The Los Angeles Clippers coming up with a home win against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday shed light on the importance of wins when considering the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture and elsewhere in the playoff race.
Kevin McHale's Rockets entered the evening with the same record as the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers but in losing to the Clips did more than fall a game back once the Blazers ran the Brooklyn Nets out of the gym, 124-80.
Houston dropped to the fifth seed because the No. 2 seeded San Antonio Spurs lead the Southwest Division ahead of it, while Los Angeles leads the Pacific. On top of the hurt coming from the 101-93 road loss, the Rockets now don't have a shot at winning a tiebreaker with the Clippers, who lead the season series 3-0 with only one game between the two teams remaining. And a first-round matchup between Houston and Los Angeles is a solid bet.
So yeah. It was a painful loss to Houston and a big one for Doc Rivers' Los Angeles team, one that goes beyond feeling good about playing lockdown defense on a squad with a bit of firepower.
The Oklahoma City Thunder still hold a 1.5-game lead on the Spurs atop the standings in the Western Conference, and after a three-team battle for the 3-5 spots, there's another tier at the bottom of the conference with things left to shake out. Dallas, Golden State and Phoenix are within two games of one another, and with the Suns sliding without Goran Dragic in a hurtful loss to Utah on Wednesday, the Memphis Grizzlies are only a half-game out of the final playoff spot.
Western Conference Standings
The Pacers and Heat are still running away with the East, and Indiana's goal of holding precious homecourt against its rivals is still alive and well. Frank Vogel's squad also has a one-game lead on the West's best, the Thunder.
The third of fourth seeds are separating with Toronto and Chicago each having lost a single game in the last two weeks. With just more than 20 games left for most teams, it seems those two squads will be fighting for matchups, though the Washington Wizards are only two games back of an opening-round homecourt advantage -- they'll have to hold up without Nene for the time being.
At the backend of the playoff race, any of Charlotte, Brooklyn or Atlanta would need a losing streak if Detroit, Cleveland or New York have any hope of snagging a playoff spot. Of course, that would mean one of the latter three squads puts in a respectable run. The best bet to earn a spot as an Eastern Conference playoff team? Aim for a .500 record by the end of the year.
Eastern Conference Standings
|Team||Record||Winning PCT||Games behind|