West playoffs: Five for fighting

Eight games, five teams, three spots.

The Western Conference playoff chase hasn't disappointed us, as for more than half the season 13 teams retained a realistic probability of making the postseason. The field has since withered to 10, as the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers excused themselves at the trade deadline while the Minnesota Timberwolves were ravaged by injuries.

And now we're getting to the most crucial spot: A five-game stretch in which Houston is playing each of the other four contenders, starting with Wednesday's home loss to Utah and featuring a home-and-home with Denver, a visit to Dallas and Friday night's nationally televised home game against Phoenix. Additionally, Utah plays Dallas on Monday; that's six crucial games in less than a week.