Before the Golden State Warriors played their Northern California neighbors, the Sacramento Kings, here at the recently opened Golden 1 Center, Warriors Coach Steve Kerr was asked for his thoughts on the fact that no team at the bottom of the Western Conference has established itself as the clear favorite for the eighth and final playoff spot - and, along with it, a presumptive matchup with the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
"I really haven't paid much attention to it," Kerr said. "That was my old job, to analyze the rest of the league. My new job is analyzing our team, and our next opponent."
Frankly, it's hard to see why Kerr and the Warriors would have any other approach to the situation. After the Warriors beat the Kings by the score of 117-106 Sunday night, the two teams currently tied for eighth in the West - the Kings and Portland Trail Blazers - sit at 15-22 and 16-23, respectively, leaving them on pace to win all of 33 games this season. The Warriors, meanwhile, are on pace to win 69.
Think about that: a first round series in the Western Conference playoffs could feature one team with more than twice as many wins as the other. Talk about times changing in a conference where, only three years ago, the Phoenix Suns won 48 games and didn't even make the playoffs.
It's a new day out West, where stunningly the bottom eight teams in the conference are currently all separated by four losses - meaning that truly every team has a chance to still get into the playoffs.
For some teams, like the Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves, it allows for a chance to potentially exonerate themselves after disappointing starts to their respective seasons. For others, like the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, young teams suddenly have a chance outperform expectations - even if that chance exists solely because of the incompetence of the teams around them.
Practically every team in this mix has had at least one disastrous slide this season. Denver has currently lost five games in a row. The Lakers were at one point 10-10, only to then lose 14 of their next 16 games before a recent two-game win streak. Portland has lost 13 of 17 games after a 12-10 start.
Then there are teams like the Dallas Mavericks, which got off to a 2-13 start, and Minnesota, which was expected to take a leap this season but instead has fallen flat on its face, hoping that one hot streak can launch them right back into the eighth spot.
"I think it's just the ebb and flow of the season," Kings Coach Dave Joerger said before Sunday's loss. Certainly I think Minnesota would have been picked to be in that spot, they're struggling a little bit. New Orleans is coming on a little bit, and Dallas had a lot of injuries early. Some of these teams may not, in the preseason, have even been thought for the eighth spot. So it's exciting."
It's exciting for teams like the Kings, who would desperately love to extend their inaugural season in their new arena into the playoffs, or a team like the Nuggets trying to get a team full of young players some playoff experience.
But for everyone else, it's somewhere between confusing and embarrassing. Portland, for example, didn't hand out gobs of money to players this summer to fall from the second round of the playoffs and to missing the postseason entirely. Same goes for New Orleans, where everyone involved with the Pelicans could be in jeopardy if they don't make the playoffs this season.
With all 15 teams in the West having a realistic shot at a playoff spot, the impact will be trickle down to the trade market.
For example, there has been talk that the Nuggets are interested in getting Paul Millsap from the Atlanta Hawks. Such a move would likely make Denver the favorites to grab the eighth spot, but would giving up assets for an older player on an expiring deal make sense only to face the Warriors in Round 1? Meanwhile, teams like Dallas, Phoenix and Sacramento all have players on expiring contracts they should be auctioning off, trying and recoup some assets. Instead they could end up hanging onto them to make a run at a playoff spot they're awful play should have made an impossibility.
As it stands, it does not appear that any of these teams will suddenly and rapidly improve. But one of them will stumble its way into the eighth seed, if only because the NBA doesn't award its top teams a first-round bye. Then again, given the projected record disparity between the Warriors and whoever they wind up facing, it might as well be a bye anyway.