With eight games remaining in the 2015-16 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs (62-12) have all but secured the number two seed in the Western Conference. They are currently five games behind the number one seed, the Golden State Warriors (67-7), and ten and a half games ahead of the number three seed, the Oklahoma City Thunder (52-23). While they aren’t mathematically eliminated from obtaining the number one spot, it is highly unlikely.
One thing that isn’t secure is who the Spurs opponent will be in the first round of the playoffs. Barring the improbable, they will face the seventh seed when the playoffs start on April 16. It’s a tight race between seeds six through nine in the West, with just three and a half games separating four teams.
Let’s take a closer look at the teams the Spurs could be facing once the playoffs start.
6. Portland Trailblazers (39-36)
Despite losing four of their five starters from last year (LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs, Wesley Matthews to the Mavericks, Robin Lopez to the Knicks and Nicolas Batum the Hornets), the Trailblazers have still managed to put together a respectable 2016 campaign. They find themselves in sixth place in the West due in large part to terrific coaching by Terry Stotts and their dynamic backcourt, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Lillard, the lone 2015 starter to stay in Portland, is having another stellar season, averaging a career-best in points (25.4 PPG) and assists (6.9 APG). With just three starts in his first two seasons, McCollum has started all 73 games he has appeared in this year, averaging 20.7 PPG and 4.2 APG. McCollum has been deadly from beyond the arc, shooting 41.3% from three while attempting 5.9 threes per game. The Spurs swept the season series against the Trailblazers, 3-0.
7. Utah Jazz (37-37)
After missing the playoffs in 2015, the Jazz find themselves in the mix in 2016. They have played tough defense all year and are currently in the top ten in defensive efficiency and are fifth in rebounds per game (52.1). Gordon Hayward continues to solidify himself as an All-Star caliber player, averaging a career-high 19.6 PPG, while shooting 43.1% from the field through 72 games. A pleasant surprise for the Jazz has been the emergence of their 2014 first round draft pick, Rodney Hood. Hood has started all 71 games he has appeared in at shooting guard, averaging 14.6 points per game. Just two nights ago, Hood was instrumental in handing the Lakers their worse loss in franchise history (123-75), scoring 30 points, going 11-13 from the field (8-9 from three) in just 29 minutes of action. The Spurs have won all three matchups against the Jazz and they have one more meeting this year, on April 5 in Utah.
8. Houston Rockets (37-38)
Finishing last season with a 56-26 record, the Rockets have had a rather disappointing season this year and are in danger of missing the playoffs. It didn’t start well as they fired their head coach, Kevin McHale, after a 4-7 start. McHale’s assistant, J.B. Bickerstaff has been the interim head coach ever since. The one constant they have depended on is the production of James Harden. Despite his team’s poor season, Harden is averaging a career-high in points (28.6), assists (7.5) and rebounds (6.4). Dwight Howard has seen a significant dip in his production this year, averaging 14 PPG, the lowest he’s averaged since his rookie season when he averaged 12 PPG. Howard has started all 64 games he has appeared in this year but he has been hampered by a nagging back injury. The addition of Michael Beasley has helped the Rockets, as he is averaging 14.2 PPG, 5,2 RPG and 19.8 minutes per game in the last 13 games. They are the only team on this list to beat the Spurs, winning their first matchup on Christmas day. Since then, the Spurs have beaten the Rockets three times to take the season series, 3-1.
9. Dallas Mavericks (36-38)
Winning 50 games last season, the Mavs playoffs hopes are getting dimmer by the day. This month, it was announced their starting small forward, Chandler Parsons, will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus. After signing Parsons to a big free agent deal two years ago, Parsons has yet to live up to expectations due to nagging injuries. They narrowly missed out on the DeAndre Jordan sweepstakes this offseason but they were able to sign two players that would end up being their starting backcourt, Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews. Williams has started 60 of the 62 games he has appeared in, averaging 14 PPG and 5.8 APG. He has missed the last three games with an abdominal injury and there isn’t a timetable for his return but the Mavs are confident he will be back for the playoffs. After tearing his ACL last season, Matthews has started 70 games for the Mavs this year, averaging 12.3 PPG and shooting 35% from three. The Spurs have beaten the Mavs in all three matchups this year, with one more coming up to close out the 2016 season on April 13.