With just over a quarter of the NBA season remaining, things are beginning to take shape in the playoff race. The Milwaukee Bucks (47-14) currently hold the best record in the league and sit two-and-a-half games ahead of the Toronto Raptors for Eastern Conference supremacy. Out West, the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets are in a battle for the No. 1 seed with two games between the powerhouses still remaining.
At this point of the season, players, analysts and fans alike are looking down the line to matchups and remaining schedules to help determine playoff likelihood. Here are the NBA teams with the top three easiest/most difficult remaining schedules (based on opponent's overall winning percentage) this season.
*All strength of schedule data comes courtesy of Tankathon.com.
Top 3 Easiest Remaining Schedules
1. Utah Jazz
Strength of schedule: .428
With the Jazz sitting three games out of the top four in the West, expect them to make a push for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Of their remaining 21 games, 15 are against teams under .500., and with matchups against Milwaukee, Denver, and Oklahoma City coming up, there are also some opportunities for statement wins. If they can produce down the stretch, they have a real shot of leapfrogging a few teams. If they don't take advantage of this, however, they could potentially slide all the way out of the playoffs altogether.
2. Toronto Raptors
Strength of schedule: .439
The East's current No. 2 seed presumably couldn't be happier about its final stretch of the season. The Jeremy Lin in conjunction with the second-easiest remaining schedule should have the Canada outfit confident. Among Toronto's remaining 20 games, 15 are against teams below .500. The other five are against the Houston Rockets, Brooklyn Nets, Portland Trailblazers and two clashes with the Oklahoma City Thunder. If the Raptors hope to overtake the Bucks as the top seed, the final stretch of the season plays right into those plans.Fred Van Fleet (left thumb) could've been deflating for the Raptors, but the signing of
3. Sacramento Kings
Strength of schedule: .457
The Kings currently sit in 9th place, two games out of the last West playoff spot. The young club is coming off a hard-fought 141-140 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but fortunately they don't have to play a top-3 seed from either conference the rest of the way. With their next five contests coming against the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks (twice), Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, they find themselves with some very winnable matchups. Along with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Kings are fighting an uphill battle for a top eight seed in the Western Conference, but have the talent to make it happen.
Top 3 Toughest Remaining Schedules
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Strength of schedule: .564
The Thunder must find a way to get through the end of this season unscathed. The surging Portland Trail Blazers caught up to OKC in the standings and sit tied for third in the West, while the Rockets and Jazz -- both winning of late -- are right on their heels. Making matters worse, the Thunder's schedule to end the season is filled with top-tier opponents. They still have two games against the Raptors, as well as matchups with the Blazers, Warriors, Rockets, Nuggets and Bucks. With things so tight in the West, Russell Westbrook and Paul George must play like the superstar teammates they are and keep their squad from falling out of the top four. With only six of their 21 remaining games against sub-.500 competition, that's a lot to expect.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
Strength of schedule: .548
Currently four games out of the eighth spot, Minnesota is in an unlucky situation. The Wolves still have to play both Golden State and Denver twice, which would be a nightmare for almost any team. That is in addition to games still to come against Toronto, Oklahoma City and Portland -- all contenders dealing with their own playoff implications. Minnesota still has a chance to make the postseason, but it will be relying on a bunch of things to go its way. With no clear leader and a lack of team defense, don't expect this miracle to happen.
3. Brooklyn Nets
Strength of schedule: .546
The Nets have to be very careful over the next month or so. They are currently the sixth seed in the East, but sit only three games ahead of the ninth-place Magic. With two games still to come against top-seeded Milwaukee, Brooklyn doesn't have time to be comfortable. The Nets also will meet Toronto, Portland, Philadelphia, OKC and Utah before all is said and done. D'Angelo Russell has done a great job of leading this young group, but this last quarter of the season will give us a better glimpse of what this Nets club is really made of.
This will be one of the most interesting final stretches that we've seen in some time. Across the board there are teams vying to clinch a berth or improve their seeding. There is no runaway No. 1 seed and it looks like it will reach the last few games before we have any idea who slots in where on the bracket. With so much potential for shifting, and the various storylines surrounding so many franchises, expect craziness as the regular season races to its finish.