Three teams are dominating the Western Conference with the Warriors, Spurs, and Thunder pacing the field. With less than two months of regular season action remaining here is a look at the teams that will have the most and the fewest games vs. those powerful teams down the stretch.
The big three is a phrase that has been thrown around a lot in the NBA in recent years and this season it may be applicable to the Western Conference. While Golden State is on a record-setting pace at 48-4, San Antonio and Oklahoma City are also winning at spectacular clips to post a big separation with the rest of the conference. It is no surprise that those three teams are among the four favorites along with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference to win the NBA title.
While the records are very impressive for all three Western Conference powers, the average point differential is even more alarming in terms of showing some separation with the rest of the conference. Golden State is winning games by an average of 12.5 points per game, San Antonio is winning games by 13.3 points per game on average, and Oklahoma City is winning games by an average of 8.2 points per game. All three averages are more than double the rates of the Clippers, the current fourth place team in the Western Conference.
NBA schedules are not equally balanced and it is worth taking a look at who has faced these teams already and who will have the most games against these dominant teams in the down the stretch. With the relatively small sample size of a NBA season, just one game with an average scoring result against one of those teams can weigh heavily on the season statistics. There is some merit in understanding that the teams that have already played most of the games vs. the Warriors, Spurs, and Thunder may be a bit undervalued while teams with most of those games to go have benefitted from not having those potential lopsided losses weighing on the season statistics.
Here are the Western Conference teams with the most remaining games vs. the top three teams in the Western Conference:
Los Angeles Clippers (Remaining Games – 2 vs. GS, 2 vs. SAS, 3 vs. OKC): After a slow start to the season the Clippers are the #4 team in the Western Conference but while the Warriors, Spurs, and Thunder ahead of Los Angeles all own dominant Western Conference records the Clippers are only 17-12 in conference games. A Clippers squad that is just +3.9 points per game in average point differential could see that figure dip even further as they have seven games vs. the three teams ahead of them in the standings still to be played. Fortunately for the Clippers the Western Conference is not nearly as strong in terms of the depth of quality teams as in the past several seasons and the Clippers have a four game lead over Memphis for the #4 spot and are seven games ahead of the current #6 team Dallas.
Portland Trailblazers (Remaining Games – 3 vs. GS, 1 vs. SAS, 2 vs. OKC): In somewhat of a surprise Portland is a .500 team and currently in the Western Conference playoff field. The Blazers have faced the Spurs twice but they have faced Warriors just once and will have three games vs. the league leaders in the second half plus another meeting with San Antonio as well as two games with Oklahoma City. Portland lost by 20 in the one meeting with Golden State and by 12 and 13 respectively in two meetings with the Spurs. The Blazers did pick up a rare win vs. the Thunder with a five-point home win in January to offset a 16-point loss at Oklahoma City in December. With the race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference looking headed for a tight finish, the schedule may work against the Blazers.
San Antonio Spurs (Remaining Games – 3 vs. GS, 3 vs. OKC): The Spurs have dominant numbers and certainly don’t look at risk to drop in the Western Conference standings but it is worth noting that the mighty Spurs are 0-2 vs. Golden State and Oklahoma City. In the opening game of the season San Antonio lost by six at Oklahoma City and in a big marquee game in late January the Spurs were blasted by 30 in Oakland. The Spurs also split with Cleveland while losing the only meeting with Toronto as the profile for the Spurs as a championship contender may not be quite what it seems when looking at games vs. the other elite teams. The league leading average point differential will be tested in the second half facing three games each with the two other Western Conference powers and the Spurs will also face the Clippers and Grizzlies twice each in the second half. It seems unlikely that San Antonio will fall out of the #2 spot currently 5.5 games ahead of the Thunder but any notion of the Spurs tracking down the Warriors is probably unlikely.
Here are the Western Conference teams with most of the toughest games out of the way that might be slightly undervalued:
Denver Nuggets (Remaining Games – 1 vs. SAS, 1 vs. OKC): The Nuggets are 10 games below .500 on the season but Denver is only five games behind Utah for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The good news for the Nuggets is that they have already played the Warriors four times and won’t see Golden State again unless perhaps they slide up into that #8 spot in the playoff field. Denver did hand the Warriors one of their four losses on the season but collectively the Nuggets are 1-9 vs. the top three teams in the Western Conference with an average point differential of -10.6 in those 10 games. Against the rest of the league the Nuggets are 21-23 with an average point differential of just -1.2 per game. Denver has been a great ATS performer this season but the underdog prices on the Nuggets may start to come down if the statistics improve through a more favorable second half schedule.
Phoenix Suns (Remaining Games – 1 vs. GS, 1 vs. SAS): The Suns are only ahead of the Lakers at the bottom of the Western Conference featuring a 14-40 overall record that is the inverse of Oklahoma City’s record. The good news for Phoenix is that they won’t play the Thunder again and they have just one meeting remaining each with the Spurs and Warriors. It isn’t likely to matter for a team that appears to have thrown in the towel on the season and seems likely to sell off some pieces at the trade deadline but a Suns team that has been one of the worst ATS performers in the league this season could see slightly better results down the stretch as the first half record and the -6.3 average point differential has been built through a tough schedule with most of the games vs. the league’s elite teams already out of the way.
Houston Rockets (Remaining Games – 1 vs. SAS, 2 vs. OKC): The Lakers also match Houston with only three games remaining vs. the three Western Conference leaders but like Phoenix, the Lakers are not relevant for the postseason race. A Houston team that was in the Western Conference Finals last season is still in the discussion despite a very disappointing first half. The Rockers are 27-28 at the break sitting in the first spot outside the playoff field for a moment but only a half game behind Portland and Utah for the #7 and #8 spots and only two games behind Dallas who holds the #6 spot. The Rockets have been a dysfunctional team, already making a coaching move early in the season and limping into the break with losses in six of the last eight games. Houston can feel good about being done with the Warriors having lost three games by a combined total of 37 points to weigh on the numbers. Houston is 2-3 vs. the Spurs and Thunder and they will only have three games left vs. those squads in the second half as the Rockets have the potential to turn things around and climb back into the playoff picture.
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