The race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference is heating up inside the NBA bubble. Seven teams have already clinched postseason berths, but there are six other squads that are still in the hunt. For the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns, time is of the essence, and every game counts.
In this piece, we’ll predict which team will claim the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference, as well as the two teams that might be involved in a play-in.
NBA Bubble Trouble: Predicting The 8 Seed
With their 116-108 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night, the Los Angeles Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for this season’s playoffs, marking the first time in 10 years that the team has accomplished this feat.
Currently, the Memphis Grizzlies are holding the 8th seed in the West. However, the Grizz have lost three straight in the bubble, including matchups against the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans — two teams fighting for the No. 8 spot. Memphis will need to gets its act together fairly quick if they hope to maintain the final playoff seed in their conference.
Making things a bit worse for the Grizzlies is the fact that the team just lost one of their better players due to injury, as Jaren Jackson Jr. has been ruled out for the remainder of this season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Grizzlies: Memphis F Jaren Jackson Jr., suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee and will miss the rest of the season.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 4, 2020
Who’s knocking the loudest?
As a testament to the competitive nature of the Western Conference, all six teams that are fighting for the 8th seed are currently within 3.5 games of each other. Some teams are surging, while others are fading. The Suns, for instance, seem to be on the rise. In fact, Phoenix is now 3-0 in the NBA bubble, with victories over the Clippers and Mavericks to their credit.
With Devin Booker leading the charge, the Suns are a hot pick right now. Will they be able to maintain this level of play as the postseason draws near?
The Pelicans are another team that has a chance to land the 8th seed in the West. Now that rookie sensation Zion Williamson is back aboard after an excused absence, the team is looking to make a serious push. So far, the Pels are 1-2 inside the bubble (losses to the Clippers and Jazz), though they did dispatch the Grizzlies to move up in the standings a bit. Right now, New Orleans is holding the 11th spot in the West, and they’re 2.5 games back from the 8th seed.
Zion posted 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists in his first game back with the Pelicans. Without a doubt, the team will need his production down the stretch.
For what seems like an eternity, the Spurs have been a force in the playoffs. This season, however, the team is fighting for its postseason life. San Antonio is currently 29-37 and 2.0 games back from the 8th-seeded Grizzlies. There is still time, but not much.
San Antonio’s remaining schedule will not help their cause much. They still have to face the Nuggets, Pelicans, Rockets, and Jazz (twice).
The Sacramento Kings (28-39) are also in the mix, though they are the furthest back from the 8th seed at 3.5 games. Still, some analysts are picking them as a dark horse candidate, despite the fact that they’ve lost three in a row.
So… Who will claim it?
At this rate, there is likely going to be a play-in scenario for the 8th seed in the West. If that is indeed to be the story line, we’ll pick the Portland Trail Blazers to clinch the final spot in a matchup against the Suns.
The Blazers are healthy for the first time in quite a while, and the team has played well of late. Thanks to a 21-point effort from Damian Lillard and a late surge from Carmelo Anthony, Portland handed the Houston Rockets a 110-102 loss on Tuesday night. With the win, Portland moved to 1.5 games back from the 8th-seeded Grizzlies.
TO THE DOME pic.twitter.com/5D8w7JvEE7
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 5, 2020
Lillard knows what’s at stake:
“We understand what’s on the line and we know what we got to do to to give ourselves a chance in the postseason,” Lillard said following Tuesday night’s 110-102 victory over the 4th-seeded Houston Rockets, via ESPN. “And that’s what we’re doing.”
If Portland manages to claim the 8th seed in the West, they would go on to face the Lakers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. What an epic series that could be.