In the wake of a chaotic trade deadline day in the NBA, let's look at the crowded race for the bottom four seeds in the Western Conference playoffs. With the top four seeds — San Antonio, Dallas, L.A. Lakers, Oklahoma City, in some order — seemingly locked up and with three teams — L.A. Clippers, Sacramento, Minnesota — too far back, there seem to be eight teams competing for four spots. How it might shake out:
5. New Orleans Hornets 34-25 14 games back
What They Did: Traded Marcus Thornton to the Sacramento Kings for Carl Landry.
What it Means: They essentially exchanged a high-level reserve guard for a high-level reserve forward. Given the injury concerns with starting center Emeka Okafor and the lack of quality frontcourt depth, this was probably a good deal for the Hornets. New Orleans has had a very erratic season so far and are hard to predict, but as long as Chris Paul stays healthy the rest of the way, they might be hard to catch. I like New Orleans for the 6th seed. Home/Road splits remaining: 12/11.
6. Denver Nuggets 34-25 14 games back
What They Did: They traded Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks for half the Knicks roster. You probably heard about it.
What it Means: The Nuggets have looked great in two games since the Melo trade, notching double-digit wins against both the Grizzlies and Boston Celtics. But do we need to put an asterisk next to those games? For starters, both were in Denver, where the Nuggets have been unusually good, with the league's fourth best home record (24-7). The Grizzlies game felt like a "Home Alone" game, with the Nuggets relieved to finally be past the on-going Melodrama and eager to prove they could win without him. The Boston game came against a Celtics team emotionally reeling from the unexpected trade of center Kendrick Perkins just hours earlier. The Nuggets might look a little different once things settle down, and a slightly road-heavy schedule won't help. But this is still a deep, talented, well-coached team. I'm guessing the race between Denver and Memphis could come down to tiebreaker the Nuggets won by taking the season-series. So, I like Denver for 7th. Home/Road splits remaining: 10/13
7. Portland Trailblazers 32-25 15 games back
What They Did: Dealt Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks and two first-round picks to the Charlotte Bobcats for Gerald Wallace.
What it Means: For a while, it looked like Portland would be a seller at the deadline, but a big winning streak before the all-star break turned them into buyers. They're not super deep and can't depend on former star Brandon Roy, but adding Wallace to a core of Andre Miller-LaMarcus Aldridge-Wesley Matthews-Nicholas Batum, while presumably getting back Marcus Camby, gives Portland a nice top six at the disposal of a terrific coach. Add in a relatively home-heavy schedule, and I think the Blazers might be tough to catch. There are questions about fit — Wallace is an open-court player and the Blazers are a slow-down team — and the injury history of both Wallace and Camby, but if they stay healthy, I like Portland for the fifth seed. Home/Road splits remaining: 14/11
8. Memphis Grizzlies 32-27 16 games back
What They Did: We all know what the Grizzlies did and, um, didn't do.
What it Means: I wrote quite a bit about that here, but as long as the failed Mayo deal doesn't blow up on the team, this makes the Grizzlies a little deeper and a little more talented, and adds experience, shooting, and more on-court intelligence. They've more than made up for what they lost defensively when Rudy Gay went down, but the lack of shot-creation on the roster could be a big problem in the stretch run. The Grizzlies are helped by having the most home-heavy remaining schedule among the middle-of-the-pack West contenders. I see a three-team race for two spots with the Nuggets and Suns and think a home-heavy late schedule and Nuggets cooling down will make it close, but that the Grizzlies will ultimately hold steady in 8th place. Home/Road splits remaining: 14/9
9. Utah Jazz 31-27 16.5 games back
What They Did: Traded Deron Williams to New Jersey for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, and two first-round draft picks.
What it Means: This was a pre-emptive move geared toward the future. The Jazz got decent return for its franchise player, but those picks won't help them over the next two months and Favors and Harris certainly weren't difference makers in New Jersey. The Jazz were on a downward trend even before their recent coaching change and they haven't won since. Nothing about this deal seems likely to reverse that. I think the Jazz slip out of the hunt. Home/Road splits remaining: 11/13
10. Phoenix Suns 28-27 18 games back
What They Did: Traded Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to Houston for Aaron Brooks.
What it Means: Brooks was having a bad year but was a quality starter for Houston a year ago. He should be something of an upgrade over Dragic in the near term as Steve Nash's backup. But this team seems pointed toward a bigger make-over this summer. The Suns have been more resilient than I expected and still have a brilliant point guard and good depth. I think they're competing with Denver and Memphis for the 7th and 8th spots, but I think their road-heavy schedule holds them back, landing them in 9th place. Home/Road splits remaining: 11/16
11. Houston Rockets 28-31 20 games back
What They Did: In addition to the deal with the Grizzlies, the Rockets sent Aaron Brooks to the Phoenix Suns for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick.
What it Means: After failing to package multiple assets in a big-score trade, the Rockets swung in the other direction, moving two free-agents-to-be for a pair of picks and a pair of prospects — more assets to attempt to aggregate in a future deal. The Rockets still have talent and will still be trying to win games, but these moves were geared toward the future and four games back from the eighth seed, Houston looks likely to fade. Home/Road splits remaining: 13/10.
12. Golden State Warriors 26-30 20.5 games back
What They Did: Dealt Dan Gadzuric and Brandan Wright to the Nets for Troy Murphy and a second-round pick in 2012.
What it Means: Murphy is a buyout candidate and this is a minor deal to move unwanted pieces for a pick. The Warriors are too far back, too weak up front, and have too road-heavy a schedule to push themselves into the mix. Home/Road splits remaining: 10/16