It is rare we get so much clarity before the NBA trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean there will be many playoff spots up for grabs.
The Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are not only the two best teams in the league, they are each on pace to set all-time highs in various categories.
For example, the Warriors are leading the league in effective field goal percentage (56.1 percent), which, if sustained, would be the best in NBA history. They would finish second all time in three-point shooting (42.4 percent).
The Spurs, per NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, are on pace to set all kinds of defensive records:
The Spurs are doing on defense what the Warriors are doing on offense. They’ve allowed 9.2 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, the best mark since the league started counting turnovers in 1977.
San Antonio leads the league in opponent effective field goal percentage. They’ve been the best in the league at defending the restricted area and forcing mid-range shots, the least efficient shots on the floor. They also lead the league in defensive rebounding percentage (with the highest mark since the league starting counting offensive and defensive rebounds separately in 1973) and rank third in opponent free throw rate, allowing less than 24 free throws per 100 shots from the field.
Then there are the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are one of the most dynamic tandems in the league, outscoring opponents by 370 net points this season, and have the Thunder on track to lock up the No. 3 seed in the West.
Here is how the rest of the teams in the Western Conference should view the trade deadline.
Teams who should be buyers at the Feb. 18 trade deadline
The Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets look playoff bound. The Rockets have the lowest playoff probability per Fivethirtyeight at 83 percent, nearly double that of the Sacremento Kings.
The Grizzlies are an interesting case. Their record is 26-20, but based on their point differential (minus-2.1 net points per 100 possessions) we would expect their win-loss record to be 19-27, giving them the largest delta between actual and expected wins.
Still, the forecasts have Memphis being in the playoffs once the season ends, but their inflated record suggests a fall from their current No. 5 seed.
Teams who should be sellers at the Feb. 18 trade deadline
There are three teams with a chance to move into the No. 8 seed: the Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers.
But the prize there is to face either the Spurs or Warriors in the first round. According to Michael Beuoy’s generic points favored, what you would expect a team to be favored by against a league average opponent at a neutral site, the Warriors are currently 11.5 points per game better than average while the Spurs have a GPF of 9.9. That would make them each at least 10-point favorites over the Kings, Jazz or Trail Blazers on a neutral court, implying an 80 percent win probability over any of those three teams.
In short, making the playoffs would be only a moral victory with little chance of on-court success.
Try again next year
The New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves are all long shots to make the playoffs this year — the Pelicans are the best bet among this group with an 18 percent playoff probability — and would be best served trying to find the right pieces for a future run.