The race for the 8th seed in the NBA’s competitive Western Conference is set up to be a good one. Five teams are within 3.5 games of each other and all of them have a real shot at grabbing the final playoff spot. Read below to find out what each of these teams has going for them as the playoff race enters its final stages.
Record: 28-30, 8th Seed
The Grizzlies have the most obvious advantage, the 8th seed is theirs to lose. They are 2.5 games ahead of their nearest competitor, have the most exciting rookie tandem in the league, with Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke, and have a bevy of young talent around them with players like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justice Winslow.
No matter how this season ends the Grizzlies should be excited about their future. They have young and dynamic players who hopefully will lead them to the playoffs for years to come.
This young Memphis team will have to show their toughness down the stretch, they have the second hardest remaining schedule in the league with 24 games to go. If they can hold on to the 8th seed it would be a great achievement for a team that hasn’t made the postseason since the 2016-2017 season.
Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 26-33, 9th Seed, 2.5 games behind Memphis
Coming off a great season last year where they made the conference finals, the Trail Blazers had high expectations coming into the 2019-2020 season. Sadly they have fallen well short of those expectations, mostly of no fault of their own. Within the first month of the season Rodney Hood and Zach Collins, two of Portland’s starters, went down with long term injuries and another starter in Jusuf Nurkic is still recovering from a broken leg he suffered last season.
Portland has done just enough to hang around in the Western Conference playoff race and have a great shot at storming back into the playoff picture. Nurkic is projecting to return from injury very soon and is traveling with the team on their next four-game road trip. They also have one of the easiest remaining schedules of any team in the league. The combination of Nurkic’s return and an easy schedule could be the perfect concoction to move the Blazers back into the playoffs.
New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 25-33, 10th seed, 3 Games Behind Memphis
At the beginning of the year, the Pelicans seemed dead in the water. They were 14th in the Western Conference with a record 11-23 and their star rookie Zion Williamson had yet to play a game due to a torn meniscus.
Since New Year’s, the Pelicans have gone 14-10 and put themselves right back in the middle of the Western Conference playoff conversation.
This improvement of play is due to a number of factors. Of course, the debut of Zion Williamson has been a huge boost, especially on offense. Williamson is averaging over 23 points and 7 rebounds a night, unreal numbers for a rookie who hasn’t even played 20 games yet. Possibly even more important has been the gelling of the Pelicans young core. It took some of their new pieces like Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Jaxson Hayes time to adapt to the Pelicans’ style but they are starting to turn a corner.
Most critical of all is the fact that the Pelicans have the second-easiest remaining schedule in the league. If they dominate this final stretch of games it could easily be the Pelicans running away with things come April.
Record: 24-33, 11th seed, 3.5 games behind Memphis
The main thing Sacramento has going for them is momentum. The team has won seven of their last 10 games, including a massive win over the Los Angeles Clippers on February 22.
The most impressive thing about Sacramento is that it isn’t any one guy who is carrying them. Seven of their regular players are scoring double figures (eight if you include currently injured Marvin Bagley). This team absolutely feasts from beyond the 3-point line led by two elite sharpshooters in Buddy Hield and Nemanja Bjelica who are surrounded by plenty of other capable shooters like North Carolina grad Harrison Barnes, elite point guard De’Aaron Fox and Serbian scorer Bogdan Bogdanovic.
If they can keep this run going and continue to hit their shots as they have been, don’t be surprised to see Sacramento make a serious run at the final spot.
San Antonio Spurs
Record: 24-33, 12th seed, 3.5 games behind Memphis
Things are looking bleak for San Antonio. As recently as January 23 the Spurs held possession of the 8th seed but a dismal run of form in February has moved them all the way down to 12th place. They’ve lost 10 of 14 and it looks more and more likely that the Spurs 22-year long playoff run will end this season.
But what they do have going for them is an experienced and playoff hardened lineup. Guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Demar DeRozen have been in the playoffs nearly every year of their careers. They have experience in these situations that young teams like the Kings, Pelicans, and Grizzlies don’t. Not to mention they have one of the greatest NBA head coaches of all time in Gregg Popovich. If there’s one person who can turn a season around its Popovich, who will be certainly trying everything in his power to make sure the Spurs playoff run continues.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference
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