It looks like the race for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs will go down to the last day. Only a couple games separate seeds 8-13. This is how I think the final standings will look:
13. Sacramento Kings (1-4 in the bubble):
- Remaining Games: Houston, New Orleans, LA Lakers
- Currently: The Kings have De’Aaron Fox and some nice young shooters in Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield. They showed how deadly the Fox/Bogdanovic combo can be with a huge win over New Orleans but the rest of the roster lacks firepower. They’re missing Marvin Bagley but their real issue has been their defense. With losses to San Antonio, Orlando, Dallas and Brooklyn; the Kings have been relegated to playing the spoiler role.
- Looking Forward: The Kings could end up being a huge thorn in the side of the New Orleans Pelicans. Sacramento dominated Zion and co. on Thursday and another win against them would essentially sink the Pelican’s playoff hopes.
12. New Orleans Pelicans (2-3 in the bubble):
- Remaining Games: San Antonio, Sacramento and Orlando
- Currently: The Pelicans have shown their inexperience during their bubble games. They lost a winnable game to Utah and despite a big win against the Grizzlies they squandered a huge opportunity by losing to Sacramento. Their win against Washington kept them in it but at this point, there is too much ground to make up.
- Looking forward: The Pelicans have a ton of talent. Zion has looked better each game (aside from conditioning issues); Brandon Ingram has continued his strong season and the rest of the roster appears hungry. It’s not inconceivable for them to finish strong with games against San Antonio, Sacramento and Orlando. The Spurs will be their biggest game of the season. Perhaps the Pelicans will have learned from their mistakes and beat the Spurs. In my opinion though, the Pelicans aren’t quite ready to make that leap.
11. Phoenix Suns (4-0 in the bubble):
- Remaining Games: Miami, OKC, Philadelphia and Dallas.
- Currently: The Suns have been the most impressive team of the NBA restart. “Bubble Booker” is averaging 28 ppg and looks like a stone cold assassin. He’s hitting huge shots all over the court and making the right reads when the double teams do come. The suns seem to be peaking at the right time with Ayton, Bridges and Cam Johnson following Booker’s lead as they attempt to shake things up. They’ve got thrilling wins over the Pacers, Clippers and Mavericks and they’re the hottest team in the bubble right now.
- Looking Forward: This string of wins should have Suns fans ecstatic. The Suns drew a hard schedule but they are making the best of it. Unfortunately, I don’t see it continuing. Miami and OKC will both be tough games whether or not they decide to rest their players. Philly and Dallas can be had but even with a 6-2 record in the bubble, I don’t see the Suns creeping past Memphis or Portland.
10. San Antonio Spurs (3-2 in the bubble):
- Remaining Games: New Orleans, Houston and Utah
- Currently: The Spurs have completely reinvented themselves in the bubble. They’re playing without Lamarcus Aldridge and they’ve moved Demar Derozan to power forward. The Spurs forced their way into the conversation with wins over Sacramento and Memphis and they’re dangerous in that they’re unpredictable with how they’re playing right now.
- Looking Forward: The Spurs have a real shot at making the play-in game but I think they ultimately fall short. They have to beat Utah again and New Orleans game will be critical. Houston is a game that will make or break their season and I’m not sure the Spurs have the firepower to gut out that win. The Spurs are definitely a feel-good story though and I’d love to see them prove me wrong and make it into the play-in game.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (1-4 in the bubble):
- Remaining Games: Toronto, Boston and Milwaukee
- Currently: The NBA restart has been Memphis’ darkest timeline thus far. With losses to Portland, San Antonio, New Orleans and Utah; they’ve set themselves up for failure. Add in Jaren Jackson Jr’s injury and the Grizzlies are in a tailspin that will be difficult to pull out of. Ja Morant and co. got a huge win over the OKC Thunder though and fortunately, that may be enough to keep them in the race. The Grizzlies are full of young talent like Morant, Brandon Clarke and Dillon Brooks and have a good mixture of veterans to steady them. All is not lost despite the terrible restart.
- Looking Forward: The Grizzlies still have a tough road forward but I think their lead is going to end up holding. The win against the Thunder put them back in the driver’s seat. With games against the top three Eastern Conference teams coming up, it’ll be tough to avoid being overtaken by the next team in my rankings. I predict they lose their 8th seed but they will still have a chance to play for it.
8. Portland Trailblazers (3-1 in the bubble):
- Remaining Games: LA Clippers, Philadelphia, Dallas and Brooklyn
- Currently: The Blazers have been red hot. They started off with a huge win over the Grizzlies but followed that up with a tough loss against Boston. Most recently though, they’ve got two wins over Houston and Denver and are now breathing down Memphis’ neck. The Blazers have a ton of talent and getting Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back into the fold has turned them into a different team. Carmelo Anthony is hitting big shots, Cj McCollum has been steady and Gary Trent Jr. has emerged as a quality role player. Nobody has played as well as their fearless leader though. Damian Lillard is averaging an insane 30 ppg with 11 assists and he’s been the MVP of the restart thus far.
- Looking Forward: The Blazers are ready to burst the bubble and make it back to the playoffs. They have a group of players who believe they are better than their record suggests and they are playing with an incredible amount of swagger. They have a tough schedule ahead but the combination of Memphis faltering and the rest of the bubble teams stuck in a logjam will give Portland the space to propel themselves into the 8th seed.
Play-in Tournament Prediction:
If my projections hold true, that would give us a Memphis/ Portland play-in tournament for the right to play the Los Angeles Lakers. In that series, I believe the Grizzlies will finally succumb to the pressure under the torrent of talent the Trailblazers possess. Dame time is upon us and the Blazers are ready to shock the world.
For more or my writing, check out my last post on The Boston Celtics.