Which team will be No. 8? 

The NBA season isn’t yet half over, but the Western Conference playoff picture already is coming into focus.

The good news for the Warriors is that they’re a factor. The bad news is that it’s going to be tough for them to break through and end their 12-year playoff drought.

Seven teams appear to be postseason locks — Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Utah, Denver and the Lakers — leaving one precious spot open.

Let’s handicap the final spot.

» Warriors (Odds: 4-to-1): The Warriors have been banged-up a little bit this season but are still hovering around .500. That’s going to keep them in the thick of things, but it’s not going to be enough to get them over the hump.

At some point, if the Warriors are to make a playoff push, they’re going to have to win some games on the road, something they have yet to prove they can do with any consistency. And, knock on wood, Baron Davis, who has been a virtual iron man, has to stay healthy.

» Clippers (Odds: 3-to-2): Of all the Western Conference teams vying for the eighth seed, the Los Angeles Clippers are most poised to take it. The uncertainty regarding Corey Maggette, who wants to be traded, appeared to be holding the Clippers back, but coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. always has had an ability to keep his players on the same page.

With Sam Cassell returning from a foot injury and Elton Brand getting back to All-Star form, the Clippers are my early January favorite to claim the spot.

» Timberwolves (Odds: 3-to-1): Kevin Garnett was supposed to have demanded a trade by now. But with the Timberwolves two games above .500, Garnett is still very much into things in Minny. And that means the Timberwolves are in it.

» Kings (Odds: 10-to-1): The Kings are barely holding on these days. Coach Eric Musselman tried to establish a defensive tone early this season, but it didn’t take long for him to figure out he doesn’t really have the personnel to do that.

What’s also killing the Kings is that their home court ain’t what it used to be. Sacramento was just 10-9 at Arco Arena heading into Wednesday’s action (compare that to the Warriors’ 14-5).

» Hornets (Odds: 100-to-1): A season that began with promise has turned into a shambles. Peja Stojakovic may be done for the season. David West has missed most of the season. Chris Paul is out now and will be for a few more weeks. Bobby Jackson has mostly been out. New Orleans is the only team in the NBA that can rightfully use the injury excuse.

For the foreseeable future, Devin Brown and Marc Jackson will be in the Hornets’ starting lineup. Enough said.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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