NBA playoff picture: Warriors earn separation after win, losses by Lakers and Jazz

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors got back-to-back 20-point wins to gain 1.5 games on the Rockets in the race for the third seed, while it seems the Lakers and Jazz aren't particularly interested in winning down the stretch as they fight for the West's last playoff spot.

The Golden State Warriors are making a run to avoid having to play the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder, while the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz seem to be having a battle to out-embarrass each other as they fight for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

The Warriors entered Sunday just half a game up on the Houston Rockets for the sixth spot in the West, facing the Rockets. Since, Stephen Curry has put up 29 and 30 on back-to-back nights against the Rockets Sunday and the Hornets Monday, and the Warriors' surprisingly lockdown defense has kept both opponents under 80 points. The result? A 30-point win, a 21-point win, and a 1.5 game bump over Houston in the standings. It's obviously not insurmountable, but with just 13 games remaining in its regular season, it looks like Golden State is in the driver's seat for the sixth spot. It's a much more palatable first-round matchup, as they'll be facing whoever has the best close to the year among the Clippers, Nuggets, and Grizzlies instead of the Spurs or Thunder.

Meanwhile, there were some Yakety Sax outings Monday night from teams that need every win they can get, as the Lakers and Jazz both lost to maintain Los Angeles' one-game advantage in the race for the eighth and last spot in the West playoff picture. The Lakers' opponent was easy enough, the 14th-place Suns, but without Kobe Bryant, they were hapless. Phoenix outscored L.A. by 18 in the fourth quarter, Dwight Howard was held in check by Jermaine O'Neal and Hamed Haddadi, and the Lakers lost by 23 points. Utah faced a Knicks team that had lost four in a row, all by double-digits, and was without Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, but Kurt Thomas -- Kurt Thomas, people -- was a key factor for New York as it squeezed out a 90-83 victory. Both teams would have benefited hugely from a win; instead, there were missed opportunities.

Denver and Memphis each won Monday night, with the Nuggets rattling off their 12th straight by beating the Bulls in overtime thanks to a reversed call on what looked like a Joakim Noah game-winner. That leaves them tied for the fourth spot and half a game behind the Clippers.

Here's a full look at the Western Conference standings after Monday night:

Western Standings

San Antonio Spurs 67 51-16 .761
Oklahoma City Thunder 67 50-17 .746
Los Angeles Clippers 67 46-21 .687
Memphis Grizzlies 66 45-21 .682
Denver Nuggets 68 46-22 .676
Golden State Warriors 69 39-30 .565
Houston Rockets 67 36-31 .537
Los Angeles Lakers 69 36-33 .522
Utah Jazz 67 34-33 .507
Dallas Mavericks 67 32-35 .478
Portland Trail Blazers 66 31-35 .470
Minnesota Timberwolves 65 23-42 .354
Sacramento Kings 67 23-44 .343
Phoenix Suns 68 23-45 .338
New Orleans Hornets 68 22-46 .324

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