Sizing up the West playoff race

Could a 50-win team fail to make the playoffs for the first time in NBA history?

Updated: March 28, 2014, 1:05 PM ET
By Tom Haberstroh | ESPN Insider

SunsJennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsDespite having a record that would make it the 3-seed in the East, Phoenix might be lottery-bound.

What are 50 wins good for?

This season, it might only be worth a lottery ticket.

As we head into the final stretch of the regular season, the spotlight focuses on five teams fighting for the last four spots in the Western Conference. At the end of the wild, wild West shootout, there's a distinct possibility that one of the Western Conference bubble teams -- whether it's Golden State, Portland, Memphis, Dallas or Phoenix -- will become the first squad in NBA history to finish as a 50-win lottery team.

Mind you, 50 wins this season would probably get you a No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. And get this: In 2002-03, 50 wins got the Detroit Pistons a No. 1 seed in the East. Yes, the No. 1 overall seed.

But in the West this season? It might not even be good for a playoff spot.

The current field


We can punch the ticket for the San Antonio Spurs (55-16), who already have clinched a playoff spot with 11 games to go. We can safely do the same for the Oklahoma City Thunder (52-19), Los Angeles Clippers (51-22) and Houston Rockets (49-22). Those four are in. But the other five are separated by just 2½ games in the standings.

Right now, the Phoenix Suns look like the odd-squad out. According to Hollinger Playoff Odds, they have a 54.6 percent chance of making the playoffs with an expected record of 48-34. Those are the longest odds of the playoff-chasing quintet. After losing to the Clippers on Thursday night, the Dallas Mavericks also are projected to finish 48-34, but there's a greater probability that they finish higher than Phoenix.

A total of 48 wins for a lottery team would tie the modern record. The current record-holder for the winningest lottery team? That dubious honor belongs to the incomparable 2007-08 Golden State Warriors, who were led by Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis, each of whom averaged 20-plus points per game that season. Yes, Ellis, who's fighting for a playoff spot with Dallas, could find himself on the two unluckiest 48-win teams in NBA history.

But so far, no team in the modern era (since the playoff field expanded to 16 in 1984) has won as many as 49 or 50 games and missed the playoffs. This season, there's a solid chance that happens.