From the outside, these three teams couldn't look any more different. Their stars are Kobe, Dirk, and Al Jefferson. Their owners are Mark Cuban, the Buss family, and Larry Miller. The Lakers and Mavs love to run, while the Jazz prefer a half-court game.
But one thing's the same: they're fighting for that eighth spot in the NBA Western Conference.
Which one will get there? Luckily, you're at the right place. Through advanced statistical modeling, we have determined each team's odds of a playoff birth in the games they have remaining. These projections assign odds to every possible outcome. Yes, it's unlikely that the Mavericks will win every game down the stretch, but it can happen, and that's what we've reflected here.
We'll revisit these odds every couple of days, but if you want the most up-to-date information, make sure to check out our team power rankings, with playoff odds updated down the stretch.
And looking at today's odds, that Nuggets loss was the worst thing that could have possibly happened to Utah. Even without the tiebreaker in their back pocket, the Lakers are now in the driver's seat for a playoff birth.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Playoff Odds - 61.1 percent
After taking down the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, the Lakers are now back in the driver's seat after winning two straight. The key to this victory came from a slightly unexpected place: the offensive rebounding sector. Spurred by Earl Clark and Pau Gasol's five offensive boards a piece, the Lakers collected 39.6 percent of available rebounds on the offensive end. That's 12.4 percent higher than their season average.
Up Next - Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies aren't exactly chopped liver: their 100.8 points allowed per 100 possessions pegs them as the second-most efficient offense in the NBA this season. The problem is, they often can't match that output with their own scoring. Memphis' .474 offensive effective field goal percentage (eFG%) ranks 26th in the NBA. That also neutralizes one of the Lakers' biggest weaknesses, their 16th-ranked defensive eFG%. Especially at home, this one is exceptionally winnable for L.A.
In the Future
The Lakers may just have to go 3-1 over the next week to be able to breathe easily going into the Rockets/Spurs games to end the season. However, that will be easier said than done, since two of their four opponents rank higher than their current ninth-place spot in our nERD standings. You know about the No. 8 Grizzlies in their way, but the No. 4 Clippers may be the real test on Sunday. The Clippers are fourth in the NBA with 110.4 points per 100 possessions, a terrible matchup for purple-and-gold's No. 19 offense.
The Playoff Odds - 37.7 percent
That one hurts. If Utah wins that game last night against Denver, then they're sitting pretty with 59.8 percent odds of making the playoffs and even an outside shot (seven percent) at the seven seed. After dropping that one, though, the Lakers take over as the presumptive number eight seed. The Jazz now only hold a two percent chance at the seven seed as well: their only hope lies in (likely) playing the winner of tonight's San Antonio/Oklahoma City match.
Up Next - New Orleans Hornets
This game falls squarely in the must-win category for the Jazz. They won't get many games easier than the No. 24 team in our current power rankings. However, the Hornets do hold a relative strength on offense: their 106.0 points scored in 100 possessions ranks 14th in the NBA. That will be tough for the Jazz, who allow a 21st-best 107.4 points per 100 possessions themselves, to hold off. Of course, New Orleans' third-to-last defensive rating may help them a bit...
In the Future
Want to talk about brutal? Past that New Orleans game, you've got numberFire's No. 1 team (OKC), our No. 8 team (Memphis), our No. 12 team (Golden State), and two games against a surprisingly strong No. 19 Minnesota squad that looks much better than their record with Ricky Rubio's play. Remember, the Jazz are only No. 17 in terms of team efficiency themselves. They may be only half a game behind the Lakers, but with that schedule, it might as well be an ocean.
The Playoff Odds - 2.1 percent
Here's what most people who are reading the "Lakers v. Jazz v. Mavericks" stories on national media don't realize: the Mavericks are actually holding on for dear life. Sitting 2.5 games behind the Lakers with only eight games to go, the Mavericks would realistically need to finish with a 6-2 record or better to even have a shot. After losing to the Lakers on Tuesday, the Mavs no longer hold the tiebreaker in that season series (Lakers won 3-1). That means that even if the Mavs went 6-2 the rest of the way, the Lakers would need to go 2-5 or worse to give up the playoff birth.
Up Next - Denver Nuggets
The straw that broke the camel's back? The Nuggets sit sixth on our power rankings, especially by virtue of their fifth-ranked offensive rating. The Nuggets both score more points per possession and allow fewer points per possession than Dallas this season, making them extremely statistically likely to take this game. In fact, the only place where the Mavericks hold a distinct edge is defensive rebounding percentage, where Dallas only sits 14th but Denver is all the way down in 27th.
In the Future
The good news is that if Dallas can squeak one out in Denver tonight, then the rest of schedule actually shapes up pretty well. Only two of their future opponents are outside of numberFire's bottom eight NBA teams, and both of those opponents (Memphis and Denver again) will be played at home. Maybe that 6-2 record isn't looking so impossible after all...