Commentary

PER Diem: April 14, 2009

The West playoff picture is still fuzzy, but here are the most likely scenarios

Updated: April 15, 2009, 1:26 AM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Williams/KobeNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesDeron Williams and the Jazz will face Kobe and the Lakers in the first round.

If the West seems a little confusing right now, that's because it is -- but fear not, we're here to help.

Fortunately, there are fewer different permutations of playoff matchups than it first appears, as six of the seven teams who can change positions play their final game in head-to-head battles against each other. On Wednesday night, Denver plays at Portland, Houston visits Dallas, and San Antonio hosts New Orleans to close out the regular season; additionally, the Jazz visited the Lakers Tuesday night.

I've included a handy chart at the bottom that lets you follow along on Wednesday to determine who ends up with what seed, but let's present a couple of scenarios and walk you through them. It turns out there are only five combinations that matter, and I'll present them in order of likelihood:

SCENARIO 1

San Antonio wins and Houston loses: This is the most likely scenario, given that San Antonio is at home and Houston isn't, but even then "most likely" means only about a 2-in-5 chance of actually happening.

If it comes to fruition, San Antonio wins the Southwest Division and the Denver-Portland game is relevant only toward determining home court in a Blazers-Rockets series.

The seedings in this scenario would be:

(1) L.A. Lakers vs. (8) Utah
(2) Denver vs. (7) New Orleans
(3) San Antonio vs. (6) Dallas
(4) Portland vs. (5) Houston if Portland wins
or
(4) Houston vs. (5) Portland if Portland loses

SCENARIO 2

Portland wins and Houston wins: In this case, it's San Antonio's game that becomes irrelevant, except for how the Hornets' result from the same game impacts seeding at the bottom half of the conference race.

Houston would move up to No. 2, Denver would drop to third, and the Blazers would host San Antonio; it all has about a 1-in-3 shot of happening.

The seedings in this scenario would be:

(1) L.A. Lakers vs. (8) Utah
(2) Houston vs. (7) Dallas or New Orleans
(3) Denver vs. (6) Dallas or New Orleans
(4) Portland vs. (5) San Antonio

SCENARIO 3

San Antonio wins, Houston wins and Portland loses: In this case, Houston wins the division and Portland goes on the road to start the playoffs; this one requires two road teams to win and has about a 1-in-9 chance of happening.

The seedings in this scenario would be:

(1) L.A. Lakers vs. (8) Utah
(2) Denver vs. (7) Dallas
(3) Houston vs. (6) New Orleans
(4) San Antonio vs. (5) Portland

SCENARIO 4

Portland loses and San Antonio loses: Both teams are favored and at home, so I estimate this scenario has only about a 1-in-10 chance.

If it happens, the Rockets would back into a division title and the No. 3 seed regardless of their result, while Portland would draw San Antonio and home-court advantage.

Depending on the results from the Houston game, the pairings in this scenario would be:

(1) L.A. Lakers vs. (8) Utah
(2) Denver vs. (7) Dallas
(3) Houston vs. (6) New Orleans
(4) Portland vs. (5) San Antonio

SCENARIO 5

Portland wins, Houston loses and San Antonio loses: This is the only way the Blazers can leapfrog to No. 3 in the West and face New Orleans -- in every other scenario they play Houston or San Antonio in the 4-5 matchup. There's only about a 1-in-12 chance it happens.

Regardless of what Utah does, the pairings in this scenario would be:

(1) L.A. Lakers vs. (8) Utah
(2) Denver vs. (7) Dallas
(3) Portland vs. (6) New Orleans
(4) Houston vs. (5) San Antonio

Here are the main tenets to keep in mind:

• Portland is almost certainly locked into the 4-5 matchup.

• Houston has about equal odds of finishing at any spot from 2 to 5.
• San Antonio will probably be either third or fifth.

And now, here's that handy chart I promised. Up top shows who among Portland, Houston and San Antonio won (P is for Portland, H is for Houston, SA is for San Antonio); the columns below show the seeding.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.