Note: Update below.
I'm a goal-oriented guy. Obviously, judging by the comments on the story immediately beneath this one, I'm also off my rocker. Forgive me in advance, then.
I said it a couple weeks ago, and I'll say it again today: This team can make the playoffs. That's not going to be done in one fell swoop, though.
First thing's first: here's my assessment of the Western Conference playoff race:
Automatic: San Antonio, Dallas. These two teams would literally have to fall apart to not make the playoffs.
Probable: Phoenix, Denver. The Suns can be caught in the division - they're 4.5 games up from the Clippers and 5.5 up from the Lakers. But the Suns have shown that they're among the best in the league, and happen to be a combined 3-1 against the Lakers and Clippers. Denver, likewise, can be caught, and are actually only up a game on Minnesota in the Northwest. But they're 8-2 in their last 10 and have won four straight. They're making up for lost time now.
The rest: Here's what I see happening: Every division should probably get at least two teams in; the Northwest is the weakest, but Utah is healthy and Minnesota is looking to add a piece for a run. Two teams out of those two and Denver should definitely make it. San Antonio and Dallas are locks in the Southwest. Phoenix and one of the L.A. teams are the conventional wisdom in the Pacific.
That leaves open two theoretical spots for the third best team in two divisions. Memphis is better than the entire Pacific right now, and should definitely compete for a bid. (They might actually be borderline 'probable.') The third place Pacific team would in essence be battling the third place Northwest team (or the fourth-place Southwest team, though unlikely) for the last bid. That team looks like it'll be Utah or Minnesota.
The fourth-place Pacific team, however, would need to be better than Memphis and the third-place Northwest team to get in, though. That's a tough sell.
So the best way to get into the playoffs out of the Pacific? Be the second or third best team in the division!
Here are the steps I think we'll have to see before that happens:
- Get out of the Pacific basement. Obviously, a team in fifth place in its division has zero chance of a playoff berth (except in the stacked Central, which shares a conference with the mediocre Northeast and the top-heavy Southeast). Jumping over the Warriors is goal #1. Currently, Golden State is 19-19, two games ahead of the Kings.
- Get to .500. Minnesota is the eighth seed right now, and they're one game over .500. Utah and GSW are both exactly .500, and they are the 9th- and 10th-place teams in the conference respectively. Below .500 ain't getting to the W.C. playoffs this year. The Kings are currently four games under .500.
- Get to The Eight Spot. Obviously, if you aren't at least in the eighth spot by the end of the season, no playoffs for you. The Kings are currently 2.5 games out of The Eight Spot.
- Get to third place in the division. Like we said above, the best way to get solidly into the playoffs is to at least be the third-place team in the division. The Kings are currently 3 games out of third place.
To fourth place!
Update [2006-1-21 13:5:3 by TZ]: Bonjour again. I've stuck a box over on the right. Calling it Goal Tracker for now. Will accept suggestions on the nomenclature. Au revoir!