In a matter of hours Friday night, the Timberwolves rose in the Western Conference from eighth place to fifth and, just like that, they descended back to seventh place after Sunday’s home loss to Utah.
With seven teams jockeying for the final five playoff spots, playoff positioning gets reshuffled nightly and the big question is which two teams will be without a seat at the table when the music stops next week.
“It certainly makes for up-to-date journalism,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.
Top-seeded Houston is six games ahead of No. 2 Golden State, which is eight games ahead of No. 3 Portland, which is three games ahead of No. 4 San Antonio.
After that, three games separate the Spurs, Oklahoma City, the Jazz, the Wolves and New Orleans. And Denver is one game out of the eighth final spot, with two games left against the Wolves. The 10th-seeded Los Angeles Clippers are two games behind the No. 8 Pelicans.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the West like this time,” Wolves 18-year veteran Jamal Crawford said. “I’ve seen it go down to the last day, matchup-wise. But you lose a few in a row and you can be on the outside looking in. It’s definitely different.”
If it comes down to the final day without any delineation for one or more playoffs, tiebreakers starting with head-to-head records between teams, records against division opponents if both teams are in the same division and conference records could decide who’s in and out and in which positions.
All of which is enough to make a coach’s head spin.
“You don’t know,” Snyder said. “You can have something happen where you can win and someone else can win and you can drop in the standings based on tiebreakers and all those things. I won’t say it’s confusing, but there are so many things that are impacting standings right now. From our standpoint, if you try to figure it out, you end up confused and distracted to a certain level.”
Snyder said he has told his players to ignore the standings and the Jazz’s place in them. Nine games below .500 in January, the Jazz has gone 25-5 in its last 30 games and now is sixth in the West, a half-game ahead of the Wolves.
“It’s hard to do,” Snyder said. “It’s in front of you. You can’t let it take away from your focus.”
The Wolves meet Western Conference teams in all four of its final games. They play Thursday at Denver and Friday in Los Angeles against the Lakers before finishing with home games against Memphis and the Nuggets in a season finale that could mean everything.
Just 13-17 against the East this season, the Wolves have positioned themselves with a 31-17 record the West, including 9-5 within their own Northwest division.
They’ve swept season series 4-0 against New Orleans and the Clippers, beat Oklahoma City 3-1, lead Denver 2-0 with those two games left, tied Utah and Portland 2-2 and lost their series to San Antonio 1-2.
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter who we play tomorrow,” Crawford said. “You have to win. There’s only [four] games left in the season and every one matters.”