NBA West Playoffs: Mavericks, Lakers And Blazers Face Schedule Problems

Feb. 20, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) bites the basketball during the second half of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Staples Center. Lakers won 103-92. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The NBA playoff picture in the West is one big ol' mess. We break down each team's second half schedule to discover that Lakers, Mavericks and Blazers are in for a world of hurt.

Over in the Eastern Conference, the playoff picture has settled into three nice, tidy little races. The borders are clear, the stakes are obvious. In the West, there are no borders. There is nothing obvious about anything. Everything is in total chaos, and there's little hope for clarity until the season ends on April 28.

I take that back -- there is one team that stands apart: the Oklahoma City Thunder, who hold a three-game lead on the No. 1 seed in the West, and have lost just seven games all season. It is highly unlikely that the Thunder lose the No. 1 seed at this point. So, there's that.

The next 10 teams in the standings are separated by a total of eight games. The current No. 3 seed is just 2.5 games ahead of the current No. 7 seed, and the No. 8 seed has three challengers within two games. The standings face upheaval every single night. Plotting out matchups is futile.

But heck, we've never been opposed to futile efforts.

Assuming the Thunder hang on to No. 1 and the Suns, Warriors, Kings and Hornets remain outside of the race -- you never know about New Orleans, though -- we have 10 teams competing for seven spots. Let's take a deep look at the contenders' current status and schedules.

To simplify things, we'll call any games against the top two teams in the East (Bulls and Heat), the Thunder and road games against teams in this West playoff race "AAAHH games." Home games against teams in this race will be "UMMM games." Games on the road against the No. 3 through No. 7 seeds in the East (Sixers, Pacers, Hawks, Magic and Knicks) will be demarked "YEESH games." All other games -- at home vs. non-elite East teams, anywhere against the West's bottom four -- will be "YEAH games." This will totally make sense, I promise.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Current record: 24-10
Games up on No. 9: 6.5

AAAHH games remaining: 5
UMMM games remaining: 8
YEESH games remaining: 0
YEAH games remaining: 19

Among the West Clusterf--k teams, the Spurs have by far the easiest schedule remaining, with just five AAAHH games (lowest in the race) and 19 YEAH games (most in the race). It's because of that schedule that the Spurs can actually consider making a run at OKC, should the Thunder falter at some point.

L.A. CLIPPERS

Current record: 20-11
Games up on No. 9: 4

AAAHH games remaining: 10
UMMM games remaining: 6
YEESH games remaining: 3
YEAH games remaining: 16

Despite a home-heavy early schedule, the Clippers are in good position going forward; only the Spurs have fewer AAAHH and UMMM games combined. The Clippers should be favored in about 70 percent of their remaining games, and they've done well to meet expectations on the court.

DALLAS MAVERICKS

Current record: 21-13
Games up on No. 9: 3.5

AAAHH games remaining: 11
UMMM games remaining: 8
YEESH games remaining: 2
YEAH games remaining: 11

The Mavericks are not so fortunate. No team in the race has fewer YEAH games -- cupcakes are flying off the shelves before Dallas can finish shopping. The Mavericks have the second highest number of combined AAAHH and UMMM games, and is one of the fewer teams with multiple road games against East playoff teams. Dallas has some work to do.

L.A. LAKERS

Current record: 20-14
Games up on No. 9: 2.5

AAAHH games remaining: 10
UMMM games remaining: 10
YEESH games remaining: 0
YEAH games remaining: 12

The only team with more combined AAAHH and UMMM games than Dallas? That'd be the Lakers, who have a really rough schedule to close out the season. Those UMMM games -- home matches against West playoff contenders -- will be critical. L.A.'s been much better at home than on the road, but the competition is going to pick up.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Current record: 20-14
Games up on No. 9: 2.5

AAAHH games remaining: 10
UMMM games remaining: 7
YEESH games remaining: 0
YEAH games remaining: 15

The Rockets' schedule is comparable with that of the Clippers, which is to say that Houston has an advantage of the two teams it'd like to leap, Dallas and the Lakers. But health should play as much of a factor as the schedule going forward, given the contact-heavy games of Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Current record: 19-15
Games up on No. 9: 1.5

AAAHH games remaining: 10
UMMM games remaining: 7
YEESH games remaining: 0
YEAH games remaining: 15

Memphis has an identical schedule profile as Houston ... and will be getting Zach Randolph back soon. Dallas and the Lakers have another chaser with favorable conditions.

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Current record: 18-15
Games up on No. 9: 0.5

AAAHH games remaining: 12
UMMM games remaining: 7
YEESH games remaining: 2
YEAH games remaining: 12

Welp, it was nice knowing you, Blazers. Portland's schedule is comparable to those of the Mavericks and Lakers, and the Blazers have the disadvantage of being behind in the standings. (They also have more AAAHH games than anyone.) The Nuggets and Jazz are going to face softer schedules, which should make this race mighty interesting if Portland doesn't go on a quick run. Oh, the Blazers' first three games after the break: two AAAHHs and one UMMM. Have fun.

DENVER NUGGETS

Current record: 18-17
Games behind No. 8: 0.5

AAAHH games remaining: 10
UMMM games remaining: 6
YEESH games remaining: 1
YEAH games remaining: 14

Denver is now in the No. 9 spot, but a favorable schedule should give the Nuggets an advantage over the Blazers. Health for Nene, Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson would help even more, and a re-signed Wilson Chandler would be nice.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Current record: 17-17
Games behind No. 8: 1

AAAHH games remaining: 11
UMMM games remaining: 7
YEESH games remaining: 1
YEAH games remaining: 15

The beloved Pups have a moderately tough slog with 18 combined AAAHH and UMMM games. Overall, the Wolves will play six more games on the road than at home in the back half. That Minnesota has been mediocre at home to date -- 10-10 -- is a problem, but they do have some confidence on the road.

UTAH JAZZ

Current record: 15-17
Games behind No. 8: 2

AAAHH games remaining: 10
UMMM games remaining: 6
YEESH games remaining: 2
YEAH games remaining: 16

With a fairly soft schedule the rest of the way, Utah can actually get back into this despite recently falling two games behind the No. 8 spot. That depends on some improved guard play and continued production from the massive frontcourt rotation, though. The second half of a season with Al Jefferson is always an adventure.

***

Be sure to check out our East playoff rundown and our NBA Draft Lottery reset.

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