Will The Wolves and Jazz be Fighting for the Eighth Seed? (With Poll!)

There's a good chance the Wolves and Jazz will be fighting it out for the eighth and final seed of the NBA playoffs this year. At stake isn't banners, but picks. More below the jump (along with women in bikinis and by women in bikinis, I mean numbers).

Here's the Western Conference standings by Point Differential (which is a better indicator of future performance than current record) as of 1/19 (courtesy of ESPN):

DEN +5.6
OKC +4.5
LAL +3.9
DAL +3.7
SAS +3.5
POR +2.6
UTAH +2.2
MIN +2.1
LAC +0.8
MEM +0.4
HOU -0.4

By current point diff, Utah is the seventh seed, we're the eighth, and the Clips just barely miss out while still possessing a positive point differential. Phoenix is on the outside looking in with a -2.6 while Memphis and Houston both have a good chance of screwing this all up with a current 0.4 and -0.4, respectively. Admittedly, we're only 15 games into the season so there's not that much data to go off here.

Want more statistical probability hocus pocus? Okey dokey.
Arturo predicts the Jazz finishing eighth in the Western Conference and the Wolves finishing ninth.

Arturo's model does not account for injury, player development and team chemistry, but it does attempt to account for elevation, rest, strength of schedule, homecourt advantage, and current point margin. And it's in these factors Denver and Utah have an edge over other teams. According to Arturo's number crunching, both teams on account of rest and elevation, get an additional four wins for homecourt advantage. They also receive an advantage for strength of schedule, or lack thereof. So what? So...if Utah is currently over-performing and bound to come back down to earth, it can only come back down to earth so far (darn high elevation). Their W/L record has 'em sitting pretty in the number two seat in the west. Barring any unfortunate injury, at this current pace Utah will make the playoffs. At a slightly slower pace, Utah will still make the playoffs.

Like I said, Arturo's model does not account for injuries, team chemistry, or player development (how can it?). Our Wolves are the only western conference team to have a positive point differential and a losing record, which should mean we're better than our record. But are we good enough for the playoffs?

Right now, we are the eighth-ranked team in the West by point differential and eleventh by W/L record. Most observers (to be fair, obsessed fans) believe a trade will occur this season to balance the roster while Rubio continues to develop, Williams gets more playing time and develops, JJ recovers while playing, and Webster, Beasley, Lee, and Brad Miller return from injury. We are a young team with a new coach with four players about to return from injury (and one who just returned from injury). The future is undoubtedly brighter than the past. It is not unreasonable to believe we will play better after the All-Star break. Howver, it's not unreasonable to believe the same about the Clippers (or the Griz or the Rockets, but I discount the Griz because I think their chemistry is ruined and Randolph is dropping off, and I discount the Rockets because they are cursed with Flynn, Thabeet, McHale, and the ghost of Adelman).

There's a very good chance the Jazz end up in the playoffs, which means the draft pick we acquired from them will be #15 or higher (right now, it would be #21 -- their pick is protected so we want them to make the playoffs). There's a decent, outside chance we make the playoffs, which means the draft pick the Hornets acquired from the Clippers from us would not be a lottery pick, but instead #15 or higher (right now, #12 pick with potential for lottery dash to the top. This pick is unprotected so just out of sheer spite and not wanting to see someone else benefit from our crappiness, we want to make the playoffs). [N.B. -- My understanding of how these protected and unprotected repeatedly traded draft picks work year by year is shaky at best. If I got my facts wrong or if it requires further illumination, please correct my errors in the comments below. Thanks!] There's even a chance both the Jazz and the Wolves are in the playoffs, but that would mean the Clippers don't make the playoffs or one of the other teams currently seeded -- which all have solid records and strong avg point diffs -- completely falls off. I'm not a stats whore nor am I entirely crazy -- the Clips not making the playoffs while the Wolves do seems to be a very unlikely scenario. Either or, it's obvious there will be plenty of competition for those final two spots and our Wolves will be a contender this year.

What if we're fighting Utah for that final spot? Do we tank to give Utah the spot and thus obtain their draft pick, although at the same time it bequests a lottery pick to the Hornets? Do we fight for that final playoff spot even if it means bumping out the Jazz and losing that draft pick for this year?
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