Earning the right to play the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs is a losing proposition. The reigning champs are perhaps the best team ever and Gregg Popovich’s club isn’t far behind them. Not only does a clash between the Warriors and Spurs in the Western Conference Finals seem imminent, but the winner of that series will be a prohibitive favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy two weeks later.
But don’t tell that to the Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, or Houston Rockets. With the regular season on its last legs, that trio is duking it out for the chance to face Golden State or San Antonio when the playoffs finally tip off on April 16 – and it all comes down to the next three nights after 80 games and almost six months of play.
Who will emerge from the crowd? We outline the scenarios of each ultimately doomed playoff hopeful below hours before the league’s pivotal final Monday of the regular season.