With their decisive victory over the tanking Portland Trail Blazers the San Antonio Spurs have locked in the top seed in the Western Conference for the second straight year. With it they have may have solidified the Denver Nuggets’ hold on the sixth seed.
Now that the Spurs have clinched, the Oklahoma City Thunder are now locked into the second seed. Now that their pursuit of home court advantage in the West has ended in failure logic dictates the number one goal for the Thunder should be to avoid injuries over their final two games. The last thing the Thunder want is for one of their key players to get an inadvertent elbow to the head like Kevin Love, or an “advertant” elbow to the head like James Harden.
Looking back to last season, in a meaningless game to close out the season Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played, but they were on the court for only 23 and 21 minutes respectively despite the game going to OT. I think the Nuggets can expect the same thing from the Thunder in what will be their final game of the season on Wednesday.
If the Thunder do in fact play to win against Denver, they will be sending a very direct message. They want Denver in the first round instead of Dallas and what an intriguing message that would be.
The Nuggets are in the driver’s seat for the sixth seed needing either wins over both the playing-for-nothing Thunder and the Love-less Wolves, or a Mavs loss in Atlanta along with one win in their final two games.
However, in a way the Mavs are in a position to pick who they play. Whether the Thunder play to beat the Nuggets or not, the Mavs can “choose” the Thunder as their opponent by resting their aging stars in their final game against the Hawks. Depending on what happens in the Hawks and Celtics penultimate contests, the Hawks may be playing for home court advantage over the Celtics in their first round matchup on that final night versus Dallas. Even if that final game is meaningless for the Hawks, I suspect the Mavs could pull out the loss if they so choose.
There are still a few variables to work out, but it does now look like the Nuggets are going to be facing off against the Lakers in the first round. It is a daunting task, but a much more welcome one than facing off with the Thunder.