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For the first time in a long time, it feels as if the majority of buzz in the NBA is in the Eastern Conference. That comes with the territory of a playoff race in the East that is tightly packed together but, as of the 2022 All-Star break, the top two teams in the NBA reside in the Western Conference. The Phoenix Suns have a 6.5-game lead on the rest of the league, which is wild in late February, and the Golden State Warriors have been fantastic even while navigating roster challenges. Still, the list of intriguing teams does not stop at two in the West, and that leads us to a fun, albeit challenging exercise.
In this space, we’ll spotlight the 10 most important games in the second half of the season for the Western Conference. Because of the separation at the top, it doesn’t make sense to simply point the cursor at the Suns and Warriors, with highly competitive races for the top six and even for the top ten and play-in consideration. We’ll also endeavor to keep an eye on the entire landscape and, without further delay, here are ten games that any basketball observer should be closely monitoring in February, March and April.
Feb. 25 – Dallas Mavericks @ Utah Jazz – 9:00 pm ET – League Pass
This could be the 4-5 matchup in the West and that would be fascinating. Utah has been very good when at full strength this year, but a mid-season swoon has them looking up at three teams. Dallas started slow but has recovered, and Luka Doncic is out of his mind right now. This game is only a few days away, but it should be fun and also meaningful in the playoff race.
Feb. 25 – Los Angeles Lakers vs. L.A. Clippers – 10:00 pm ET – ESPN
The Clippers and Lakers are No. 8 and No. 9 in the West right now, which takes some juice away from this matchup. It’s still part of the everlasting “Battle for L.A.” and both teams need wins.
March 5 – Golden State Warriors @ Los Angeles Lakers – 8:30 pm ET – ABC
LeBron James and Stephen Curry are playing in a Saturday night ABC game. We don’t need to say much more than that, but it’s plausible that Draymond Green could be back, and the Lakers (as noted above) really need victories. This won’t be an easy one to get for Los Angeles, but it’ll be fun.
March 8 – New Orleans Pelicans @ Memphis Grizzlies – 7:30 pm ET – TNT
The Pelicans are at least frisky, but this is about an opportunity to watch the Grizzlies on national television. We’ll see if Memphis can catch Golden State for No. 2 in the West but, even if they can’t, holding off Utah will be important. Both teams should be pressing in this one, and Ja Morant is must-see TV.
March 30 – Phoenix Suns @ Golden State Warriors – 10:00 pm ET – ESPN
Chris Paul is going to miss this game, which is unfortunate. Still, it is a battle between the top two teams in the sport, and the No. 1 seed hits the road for the matchup in front of a national audience. It has to be on the list, even if there is competition in the same time slot.
March 30 – New Orleans Pelicans @ Portland Trail Blazers – 10:00 pm ET – League Pass
On the surface, this doesn’t appear to fit on this list, but hear me out. For one, CJ McCollum returns to Portland for the first time, and that is a real story on its own given his contributions to the Blazers franchise. On top of that, this could be a meaningful battle in the play-in race, with both teams firmly in the mix as this post is published.
Apr. 1 – Minnesota Timberwolves @ Denver Nuggets – 9:00 pm ET – League Pass
If we polled casual observers, I don’t think it would be common knowledge that Minnesota is the No. 7 seed in the West right now. The Wolves are just 2.5 games out of the top six and, yes, it is the Nuggets that Minnesota is chasing. There is star power here, and a matchup between Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns is highly appetizing.
Apr. 5 – Memphis Grizzlies @ Utah Jazz – 9:00 pm ET – League Pass
If a team can chase down Memphis for the No. 3 spot in the West, it is probably Utah. The Jazz have their own issues, but they are very good when Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell share the court, and a matchup between Mitchell and Ja Morant is very fun. It may not be a playoff preview given the top two teams and their leads in the standings, but these are two of the top four teams in the West.
Apr. 8 – Phoenix Suns @ Utah Jazz – 9:30 pm ET – NBATV
Paul’s injury could still have him sidelined at this point, but there is a chance he is back. Regardless, Phoenix hits the road to face a Jazz team that is in the top four, and it happens during the season’s final week with real potential implications. For example, Utah might need a win to stay in the top four, or even to climb into the top three, and Phoenix could be trying to hold off Golden State with Paul sidelined for several weeks.
Apr. 10 – Los Angeles Lakers @ Denver Nuggets – TBD
Apr. 10 is the last day of the regular season so, technically, this game could be meaningless. At the moment, that doesn’t seem likely, though, as the Lakers are going to need every win they can get and the Nuggets are in the middle of the race. Can you imagine a scenario in which the Lakers need to win to avoid the 9-10 game? What about a final MVP push for Nikola Jokic?