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Seven teams, five spots: The NBA West playoff race should be fun

Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook are right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. (Derick E. Hingle/USA Today)

We’re down to brass tacks in the NBA’s regular season, and the teams that aren’t tanking are in a pitched battle for playoff berths, at least in one of the conferences. On Wednesday night, the Bucks clinched the final playoff spot in the East with the Pistons’ loss to the 76ers. Though the exact seeding is still up for grabs, that conference’s playoff field is set.

The West is basically the opposite. Only three teams — the Rockets, Warriors and Trail Blazers — have clinched playoff berths, while the teams sitting in fourth through 10th place are separated by a mere three games with less than a week remaining. Here’s how it’s setting up.

Jazz (45-33)

Remaining games: vs. Clippers, at Lakers, vs. Warriors, at Blazers.

Of note: Utah is 26-5 since Jan. 24, the league’s second-best record over that span. It also holds the tiebreaker over the Spurs.

Spurs (45-34)

Remaining games: vs. Blazers, vs. Kings, at Pelicans.

Of note: Once in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, San Antonio is 8-4 over its past 12 games. Still, this will be the first time the Spurs have failed to win 50 games in a full 82-game season since 1996-97. They have gone 31-8 at home but just 14-26 on the road after Wednesday night’s overtime loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles.

Thunder (45-34)

Remaining games: at Rockets, at Heat, vs. Grizzlies.

Of note: Oklahoma City will lose any tiebreaker with the Timberwolves, Pelicans and Nuggets, the three teams directly below the Thunder in the standings, so there isn’t a whole lot of room for error here.

Timberwolves (44-34)

Remaining games: at Nuggets, at Lakers, vs. Grizzlies, vs. Nuggets.

Of note: Minnesota hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2004, the NBA’s longest drought, and has two games remaining against a Denver team that is just a game behind it in the standings.

Pelicans (44-34)

Remaining games: at Suns, at Warriors, at Clippers, vs. Spurs.

Of note: New Orleans, which snapped a season-long four-game losing streak Wednesday night with a rout of the Grizzlies, has the toughest late-season schedule in terms of wear and tear with five games in seven days, three on the road.

Nuggets (43-35)

Remaining games: vs. Timberwolves, at Clippers, vs. Blazers, at Timberwolves.

Of note: Thursday night’s home game against Minnesota is hugely important for Denver, currently ninth in the West standings (where it finished last season, one game out of the playoffs). The Nuggets have won three straight and five of their last seven to stay in contention.

Clippers (42-36)

Remaining games: at Jazz, vs. Nuggets, vs. Pelicans, vs. Lakers.

Of note: Los Angeles, which has lost seven of its past 12 games, can’t afford much more than one defeat over its final four games, three of them coming against other teams on this list. If it comes down to it, however, the Clippers have the tiebreaker over the Nuggets and have a chance to hold the tiebreaker over the Pelicans.

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