven for home and away. However, they have an underwhelming 14-22 record against .500 or better teams so far. The Suns have plenty of playoff experience with their veteran core and the trade for Aaron Brooks may pay dividends towards the end of the season to give Steve Nash rest for the postseason push.
10th seed: Utah Jazz (33-30)
The Jazz suffered the loss of their Hall of Fame coach and traded their best player, point guard Deron Williams, in the last few weeks along with a 2-8 record in their last 10 games. Utah seems to still be adjusting to new head coach Tyrone Corbin along with several new players and will be forced to go on the road for 11 of their last 19 games. Utah is building for the future and will probably fall short of the playoffs for the first time in four seasons after posting a 24-13 record and eight remaining away games against .500 or better teams.
11th seed: Houston Rockets (32-32)
The Rockets will probably pass the Jazz and could challenge the Suns for the last spot in the playoffs if the Hornets or Blazers falter. Houston is 4 1/2 games behind New Orleans with 11 of their games at home of their remaining 18. Kevin Martin and Luis Scola will have to carry the team through seven home and four away games against .500 or better teams but could sneak into the playoffs if they can put a run together.