Up for Grabs: The West’s Eighth Seed
With the bubble in full swing and games starting to count for something, the NBA is back, baby! With storylines everywhere, there isn’t a team in Orlando that isn’t completely motivated to leave it all on the court. Well, except for the Washington Wizards (sorry Bradley Beal). Particularly with the Western Conference, all but two teams were invited to rep their coast and do battle in this unique tournament. With seeds one through seven all but locked in, six teams figure to scrap for the final spot. Here are the definitive rankings for who is most likely to walk away with that coveted eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Battle for the Eighth Seed
6. Phoenix Suns
Props to the Pheonix Suns for squeaking into the Orlando bubble. With a talented roster, the Suns can put together a competitive game against any team in the league. They even have all the fixings for a good team. Potential superstar in Devin Booker: check. Potential quality second fiddle in Deandre Ayton: check. Quality players that know their role and play tough defense in Ricky Rubio, Mikal Bridges, and Aron Baynes: check.
So what’s holding them back from really giving the eight seed a legitimate run? For starters, the standings. The Suns’ check-in with the worst record of all Western Conference teams in Orlando, a cool six games back from the Memphis Grizzlies. Even if they ball their pants off in all eight of their seeding games, they need incredible luck just to even advance six games in the standings. And that’s just the mathematical reason they won’t be advancing. The fact of it is, they aren’t as good as the other five times going up against them for that final seed. While the Suns have put together a good team in what feels like the first time in forever, they still don’t stack up to the depth and top-end talent some of the other teams vying for that eight seed can boast.
5. San Antonio Spurs
It truly pains the average NBA fan to see this. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. Arguably the most impressive dynasty since the Michael Jordan Bulls ruled the 1990s, the San Antonio Spurs sustained excellence in the 21st century will be near impossible to emulate. The last time the Spurs missed the playoffs? 1997. The very last time an NBA playoff began without Gregg Popovich pacing the sidelines, Chumbawumba’s smash hit Tubthumping hadn’t even been released.
But in the words of Darth Vader, “Search your feelings. You know it to be true”. The Spurs just do not have the gas to propel themselves in this race for the eighth seed. With arguably their best player in LaMarcus Aldridge out with an injury, the Spurs have a tough schedule to run through. Forced to ride the back of DeMar DeRozan‘s antiquated offensive game, the Spurs just don’t have the talent to punch the top dogs and their highly motivated eighth seed competitors in the mouth. But, don’t fret, Spurs fans. This is a world-class organization that will more than likely correct course soon. Heed the words of Chumbawumba. You might be getting knocked down, but you will get up again.
4. Sacramento Kings
Like all teams in this race outside of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Kings have a bit of an uphill battle to reach the eighth seed. Three and a half games back the Grizzlies, the King’s schedule does not favor an upset. While all teams in this bubble are objectively good, there are some quality teams with high, high motivations to win these seeding games. The Kings just do not stack up well to most of them.
With their 2018 second overall pick, Marvin Bagley III, injured and out for the remainder of the season, the Kings could be talent deficient in a tournament that will demand excellence from all participants. With De’Aaron Fox suffering an ankle scare in the bubble, there are legitimate questions regarding the top threats on this Sacramento team. Fox is a hooper, he’s established that. But can his body sustain the athleticism and physicality his style of play demands? Buddy Hield can score in bunches, but he is streaky and no playoff experience to suggest he will be an impact player in this tournament. The Kings have nice veteran pieces in guys like Harrison Barnes and Nemanja Bjelica but don’t count on them to push this team into playoff territory.
3. New Orleans Pelicans
Now, if this was a ranking of the best teams vying for the eighth seed, the Pelicans would land higher on this list then three. But, these teams enter the tournament with a record following them like a bad reputation. The Pelicans record is doing them no favors, but that’s not exactly an indictment on their play. New Orleans became the Pelicans we know today on January 22nd when phenom Zion Williamson entered the chat. Since then, they have posted an 11-9 record and an impressive win over the Boston Celtics.
While the Pelicans do have the requisite talent to be players in this tournament, there isn’t a whole lot of real playoff experience on this roster. Resident veteran and defensive extraordinaire Jrue Holiday advanced past the first time only once as the tag-team partner of Anthony Davis. Los Angeles Laker’s outcasts Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart never sniffed the playoffs during their tenure in LA. While, yes, they have all become high-quality players, especially Ingram, none have had the pressure of actually being contributors on a playoff picture team until this tournament. And the biggest question mark of all, Zion Williamson, is a complete unknown. A mere 20 games into his NBA career, he’s shown he can play like the number one quality pick he was. But, can he play that way on the biggest stage? That remains to be seen.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies enter this race with the most distinct advantage over every other team that will be listed: a three and half-game lead, at least. And boy, did they earn it. Memphis put together a remarkable season that would truly make their Grit n’ Grind predecessors proud. They scrapped, they clawed, and they fought hard for that eighth seed they currently boast.
While their lead in the standing gives them a great advantage over the other teams, they do have to play these games. And Memphis has a gauntlet to run through. The first three games: Portland Trail Blazers (whom they lost to on July 31), Spurs, Pelicans. All in this tight race for the final spot in the West’s playoffs. All highly motivated to win. Then they have the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics, and Toronto Raptors. All great defensive teams looking to get as sharp as possible to take down their conference leaders. And finally, they play the Milwaukee Bucks, which hasn’t gone well for almost every team in the league this year. The Grizzlies successfully put the league on notice this year, but it is quite the task to fight through that schedule, with that young of a roster.
1. Portland Trail Blazers
If the Memphis Grizzlies have had a wildly successful season, the Portland Trail Blazers season can only be described as wildly disappointing. After a trip to the Western Conference Finals last season, things were looking up for the Blazers. Damian Lillard is that dude. Going toe to toe with the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals should’ve given Portland the confidence to play anyone. Alas, the Blazers tripped all over themselves and just could not get out of their way all season.
Rest assured, this team is coming into the bubble highly motivated and is a team that always makes a late-season push. With an impressive win over the Memphis Grizzlies and Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic back, they have a legitimate chance at the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
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