Who will make the West playoff field?
5-on-5 Roundtable: Which teams will, won't make the cut in Western Conference
We're coming down the stretch. Which teams will make the cut in the West? We make our picks among the five teams teetering on the line heading into Friday's matchups between the Suns and Rockets (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) and Mavs and Blazers (ESPN, 10:30 ET).
1. Fact or Fiction: The Mavericks will make the playoffs.Note: Dallas is currently in sixth place in the West / Playoff Odds: 86.8%
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Fact. Best news for Dallas on Thursday was the Bulls beating the Heat to take a four-game lead over Miami in the East. Maybe that means the Bulls rest their key players when they play Dallas on April 21 (although we've seen what Chicago's backups can do). Speaking of rest: The Mavs have four days off before their finale against the Hawks. Ideal if it's a do-or-die.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Fact. The Mavericks have a pretty tough schedule the rest of the way and only a two-game cushion. However, they still have enough firepower and team defense to get the job done most nights. It hasn't been pretty for much of this season but they can focus better now without the Odom questions. It's like the ancient proverb says: the turntables might wobble but they won't fall down. Rahat Huq, Red94: Fact. While it's unfortunate that we're discussing a defending champion potentially missing the postseason, the Mavs will get in. But don't expect an encore performance of last year's magic.
Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: Fact. I'm tempted to pick the Jazz to edge out the champs since five of the Mavs' remaining seven games are on the road, but I just can't see Dallas blowing a two-game lead with the tiebreaker, even if it drops its remaining contest in Salt Lake. Dirk and crew will advance to defend their crown.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fact. Not only will the Mavs make the playoffs, but file them in with past champions who tricked us into believing they weren't dangerous by stumbling their way through the regular season.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Rockets will make the playoffs.Note: Houston is currently in seventh place in the West / Playoff Odds: 78.7%
Adande: Fact. Houston's remaining schedule includes two home games against playoff-spot rivals (Phoenix and Denver) plus two more home games against bottom-dwellers (Golden State and New Orleans). That's enough to make up for that random trip to Miami for the penultimate game.
Harper: Fact. Their next four games consist of a home game against Phoenix, a home-and-home against Denver and then a showdown in Dallas. If Houston can go 2-2 in those games, it'll basically be set. If the Rockets can win three of them, they're a lock to stay in. With Dragic's emergence and Lowry's return, you officially never get a break from a point guard breaking your will during those 48 minutes.
Huq: Fact. Despite a hiccup against Utah on Wednesday, the Rockets are playing their best ball of the season. Expect heavy minutes from the Kyle Lowry-Goran Dragic two-headed monster down the stretch.
Schwartz: Fact. The Rockets have two games against the Hornets and one against the Warriors on the schedule. So long as they don't choke away their other five games, Houston will finally reach the postseason after falling a spot short the past two seasons.
Varner: Fact, which is something of a drag for fans everywhere. It's a drag for non-Rockets fans because Houston provides very little entertainment as a first-round out; it's a drag for Houston fans because their team would be much better served by finding a home in the draft lottery.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Nuggets will make the playoffs.Note: Denver is currently in eighth place in the West / Playoff Odds: 57.2%
Adande: Fiction. They just won back-to-back games for the first time in more than a month. And they have six current playoff teams left on the schedule.
Harper: Fiction. I really enjoy this team. The problem with the Nuggets the rest of the way is they have a ridiculously hard schedule and only 1.5 games between themselves and Utah. They're at the Lakers, home-and-home with Houston, home for the Clippers, at Phoenix, home to Orlando, at OKC and then at Minnesota. They get one guaranteed victory at the end of that stretch. Good luck, TEAM.
Huq: Fact. At 57 percent odds, this well-balanced group should be safe. But winning at least one of the two upcoming games against the Rockets would greatly help their chances.
Schwartz: Fact. The schedule-makers did the Nuggets no favors with this closing slate. But with the best point differential of these five teams and Danilo Gallinari finally healthy, Denver will ease into a playoff spot.
Varner: Fact. Denver will make the playoffs, but only by backing its way into the postseason. The threat of the Nuggets winning two games in the first round is far more serious than the threat of them doing anything of actual significance.
4. Fact or Fiction: The Jazz will make the playoffs.Note: Utah is currently in ninth place in the West / Playoff Odds: 50.0%
Adande: Fact. If Paul Millsap is out for an extended time I'm going to invoke the Ewing Theory (it's especially powerful in lockout seasons, right?). If you don't believe in it, the Jazz get Portland twice after the Blazers lost LaMarcus Aldridge (he averaged 26 points against the Jazz in the first two games). Utah also owns the tiebreaker against the Nuggets.
Harper: Fact. With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the rest of the season, Utah caught a huge break in its playoff push. The Jazz now have three gimme games that should set them up to capitalize on Denver's tough schedule. They play the Hornets once and the Blazers twice. I think they will take advantage and sneak into the playoffs. And that's not just so I hope they have to send their pick to the Wolves.
Huq: Fiction. The Jazz, particularly Gordon Hayward, looked tremendous Wednesday night in a win over Houston. After a gimme on Friday night against the Hornets, they are going to have to win some tough ones to have a chance.
Schwartz: Fiction. The Jazz possess a bright future with four lottery picks on their roster from the past two drafts, but you can't lose two road games for every win and expect to crash the playoff party. The bright side? If Golden State stays out of the top seven, they would be able to add two more lottery studs this June.
Varner: Fiction. Of those teams currently outside the playoff picture, Utah has the best chance of sneaking in at someone else's expense. Still, I anticipate the current standings to hold and the Jazz to earn the moniker of this season's best lottery team.
5. Fact or Fiction: The Suns will make the playoffs.Note: Phoenix is currently in 10th place in the West / Playoff Odds: 26.8%
Adande: Fiction. The Suns get a crack at each of the three teams ahead of them, which could help. But they also have to deal with the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, which means they'll need help that isn't likely to come their way.
Harper: Fiction. It's been a heck of an effort by the Suns in the second half of the season. Steve Nash and Alvin Gentry have role players stepping up left and right. The problem is their schedule is really hard and they need to leapfrog two teams. I wanted the Nash era to end with another playoff appearance, but it seems unlikely. I guess he could be back though. If the Suns spend money to impro... nevermind.
Huq: Fiction. Steve Nash will hopefully be on a contender next season. It's painful watching an all-time great waste his last years in a futile effort.
Schwartz: Fiction. The Suns have played inspired ball to charge back into the playoff race, winning 18 of 27 after a 12-19 start. Their bench is finally clicking and Nash is willing the starters to victories. But with a brutal closing schedule the Suns will run out of time and be left to lament this season's 66-game schedule.
Varner: Fiction. I'd feel sorry for Steve Nash, but he'll use the extended offseason to determine where to finish his career. That means extra time to explore the housing markets in New York and Miami.