With less than 12 games left in the 2017-2018 NBA season, just four of the six division leaders have clinched playoff berths. The grip on the lead varies from division to division, but there is one important question: What is going on in the Northwest? For starters, each team in the Northwest Division is above .500. The variation is remarkable in that there are just four teams in the Southeast and Pacific Divisions who are over .500, and the Northwest alone has five teams over .500.
The last place team in the Northwest Division is the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets (39-33) are just 5.5 games back from the first place Portland Trail Blazers (44-27). The three teams in between them are making a run for the postseason as well.
Following the Trail Blazers are the Oklahoma City Thunder (43-30). The Thunder are two games back in the division and are led by point guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook, the MVP of the 2016-2017 season, is currently sixth in the lead in scoring (25.4 points per game), tied for fourth in steals (1.8 steals per game) and eighth in rebounds (9.7 rebounds per game), and leads the league with assists (10.2 assists per game). The Thunder are a three-headed dragon of sorts with Westbrook, five-time All Star Paul George (21.8 PPG) and 10-time All Star Carmelo Anthony (16.6 PPG). The Thunder threaten the Trail Blazers led by three-time All Star point guard Damian Lillard (26.6 PPG) and shooting guard CJ McCollum (21.5 PPG). Lillard is third in the NBA in scoring.
Though they are third in the division, the Minnesota Timberwolves (41-31) have the best divisional and conference record in the Northwest. The Timberwolves are 30-15 in the Western Conference and 9-4 in the Northwest Division. The Timberwolves are led by the NBA’s fourth best rebounder Karl Anthony Towns (12.3 rebounds per game). Towns also averages 20.9 points per game. The Timberwolves are down an important man in four-time all star Jimmy Butler (22.2 PPG). While his current replacement, Jeff Teague, has held his own by posting double doubles in his last two starts, the Timberwolves eye a Butler return as their ticket to the postseason. The Wolves have had no problems with scoring and spreading the ball around, as they’ve never had more 100+ point games in a season.
Fourth place in the division is the Utah Jazz (41-31). The Jazz and the Timberwolves are both just 3.5 games out of first place. The Jazz kept themselves in the race by producing an 11-game winning streak in early February. The streak was snapped by the first place Trail Blazers.
The last place Denver Nuggets have the toughest road ahead. Just 5.5 games back in the Northwest, the Nuggets have begun a seven–game 15-day road trip. Steve Aschburner of NBA.com wrote, “It’s a crazy quilt of destinations – Memphis, Miami, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Toronto, Oklahoma City – with a dip into and out of Canada. Their watches and phones are like a dieting foodie’s bathroom scale, losing or gaining the same hour four or five times.” The Nuggets, after their bizarre travel schedule ahead, will finish the stretch against the Atlantic Division leader Toronto Raptors (53-19) and the current runners-up in the contentious Northwest Division, the Oklahoma City Thunder.