With the NBA being halfway through the season, we’re going to look at the race in the western conference for the 8th seed. We have a 3 team fight between the Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The western conference, for the past few years has been known to be highly competitive from the 1st seed on down with this year being no different. It will be fun to watch how this will unravel as each of these teams are in a situation where every game matters and no one can let up.
Don’t Forget! With Blake Griffin recovering from elbow surgery, can that drop the Los Angeles Clippers out of the playoff race as well?
Phoenix Suns fans all around the world are beginning to bite their nails as they slowly see their spot at the bottom of the playoff picture slowly diminish. Phoenix has been struggling late, with a record of 3-7 in their last ten games. As we know, this team has a high octane offense. They are ranked 4th in the NBA in points per game and ranked 2nd in fast break points averaging 19.6 points a game. With three of the quickest guards in the game in Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isiah Thomas, they all have the ability to push the ball and keep the motor of their offense running. So there is no surprise that they have the second ranked pace in the NBA with 99.19 possessions a game. However, with all this being said, what holds the Phoenix Suns back is their lack of defense. They give up the most 2nd chance points as well as the most points in the paint averaging 47.5 points allowed a game. As cliché as it sounds, defense surely does win games and championships but when your allowing the second most points allowed per game, you’re probably not going to get anywhere near a Larry O’Brien trophy.
New Orleans Pelicans
With a 27-25 record, The New Orleans Pelicans are on the outside looking in; tied for the number 9 spot with the Oklahoma City Thunder. We have seen an emergence from Anthony Davis this year, and he’s in the running for MVP; averaging 24.5 points a game along with 2.7 blocks a game which is leading the league. Even with Davis’s production, the Pelicans haven’t played with much consistency. Their young age along with their inability to remain healthy has been two sources of this problem. New Orleans has the 4th youngest team in the NBA and many of these players haven’t been in this type of situation before.
The remaining schedule for these teams are as follows:
For the remainder of the season, the Pelicans’ majority of games are against their western conference companions. They have 14 games ahead of them against teams with winning records and so far this season, they have a record of 14-16 against teams better than .500; so things aren’t looking too good for them going forward. Their ability to rebound has kept them in majority of games. They are ranked 2nd in offensive rebounding percentage along with averaging the most points in the paint with 47 points a game. As the New Orleans Pelicans look to make a stride in the second half of this season, they’re going to need great play from everyone to make those wishes come true.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Injuries are all the Oklahoma City Thunder have known this season causing them to try to dig their way out of a hole for the remainder of the year. Russell Westbrook and the reigning MVP, Kevin Durant; when healthy, have been carrying the load for this thunder team. Together, Durant and Westbrook average 50% of their team’s points. Their usage percentages respectively are 29.1 and 36.5 showing how valuable these two are. Russell Westbrook has been a different type of monster this year with MVP like numbers; averaging 25.8 points per game along with 7.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists. Alongside him, Durant has just been Durant, producing an easy 26,6, and 4 in the 26 games that he’s played this season. It’s clear to see that these two are carrying their weight but at the same time where is everyone else? OKC is in dire need of a third scorer because at the end of the day, Durant and Westbrook can only take them so far. We all know that Serge Ibaka isn’t a big scorer and his main impact is on defense, but with his ability to knock down open jumpers and crash the offensive boards, it’s imperative that he does more to help them win. The Oklahoma City Thunder definitely have momentum going forward with the Suns playing inconsistently and the Pelicans facing adversity, dealing with injury. As of now, Hollinger’s playoff odds has OKC getting that eighth spot with a 70.5% chance but if I’m Scott Brooks and the Thunder; I’m aiming higher because there’s no way you want to see the Golden State Warriors in the first round.