After holding the coveted eighth seed in the West for so long, the Memphis Grizzlies are suddenly in danger of missing out on the playoffs.
The Grizzlies have started out the bubble season with four straight losses, including major ones to all of their main three competitors. Now, with the recent news that Jaren Jackson Jr. will miss the rest of the season with a torn meniscus, the outlook is gloomy for the team.
Memphis still holds a one-game lead over their closest competitor, the Trail Blazers, but they’ll have to hope for a huge hot streak with superstar caliber play from Ja Morant if they want to maintain their playoff spot.
In serious contention with the Grizzlies are Portland, San Antonio and New Orleans, who are all within two and a half games of the eighth seed with between five and six games left in the season. Here’s a mid-seeding check in on how the race for 8th is going for these teams.
As said before, the Grizzlies aren’t having the start they were hoping for, to say the least. Their second-best player in Jaren Jackson Jr. is injured and without him, Ja Morant will have to up his scoring production to make up for it.
Memphis really hurt their hold on the eighth seed by losing to every single one of their main competitors, and they won’t have a chance to play any of them again. Remaining on the Grizzlies’ schedule are the Thunder, Raptors, Celtics and Bucks, which doesn’t figure to be an easy end. The Bucks might rest their players for the last game of the season, where they’ll likely have their first seed locked up, but the rest of the teams outmatch Memphis in nearly every aspect of the game.
JJJ’s injury may have sealed the fate of Memphis’s playoff hopes, but their future remains bright. He and Ja will develop into a dangerous duo in the West, surrounded by promising role players like Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas. At the end of the day, missing out on a four or five-game series loss to the Lakers isn’t the end of the world.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers are arguably the most complete team of the four. They have an unquestionable superstar (Damian Lillard), a great second option (CJ McCollum), solid bodies in the paint (Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins , Hassan Whiteside) and several catch and shoot options (Carmelo Anthony, Rodney Hood, Gary Trent Jr).
The team has playoff experience, and probably wouldn’t even be chasing the eighth seed had Nurkic and Collins been healthy the entire season. The remainder of their schedule isn’t the easiest, with games against the Nuggets, Clippers, 76ers and Mavs, but with the unpredictability of the bubble, anything could happen.
Lillard has been having an incredible season, averaging 29 points per game and eight assists per game shooting 39 percent from three. The combination of him and McCollum makes the Blazers the toughest matchup for the Lakers, exposing their weakness against speedy, scoring guards.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have come under criticism for their load management of Zion Williamson, especially after their two-point loss to Utah where they only played him 15 minutes. Brandon Ingram has been great, but if the Pelicans are actually trying to make the playoffs, they’ll need to start playing Zion more. He’s a good bet for 22-point a night on very efficient shooting, he just needs the minutes.
New Orleans may sneak their way into the playoffs due to their upcoming schedule. The Pels cap off the season with games against the Wizards, Spurs, Kings and Magic. That’s not a very impressive lineup.
There’s a solid chance the Pelicans go 4-0 to end the season, but even then they’ve dug themselves into a bit of a hole. As of August 5, they’re tied with the Suns and Kings for 11th in the West after dropping their first two games of the restart. The odds that they jump these other three teams are slim.
San Antonio Spurs
The race for the eighth seed was not supposed to include the San Antonio Spurs. They lost LaMarcus Aldridge for the season, leaving just DeMar DeRozan to carry the scoring load. They even experimented with playing DeRozan at power forward in order to give their younger players some experience, leaving many skeptical that they’d have a shot at the playoffs.
Even two games back from the eighth seed, the Spurs just don’t seem like a playoff team. They’re playing small, but not in the way that they’re shooting loads of threes. DeMar is an elite closer at the end of games, but besides him, they’re an inexperienced group that is short of any big men.
The Spurs close the season out with Utah twice, New Orleans and Houston. It’s hard to count out the Spurs, but this is just a different team than it has been in the past. They’re not on the same level as a team like the Trail Blazers and they would have virtually no chance against the Lakers in round one.
Featured image courtesy of Oregon Live.