by Adi Joseph, USA TODAY Sports
As the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz battle for the final realistically available NBA playoff berth, the rest of the league’s attention turns to seeding battles.
USA TODAY Sports breaks down five of the most compelling seeding battles to watch for over the next two weeks (records through Friday):
Western Conference No. 1
Contenders: San Antonio Spurs (56-20), Oklahoma City Thunder (55-20)
Breakdown: These teams split their regular season games, but the Thunder won the latest and have more momentum moving forward. The Spurs are without Manu Ginobili as they enter their final six games, which include trips to three winning opponents. The Thunder’s schedule is even more challenging, though. They also play at three winning opponents, but they tack on an extra road game and two more playoff-bound teams at home.
Why it’s important: Home-court advantage could be essential if these teams meet in the conference finals. The home team won all four regular-season games between these teams.
Who wins it? The pick has to be the Thunder because of how the Spurs have played lately.
Eastern Conference No. 2
Contenders: New York Knicks (48-26), Indiana Pacers (48-27)
Breakdown: Playing well won’t be an issue: The Knicks have won 10 in a row, the Pacers five. Their schedules the rest of the way are similar, with four more home games and four more winning opponents for each. Both play the Oklahoma City Thunder this weekend. The deciding game likely will be April 14, when the Pacers head to Madison Square Garden tof ace the Knicks.
Why it’s important: These teams are the only real threats to the Miami Heat in the East, and they could meet in the second round. Home-court advantage is key.
Who wins it? With their big meeting coming in New York, the Knicks are the favorite.
Western Conference No. 3
Contenders: Denver Nuggets (52-24), Los Angeles Clippers (50-26), Memphis Grizzlies (51-24)
Breakdown: The Clippers have a big advantage because they will win the Pacific Division, giving them the tiebreaker on the Nuggets and Grizzlies. But Denver has a nice advantage with five games at home, where they have been dominant. The Clippers and Grizzlies each … [For more on NBA playoffs: Seeding wars take hold of league, click here.]