Trend Watch: The battle for the West's No. 2

Chris Paul made it official: He's back with the Clippers. (USATSI)
Chris Paul the Clippers are trying to catch the Thunder. (USATSI)
The playoffs are nine days away. Nine! And here's a fun thing: We still don't have all that clear of a picture of how things will line up. The eight-seed in the West is still very much up for grabs, the top seed in the East isn't settled, the Bobcats and Wizards are grappling for the six-seed, and the Thunder and Clippersboth have a look at the No. 2. 

So as we advance rapidly toward the playoffs, let's take one of only a few glances we have left at what's trending league-wide.

Wednesday to decide the two-seed in the West?

The Clippers and Thunder tangle tonight at Staples, which could have some heavy implications. The Thunder lead the Clippers by two games in the loss column with a week to go, but of course a loss here narrows that to one (math!) and it would also award the Clippers a potential tiebreaker. 

What's the significance? 

First, the obvious: The No. 2 seed gets home court advantage against anyone other than the No. 1 seed. It's complicated like that. But that absolutely is important, because if the Thunder and Clippers were to meet up in the second round, the difference in the series could be decided by home court. 

Second, the not as obvious: There could be a serious difference in quality of first round opponents. As it stands now, the Thunder would draw the Mavericks, with that possibly being the Suns or Grizzlies. The Clippers, though, would get the Warriors, an obviously dangerous postseason team. That's good enough reason to make sure you stay, or try and steal, the No. 2. 

The Thunder have moderately stumbled the last month or so while the Clippers have surged, thus making this a serious race. Some of that is seemingly by choice from the Thunder as they've sat Russell Westbrook in back-to-backs, which means they've put a lesser team on the floor a number of times while also distrupting rhythm and continuity. But the Clippers aren't shedding too many tears for them. They've spent a large portion of their season without their All-Star point guard, and have missed J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford at differing times. 

But this specific matchup is an interesting one, because it seemingly puts two similar teams with similar strengths against each other -- speed, length and athleticism. The Thunder have had the Spurs' number the last few seasons winning all four games this year and 10 of the last 12, making a potential Western Conference final against them look more comfortable, but the big question for OKC is getting there. The Clippers will likely be standing in their way, and it's a team that forces the Thunder's hand in ways it often doesn't have to go. 

In the last meeting, the Clippers murdered the Thunder in transition, both off makes and misses. OKC had major issue in finding matchups, often pointing and trying to communicate while backpedaling down the floor as the Clippers ran at the rim. It would seem with the Clippers size, Scott Brooks and the Thunder could play their traditional two-big lineup, though DeAndre Jordan is a bad, bad matchup for Kendrick Perkins. With his lumbering, flat-footed manner, Perkins can't run the floor or jump with Jordan. So Brooks' best option is to try and get Jordan off the floor, and he does so by playing smallball lineups. 

That, though, also plays into the Clippers' strength. While Jordan and Blake Griffin form an imposing front line, when the Clippers can play Griffin at the 5 comfortably, they get more dangerous. A lineup of Paul, Crawford (who is out tonight, unfortunately), Redick, Barnes and Griffin is a lot of offense, and has the ability to match most any Thunder smallball counter. The Thunder would be the one dictating the change, as the Clippers very much prefer to play their two bigs together, but unlike most teams, the Clippers can handle it. 

Bobcats and Wizards battling for sixth

That right there is a sentence I didn't expect to be typing when the season started. Who would've thought that on April 9, 2014, maybe the second biggest game in the league would be between the Bobcats and Wizards? But here we are. 

The Wizards hold a game lead over Charlotte, and are just one ahead in the loss column. A win for the Bobcats would tie things up in the standings, and hand Charlotte the tiebreaker as well. 

The significance? It's obvious: The No. 6 seed avoids the Heat or Pacers in the opening round and would instead draw the Raptors or Bulls. That's something big to play for right there.

Pacers giving in?

They're still just a game back of the Heat in the loss column, but the Pacers are going to heed Matt Moore of's advice and rest all five starters tonight against the Bucks. There's a good chance they still handle business regardless, but it does appear Frank Vogel is wisely placing a priority on getting rested and ready both physically and mentally for the postseason, rather than grinding to the finish line for the No. 1 seed.

The Pacers need to play better. So it's time to try something different.

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