With less than a month left in the regular season, the race for first place in the Western Conference is far from over and might not be decided until each team has played all 82 of its games.

The Oklahoma City Thunder currently lead the pack as their ongoing four-game winning streak has pushed up their record on the season to 49-20. The Thunder are peaking at the right time as they have gradually rounded into form over the course of the season. Their first taste of first place this season came only last January 27 and it only lasted for a day.

Since then, they have gone 17-7, including 12-3 following last month’s All-Star break, to regain control of the top seed at various times this month. They alternated possession of first place in the West with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets this March up until last week when they regained control of it.

Oklahoma City has managed to hold on since then, thanks in large part to the consistent play of NBA Most Valuable Player candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Rookie of the Year contender Chet Holmgren.


However, the Nuggets remain right behind the Thunder and trail by only 0.5 games with a 49-21 slate. These two teams have actually had similar records since February 16 as both have won 16 of their 21 games. Reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic remains as dominant as ever and his recent form has pushed Denver back into this hunt for the top spot.

Denver briefly took over first place in the West for five days last week, but their 107-105 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Kyrie Irving’s buzzer-beating shot pushed them back to second place.

The third team in this race, Minnesota, have fallen off recently, but their strong form over the first three months of the season has given them enough margin for error to remain in contention. The Timberwolves actually have the worst record since January 1 among these three teams, yet the fact that they remain close enough is a testament to how well they played early on in this campaign.

Recent injuries, particularly to four-time NBA All-Star forward Karl-Anthony Towns, have been the major reason for the dip in their play, yet they are still only 1.5 games back of Oklahoma City with 12 games left on their schedule. A pair of back-to-back losses earlier this month cost Minnesota the top seed that they had held for most of this season, though they have slowly rediscovered their form with three wins over their last four outings.

With a little over three weeks left in the regular season, this battle for first place will be a crucial one to monitor, not only for the teams involved, but for those lower seeded teams that will face them in the first round as well. The Nuggets and Timberwolves still have two games against one another left on their schedule while Oklahoma City has already wrapped up its season series with both of these teams. Those match-ups will be especially crucial and may ultimately be the deciding factor on who enters the West playoffs with guaranteed home court advantage over the first three playoff rounds.