Getty Images

The calendar has flipped to March, which means there is only a month and a half until the end of the regular season on April 14. While the Boston Celtics are running away with the Eastern Conference, the race for the top spot in the Western Conference looks likely to be a photo finish. 

Here's a quick refresh of where things stand entering Friday night's slate of games:

SeedTeamWinsLossesWin %Games Back

























The Clippers have lost three of their four games since the All-Star break to fall behind the rest of the pack and are in trouble when it comes to potential tiebreakers, so this may end up being a three-team race down the stretch. As it stands, the Timberwolves hold a narrow lead over both the Thunder and the defending champion Nuggets, but just 1.5 games separate those three contenders.

Here's how the four teams have fared against each other this season:


  • vs. Thunder: 2-2, no games remaining
  • vs. Nuggets: 1-0, three games remaining
  • vs. Clippers: 2-0, two games remaining


  • vs. Timberwolves: 2-2, no games remaining
  • vs. Nuggets: 3-1, no games remaining
  • vs. Clippers: 2-1, no games remaining


  • vs. Timberwolves: 0-1, three games remaining
  • vs. Thunder: 1-3, no games remaining
  • vs. Clippers: 2-1, one game remaining


  • vs. Timberwolves: 0-2, two games remaining
  • vs. Thunder: 1-2, no games remaining
  • vs. Nuggets: 1-2, one game remaining

As the action continues, here's who our experts think will finish with the No. 1 seed in the West. 

Jack Maloney: Denver Nuggets

This is extremely difficult to call at the moment, but after much deliberation, I'm going with the defending champions. First and foremost, I think the Nuggets are the best team out of this bunch and have the best player in the world in Nikola Jokic. And while they are currently in third, a 1.5-game deficit is certainly possible to make up in six weeks, especially with three games remaining against the Timberwolves. 

Furthermore, it appears the Nuggets are ready to kick into gear after spending much of the season in cruise control. They are 5-0 since the All-Star break with an average margin of victory of 15.6 points, and Jokic has been on a historic run that's seen him record a triple-double in four of those games.

I'm not going to overthink it. Give me the best team.

Colin Ward-Henninger: Minnesota Timberwolves

Do the Wolves have a penchant for losing their minds offensively in the final five minutes of close games? Guilty. But, you know what? They don't get to that point very often because of their utterly dominant defense. Minnesota has only played in 25 clutch games this season (within five points with five minutes left), which is 22nd in the league. Their less-than-inspiring minus-seven net rating in those clutch minutes could be a real problem come playoff time, but we're not talking about that right now.

For the regular season, Minnesota's elite defense (nearly three full points per 100 possessions better than the closest competitor) paired with two legitimate No. 1 offensive options in Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns will win a whole lot of games. Also, keep in mind that Minnesota has the Western Conference's best record against teams over .500, meaning that any uptick in strength of schedule shouldn't be a huge problem. The Nuggets could lack motivation to fight for the top seed, while the Wolves will be going hard to prove that they're a legitimate contender. That should be enough for Minnesota to finish on top.

Jasmyn Wimbish: Denver Nuggets

I'm going to opt for a pseudo-scientific approach and base this decision not only on who I think is the best of the top three teams in the West but also on the strength of schedule down the stretch of the regular season. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves have the ninth-toughest schedule remaining, with – as Jack mentioned – three matchups against the Nuggets, as well as two meetings with the Clippers and Suns apiece still on the horizon. The Thunder's remaining schedule is about league average at 15th, while the Nuggets clock in at 18th. Obviously, the Nuggets still have to face the Wolves, and they have a game against the Celtics, Clippers and two facing the Suns as some of their toughest matchups. Still, they also have three remaining games against the Spurs, two against the Grizzlies, two against the Jazz, and a matchup with the Trail Blazers.

I also just have more faith in Denver to pull out tough wins compared to an OKC team that just lost to the Spurs and a Minnesota team that can get stagnant offensively, which sometimes causes them to rely too heavily upon their defense to win games.

James Herbert: Oklahoma City Thunder

This will be close, and for the teams at the top of the standings, strength of schedule can't be the determining factor because the numbers are too similar. When in doubt, I'll take the most balanced team and the one with the best point differential. That's Oklahoma City.

Nothing about the Thunder suggests that they'll struggle down the stretch, and I like that they A) don't have to face either the Timberwolves or Nuggets again and B) already have the tiebreaker against Denver. (OKC and Minnesota split their season series, so a two-way tie between them would be determined by division record.)