Western Conference playoff chase
How will Tony Parker's injury affect the West? Which team could pull off an upset?
We asked our team to consider the key elements of the West playoff chase.
1. Will Tony Parker's injury cost the Spurs the West's top seed?
D.J. Foster, Clipperblog: No. The Spurs simply don't lose at home, and that's where they'll be for 14 of their remaining 21 games. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City has a three-game deficit to make up while playing more road games than home games. I trust the system and the schedule -- the Spurs will hang on.
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: No. The Spurs have twice as many home games as road games the rest of the way. Even without Parker, with the best home record in the Western Conference, they won't lose enough to let the Thunder make up three games.
Brett Koremenos, HoopSpeak: Yes. For the past two seasons, it has been Parker -- not Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili -- who has been the Spurs' driving force. Oklahoma City is just three games behind San Antonio in the standings, so despite the Spurs' incredible system, it seems likely they'll drop down a notch or two in the West standings.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes Of Hell: I think so. While the Spurs have the depth to withstand injuries for games at a time, losing Parker for four weeks is the case of too vital a player being gone for too long. Three games in the standings simply aren't enough cushion for Parker missing a month.
Michael Pina Red94: No. Parker is great, but San Antonio's real MVP is the unparalleled execution on both ends of the court that permeates their entire roster. (For what it's worth, the Spurs are 3-1 without Parker in the starting lineup this season.)
2. Scale of 1-10, how worried are you about the Spurs' playoff outlook?
Foster: 1. I'm not denying Parker's greatness, but losing him could help more than it hurts. No team understands the value of getting role players more minutes and more shots than the Spurs do, and although Manu Ginobili is much more than a role player, helping him rediscover his groove in Parker's absence could pay huge dividends.
Gutierrez: 4. Even if the Spurs do drop from the top spot, the bottom three seeds in the West aren't exactly intimidating. The concern comes from two factors. First, losing the overall No. 1 seed to the Heat, which would be critical if that Finals matchup happens. Second, how Parker looks come playoff time. If he has two weeks to get primed for the playoffs, it shouldn't be a problem, though.
Koremenos: 7. The ease with which the team has cruised through the regular season seems to hide the fact that there are a number of teams -- primarily the Clippers and Thunder -- that could trip up the Spurs in a seven-game series. If Parker is still hampered by his ankle injury, the odds of being upset increase dramatically.
McNeill: 3. While the timetable of Parker's return calls into question how sharp he'll be when the playoffs start, I don't think the Spurs' point guard being out of rhythm early in the postseason will doom them. Then again, it's too early at this point to know what the matchups will be.
Pina: 2. My only concern with San Antonio's playoff outlook lies in whether Parker will be completely healthy a month from now. He's been one of the league's five best players this season, and in a seven-game series against an elite team, not having him play at his best would likely result in a disappointing end to San Antonio's season.
3. Which current West top-four team most needs home-court advantage?
Foster: Memphis. The Grizzlies should worry about the prospect of playing four games in Denver. That fast-paced style at that altitude is tough on visiting teams, and Denver has a 25-3 home record to prove it.
Gutierrez: Oklahoma City. The Spurs have the best road record in the league. The Clippers aren't necessarily affected by where they play. And the Grizzlies have a defense that'll travel. The Thunder simply have the best home-court advantage of all these teams, and they'll need it to get past the Spurs this time around.
Koremenos: San Antonio. As I alluded to above, the Thunder will provide the biggest threat to the Spurs' chances of another Finals berth. By securing home court, the Spurs can make sure they not only gain an extra game on their home floor, but also avoid playing a pivotal one at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
McNeill: Memphis. I'm basing my response on the long-held belief that role players play better at home than on the road. Of the four teams atop the West, Memphis has the weakest core, and I mean that in the kindest way. (Don't hurt me, Z-Bo.) They'll need production from their bench.
Pina: Memphis. Both the Spurs and Thunder are capable of winning big playoff games on the road, but it's the other two that would probably struggle in a hostile Game 7 environment. To be frank, the Grizzlies are the selection here because they're the worst of the four, with an offense that tends to freeze for uncomfortably long stretches of time.
4. Which top-four team most wants to avoid the Lakers in Round 1?
Foster: L.A. Clippers. The Lakers would have home-court advantage for every game, and although the Clippers have won the three regular-season matchups, they haven't been able to stop Kobe Bryant, who is averaging 32.6 PPG on 59 percent shooting this year against LAC.
Gutierrez: Oklahoma City. If only because that's the only one of these teams the Lakers have beaten. But it's hard to truly judge, because if the Lakers do make the playoffs, they'll probably look even better than they do right now. Kobe Bryant's teammates are only now getting comfortable in their roles. If that continues to improve, they could be scary for any of those top-four seeds.
Koremenos: Memphis. The Lakers' recent run is encouraging, but by no means is it striking fear into the hearts of the Western Conference elite. But with the Grizzlies being the lowest-rated top-four seed, they're probably the most vulnerable. Make no mistake about it, however, the Lakers are still a flawed team and face an uphill battle to even make the playoffs.
McNeill: L.A. Clippers. A seven-game series at Staples Center looks like seven possible home games for the Lakers. Beyond Chris Paul, the Clippers look vulnerable over a long series. If healthy, the Lakers match up well with the Clippers, and Kobe will do anything to keep the Lakers as Los Angeles' best basketball team for one more season.
Pina: San Antonio. If Los Angeles begins to play consistent basketball behind a healthy Dwight Howard, nobody will look forward to playing them in the first round. But unlike the other three teams listed here, the Spurs don't cite youth and athleticism as their main strength, and that's the one thing the Lakers don't really have an answer for.
5. Which current lower seed is most likely to pull off a Round 1 upset?
SportsNation: Western Conference playoffs
You've read the experts' takes. Now it's your turn to chime in on the Western Conference playoff picture.
Cast your votes!
Foster: Houston. While I don't think Houston's insane drive-and-kick, 3-point shooting attack would be enough to get past San Antonio or Oklahoma City, it's not hard to envision the Rockets outshooting the Clippers or Grizzlies in upsets. James Harden makes them just a touch more threatening than the Nuggets.
Gutierrez: Denver. The Nuggets are similar to the Rockets in that they can outscore anyone, but they are less reliant on the 3-pointer, which can abandon a young team in the postseason. The Nuggets score because of their relentless style and variety of scorers. Plus, their home-court edge might be the best among the current bottom-four seeds.
Koremenos: Tie between Denver and Houston. Both teams can pile up the points in a hurry, which will give them a puncher's chance against any team -- particularly offense-starved Memphis -- especially if they steal a pivotal Game 1 on the road.
McNeill: Houston. The Rockets have a star in James Harden and several players with the capability to explode offensively in any game. Their defense is bad enough to prevent them from winning four out of seven games, but there's always a chance.
Pina: Denver. Apologies to the Rockets -- a team that can shoot itself to a lopsided victory any night -- but the Nuggets are a nightmare matchup for just about every team in the conference, especially when you take the three games that would be played at mile-high altitude into account. Denver's overall versatility makes them the smartest choice at pulling off an upset.