With the NBA All-Star Break in the rear view mirror, the race for the final spot in the in the West playoffs heats up. If the playoffs were to start today the Denver Nuggets would have the eight seed with a 26-33 record, but their lead is not a comfortable one. Only one half game behind the Nuggets are the Sacramento Kings, the Portland Trail Blazers are one game back, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Minnesota Timberwolves are both two and a half games back, and the Dallas Mavericks are three games back. All of these teams look to improve in the latter parts of the regular season; while some attempt to get better with trades, others look to improve upon what they already have.

Denver Nuggets

Currently there are five other teams that are gunning for the final playoff spot. Denver will play 11 of their final 23 games against teams with a .500 record or better. If the Nuggets make the playoffs it will be on the shoulders of Nikola Jokic. This emerging big man is averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds this season. Jokic was drafted 41st overall in the 2015 draft and is now looking to be the steal of the draft.

Sacramento Kings

With a record of 25-33 the Kings are just a half a game behind the Nuggets in the West. The Kings made a move before the trade deadline moving Omri Casspi and DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans in exchange for Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evens (a King for a second time) and the 2017 first and second round picks.

The Kings will play 11 out of their final 24 games against teams with a .500 record or better. With Cousins now gone, the Kings go to scorer is Rudy Gay who is still averaging 18.7 points. Sacramento makes the playoffs if the new players step up in different roles than they played in New Orleans.

Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers have been a bit of a disappointment this year, only managing a 24-34 record. Portland boasts one of the West's best back courts in Damian Lillard, averaging 25.8 points and CJ McCollum, averaging 23.4. Of the final 24 games the Blazers have left on their schedule, only nine of them are against teams with a .500 or better.

The Blazers will make the playoffs if they continue to get what they have with their guards as well as one other player stepping up, Al-Faruq Aminu or Allen Crabbe are two possibilities.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans made the biggest splash before the trade deadline, they were able to get DeMarcus Cousins to join Anthony Davis. New Orleans is hoping that this move will help them improve upon their 23-37 record. The Pelicans have nine games against teams with a .500 record or better of the remaining 21 games. The Pelicans will make the playoffs in the West if Cousins and Davis learn to play together.

Minnesota Timberwolves

With a record of 23-35 they are just two and a half games behind the Nuggets in the West.

Andrew Wiggins has been stepping up his game lately, he has scored at least 20 points in his last 16 games. Karl Anthony Towns has also been having an extremely strong second season averaging 23.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. Minnesota has 13 of their final 24 games against teams with a .500 record or better. The Timberwolves make the playoffs if they can overcome the losing culture.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs went out and made a move right before the trade deadline. The Mavs got the young big man Nerlens Noel from the 76ers. In what very possibly could be Dirk Nowitzki’s last season in the NBA the Mavs are looking to get him one last chance to shine in the playoffs. Dallas has 13 of their final 24 games against teams with a record of .500 record of better.

The Mavs will make the playoffs if Dirk can play like he is 25 again, and if D-League call up Yogi Ferrell continues to play well at the point guard position.

For all of these teams, crowded in the race, they are battling it out for this final spot. If they succeed in their goal and make the playoffs their reward would be to get swept by the Golden State Warriors.

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