The final few days of the 2020-21 NBA regular season could see an intriguing tussle for positions in a stacked Western Conference. There are teams competing for the top spot and several others looking to reach the postseason.
On that note, let's take a look at the playoff-contending teams in the West and make predictions about their final positions at the end of the regular season. Let's get started.
Utah Jazz vs Phoenix Suns for the West's first seed and the best record in the NBA
After starting the season at a blistering pace, the Utah Jazz are now tied with the Phoenix Suns at 46-18 at the top of the Western Conference; both teams have the best record in the league this season.
The Phoenix Suns were expected to be a much-improved team after the Chris Paul trade, and they have done well after going 8-8 to start their 2020-21 NBA campaign.
Since their loss to the OKC Thunder at home in January, the Suns have had 38 wins and only ten losses, which is a W/L record six games better than that of any other team in the league; the Denver Nuggets and Utah Nazz follow next with 32-14.
Meanwhile, for the Utah Jazz, consistency has not been a problem after they went 15-5 between December and January. However, the battle for the top spot in the West could be decided by the two teams' head-to-head battle, where the Phoenix Suns dominated the Utah Jazz 3-0.
The Suns have a slightly more difficult schedule than the Utah Jazz in the remainder of the 2020-21 NBA season. In their last eight games, they play six matches on the road (Cleveland, Atlanta, LA Lakers, Golden State Warriors and two visits to San Antonio).
Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz will play five of their remaining eight games at home. Their matchup against the Denver Nuggets will be the toughest in their remaining schedule, which also includes a visit to San Francisco and playing the Portland Trail Blazers at home.
Nevertheless, considering the Phoenix Suns' better recent form, Devin Booker and company should be able to take the NBA's top seed in the West.
1st seed: Phoenix Suns.
2nd seed: Utah Jazz.
The Denver Nuggets could rattle the LA Clippers a little earlier this year
Right behind the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz, the Denver Nuggets and the LA Clippers are fighting closely for the third spot in the West.
Both teams also have a small chance of grabbing the top seed or at least enter the Top 2, as the Nuggets are three games behind the leading duo, and LAC are only half a game behind Denver.
Of course, it is unlikely that Denver or LAC would get past Phoenix and Utah. As things stand today, the third-seeded Denver Nuggets would face the sixth-seeded LA Lakers, the reigning champions, in the first round of the 2020-21 NBA postseason.
Granted, both Denver and the LA Clippers would be ready to take on such a challenge. But starting the NBA Playoffs with a series that could easily be the Western Conference Finals might leave the winning team exhausted physically and mentally and hinder their hopes of going all the way.
Of course, there is no easy way for either the Denver Nuggets or the LA Clippers to try and avoid the LA Lakers in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The prize for avoiding the LA Lakers could be either Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers or Luka Doncic and his Dallas Mavericks.
Denver are currently third in the West with a 43-21 season record. Mike Malone's team are the hottest in the NBA at the moment; they are on a five-game win streak and have gone 9-1 in their last ten outings. The LA Clippers follow closely with a 43-22 record, but Tyronn Lue's men have lost three games on the bounce, which includes a 1-2 mini-series loss against Nikola Jokic and company.
In terms of the remainder of their schedule, the Denver Nuggets have a tougher run-in than LAC. That's because Denver will play six road games (out of eight left) and need to visit the LA Lakers, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and host the Brooklyn Nets.
Nevertheless, Denver look likely to edge out the LA Clippers for the third seed.
3rd seed: Denver Nuggets.
4th seed: LA Clippers.
LA Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks in a big scrap to avoid the NBA play-in tournament
The reigning champions, LA Lakers have not had a smooth campaign after losing LeBron James and Anthony Davis to injuries. James missed 20 games with a high ankle sprain and has just returned to action. But the LA Lakers have lost both games James has played.
Meanwhile, Davis missed 30 games. But after his return, the LA Lakers have gone 1-5 to slip down the NBA Western Conference standings.
The Dallas Mavericks are currently in fifth place in the West. They have an advantage over the LA Lakers because they took the season series over the reigning champions. Meanwhile, the Portland Trail Blazers are seventh and in one of the NBA play-In positions.
The health of the LA Lakers' key players could determine if they emerge on the right side of this three-way tussle. Frank Vogel's Lakers have the second-toughest schedule between the three teams. Meanwhile, James came out of the Toronto Raptors game on Sunday due to ankle soreness. If he misses more games due to injury, the champions could struggle to make the postseason.
The Mavericks have the easiest remaining schedule on paper among the three teams, and Slovenian Luka Doncic is expected to be available for the team.
With Dennis Schroder now sidelined because of the league's health and safety protocols, the champions are likely to make the NBA play-in tournament.
Meanwhile, Dallas have the tiebreaker against Portland in their favor; Rick Carlisle's team could be the fifth seed if the two teams remain unseparated till the end of the regular season.
Their upcoming games could be key. Dallas face Sacramento and Miami, while the LA Lakers have the Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers as their next two rivals. Portland, meanwhile, will play Atlanta and Cleveland before hosting the LA Lakers in a game that could be key in the fight for the final places in the West's top 6.
5th seed: Dallas Mavericks.
6th seed: Portland Trail Blazers.
7th place (Play-In tournament): LA Lakers.
The final NBA play-in positions are set unless the New Orleans Pelicans can find some late consistency
Between the eighth-placed Sacramento Kings (32-31) and the 11th-placed New Orleans Pelicans (29-35), there is a difference of 3.5 games. However, the clock is ticking for New Orleans, as they have eight games left and desperately need to put together big results to clinch one of the NBA play-in spots.
The ninth place in the West is currently in the hands of the Golden State Warriors (32-32); the San Antonio Spurs (31-32) have lost three straight and are occupying the final NBA play-in place.
The NBA play-in tournament will comprise of four teams, between seventh to tenth places in both Conferences. The winner of the seventh and eighth-placed teams (in terms of winning percentage) will meet the second-seeded squad in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Meanwhile, the winner of the series between the ninth and tenth seeds will face the losing side of the 7-8 series to determine the final spot for the 2021 NBA Playoffs (the eighth seed, who would face the first seed in the conference).
The picture is unlikely to change much from eighth and 11th in the West. But the margin between Sacramento, Golden State and San Antonio is very slender. Spurs, in particular, could be in danger of falling out of contention, as they have the second-toughest remaining schedule in the NBA.