The NBA has done it again. The league has somehow scrapped up a captivating end to its regular season, one that was unexpectedly suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet with every crisis comes opportunity, and the NBA has grabbed this hiatus by the horns, putting two of its best stars in Damian Lillard and Devin Booker in the thick of a heated battle.
But they won’t be the only ones vying for a shot at postseason basketball, as Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ja Morant and DeMar DeRozan of the San Antonio Spurs will also be battling for a shot to land eighth or ninth in the Western Conference and duke it out in a play-in tournament.
What was once considered a run of two and a half weeks that were solely for TV revenue purposes has turned into a gripping race between the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Spurs, with only one game left for each team.
Booker continued his high-scoring antics on Tuesday, putting up his fourth 35-point game of the bubble in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Lillard made history, putting up an incandescent 61 points in a down-to-the-wire win over the Dallas Mavericks and joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only other NBA player to put up three 60-point outings in one season.
Damian Lillard and Devin Booker are fighting for the honor of Player of the Seeding Games, or, as we like to call it: Bubble MVP.
The Blazers control their own destiny now that they have leapfrogged the Grizzlies for eighth place. They need merely another win over the Brooklyn Nets to seal the deal. Portland can also clinch the eighth seed with losses from Memphis, Phoenix and San Antonio.
Portland locks up the ninth seed with a loss, combined with two losses from Memphis, Phoenix or San Antonio.
The Grizzlies need a win over the Milwaukee Bucks and a Portland loss to regain the eighth seed. A win over the Bucks or losses by Phoenix and San Antonio would be enough to clinch the ninth seed.
The Suns have a slightly harder task ahead, very much dependent on others’ results. Phoenix needs a win over the Dallas Mavericks, combined with a Memphis loss and a Portland loss to notch the eighth seed. A season-finale win, combined with a Memphis loss or a Portland loss would notch them the ninth seed.
The Spurs have undoubtedly the hardest road to the playoffs, putting their 22-year playoff streak on the line upon outrageous circumstances. To win the eighth seed, San Antonio needs a win over the Utah Jazz on Thursday, combined with losses by Portland, Memphis and Phoenix.
To secure the ninth seed, the Spurs would need to win against the Jazz, plus get combined two losses from Portland, Memphis or Phoenix.
Four teams are set to fight for one playoff spot over the next few days — the exact scenario the NBA envisioned when it decided to invite 22 teams to Walt Disney World in Orlando to resume the regular season. Of course, the league wouldn’t be here without some star-caliber showings after a four-month hiatus.
Lillard and Booker could make their ultimate case for Bubble MVP on Thursday, and neither All-Star wants to have come all the way to Orlando just to fall short due to a poor final performance.
Only time will tell who will lock up the eighth spot this weekend, but a showdown between Damian Lillard and Devin Booker would be the bombastic end to the season that fans deserve after a long pandemic wait. Not to mention it would set the stage perfectly for the upcoming playoffs.
There will be more than mere bragging rights at stake, but rather the collective faith of an entire team choosing to take part in this restart. Lillard and Booker have gone too far to let it all go at the finish line.