The NBA playoff seeding format this year calls for the 8th and 9th best teams of each conference to play a knockout series if they are separated by 4 games or less,
In the Western Conference, less than 4 games separate the 32-37 Memphis Grizzlies, currently at 8th place and the 29-39 New Orleans Pelicans, currently at 13th.
As of today, some are teams are still seemingly adjusting to conditions inside the bubble but by the looks of it, a couple of Western lower seeded teams seem to be taking advantage of the opportunity given them by making a hard push for a spot in the playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns are making an unbelievable run for the 8th seed. They are a smoking 4-0 in the bubble, including big, big wins against the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers that ended in the same final score, 117-115.
The Suns, now the 11th seed at 30-39, have a good shot at extending their run as their favorable schedule have them avoid the top teams. Their remaining games are against the Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Philadelphia Sixers and the Dallas Mavericks.
The Portland Trailblazers are actually ahead in the standings, currently 9th with 32-38, but are right behind the Suns’ tail in terms of success in the bubble, posting a 3-1 record.
Their only loss, a yield to Boston, has lesser consequence than the benefits it got from its wins, which came at the expense of fellow Western conference teams Memphis, Houston, and Denver.
The victory over the Grizzlies is particularly crucial because aside from gaining a game against them, it knots up their season series, a statistic used in breaking up ties.
The Blazers also have a good shot at winning at least three of their last four games where after a date with the heavily-favored Clippers, they will close out their schedule against the Sixers, the Mavericks, and the Brooklyn Nets.
It will not be surprising if these two teams ended up disputing the final Western Conference playoff spot. Not only that, both have nice chances of pulling a first round upset as top seed Los Angeles Lakers could find both a matchup problem nightmare.
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On the other hand, Memphis, Sacramento, San Antonio and New Orleans are slowly looking at their chances evaporate as the couldn’t come up with key wins against their fellow pursuers.
The Grizzlies could have put some distance between them and their closest pursuers, maybe even get an outright slot, but simply couldn’t keep pace when they failed to capitalize the first three games of their bubble schedule, all against teams in contention for the final seed.
They dropped frustrating losses in close fashion against the Spurs, the Pelicans and the Blazers, who won a thrilling 140-135 overtime game.
Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, their window for a playoff slot might have already closed despite their being 8th as of press time because their arguably hardest remaining schedule among the six teams have them facing the Thunder, the Raptors, the Celtics, and the Bucks in their last four games.
Many were looking at the Kings, currently sporting 29-39, to seriously challenge for the last spot but their young crew dropped three straight, including one against the Spurs, at the resumption of action before keeping their hopes alive with a win against the Pelicans.
Two of the last four games of the Kings are against the Houston Rockets and the Lakers.
The Spurs, 10th with 29-38, are in jeopardy of ending their glorious playoff run. The Spurs are trying to qualify for the postseason for what would be an NBA-record 23rd consecutive season.
They were in 12th place in the West before the season restarted. They put life to their playoff quest by winning their first two games against Memphis and Sacramento but their losing of two consecutive quickly put them back to the drawing board amidst Phoenix and Portland’s hot streak.
They will try to get back on track with two games against the Jazz and a game each against the Rockets and the Pelicans.
Lastly, the Pelicans are firm in giving their expected long-term face of the franchise Zion Williamson load management, who in fairness was described as gassed at times, that cost them precious games.
Williamson’s absence during the stretch was a telling factor in the Pelicans loss during their first game in the bubble against the Utah Jazz.
The Pelicans are just 1-3 in the bubble so far but the good news for Zion fans is the Pelicans have a relatively easier path to the knockout series as their last four games are against the also-ran Washington Wizards, the Spurs, the Kings and the Magic who has no incentive to go all-out for the win having already secured a spot in the playoffs.
A sweep will give them a total of 33 wins, a total that might be enough for the 9th seed.
By: Armando M. Bolislis
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