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The Wild, Wild Western Conference Race for the 8th Seed of the NBA Playoffs

In the Western Conference, six teams are fighting for a playoff spot with only a handful of games separating them, and only a handful left to be played.

Adidas - NBA Damian Lillard by Michalkajzerek is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Wild, Wild Western Conference Race for the 8th Seed of the NBA Playoffs

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

If you’ve been watching baseball or hockey so far during their Covid-19 restarts, and you feel like the pacing is slow, or the formatting is hard to follow, or the gameplay itself is lacking, I have a few things to say to you.

  1. Take a breath and be happy that sports even exist in this current timeline. Sports are the reward for a working society, one where trivial games are played for our enjoyment. Just be happy that you can turn on the TV and watch something that doesn’t matter. Let it be your escape from the fact that an average of over 1,000 Americans have died every day since March 1st. Just be happy you can watch sports.
  2. Are you not aware of the NBA?

The NBA has taken their Bubble and walked away with the Covid Restart crown. Within the last few days, the NBA announced another round of zero positive tests, another piece of evidence that bubbles work.

But behind that, the basketball that has been played has been nothing short of incredible. What the bubble gave to the NBA was a chance to showcase the talent and skills of their players in a stripped away setting.

No fans. No frills. Just ballers balling out. Bubble Ballers.

And the perfect example of that is the Western Conference’s battle for the last playoff spot. At publication, six teams are in the fight, with only a handful of games separating them, and only a handful left to be played. So let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.

Sacramento Kings

Look, as much as it hurts my heart to say, the Kings are done. The only thing to do now is to play the younger members of the squad and play spoiler to the other teams in the West. The Kings are a jumbled mess of opportunities and directions for the future. However, you cannot have a team that works consistently when you have players fighting to be “the guy” on the court.

The Kings have a lot of work to do, and it’s possible that a playoff run is in their future, but it’s not going to happen in 2020.

Phoenix Suns

There is only one undefeated team inside the NBA Bubble, and it’s the Phoenix Suns.

I repeat, there is only one undefeated team inside the NBA Bubble, and it’s the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns have reemerged as contenders in the Western Conference by force, and by scoring over 114 points in each of their first four games. The offense has been driven by Devin Booker, who has been playing like a man set on fire. In the Suns’ last game against the Pacers, Booker dropped 20 points, his lowest so far in the restart. However, his teammates picked up the slack spreading the scoring around to anyone who touched the floor.

The Suns are playing like a cohesive team in the bubble and that’s made all the difference. If they can keep it up, they might find themselves playing the Lakers in the first round.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans had the chance to take charge of their NBA Playoff destiny. They had the entire world rooting for a Zion/LeBron First Round matchup. All they had to do was win some games.

Instead, they’ve won just one of their five games in the bubble. That’s bad. Especially when two of those losses came against the Kings and the Grizzlies, wins that would have really helped out their playoff chances. And now, with the odds of them making the playoffs dwindling below 15%, the Pelicans are on the outside looking in.

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs came out hot – taking their first two games against the Kings and Grizzlies, and it seemed like San Antonio was unstoppable. Until they ran into the 76ers and Nuggets, who took down DeMar DeRozan and the rest of Popovich’s squad.

Rebounding with a win against a Donovan Mitchell-less Jazz, the Spurs have a tough road ahead if they want to secure a playoff spot. Their next two games are against the previously mentioned Pelicans and the Houston Rockets, both tough teams to play in the middle of their own playoff hunts.

The Rockets are 1.5 games back from Denver, who sit in the 3rd-seed. If the Rockets can get there, they’ll face the Thunder in the first round, rather than the Jazz. If I’m Houston, I’m gunning for that 3rd-seed. The Pelicans, as mentioned before, are fighting for their lives.

Both games present up-hill battles for the Spurs, but if there’s anyone who knows how to pull out wins from the jaws of defeat, it’s Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon.

Portland Trail Blazers

Who are the Portland Trail Blazers? Are they a playoff caliber team? Or are they just happy to still be in the picture?

The Blazers are a good basketball team, but they also feel like a bit of a Jenga tower. If you pull one block out at the wrong time, the whole thing falls. And as the Clippers just discovered, neutralizing Damian Lillard can throw the entire tower off balance and you can just wait for gravity to take its toll.

Dame is the only consistent player on this squad, and while that’s not a surprise, it’s also not great. Some days C.J. McCollum shows up, some days it’s Hassan Whiteside, others it’s Josef Nurkić, but it’s rarely all three at the same time. When you are fighting for a playoff spot, you gotta have all of your weapons firing on all cylinders. You simply have to bring all of your weapons to the fight, and the Blazers have yet to figure out the right recipe for success.

All that being said, however, they’re still being kept in the race thanks to another dysfunctional family in the 8th seed.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies finally won their first bubble game, taking down the OKC Thunder 121-92. In a resounding victory, the Grizzlies showed the rest of the West that if they play their game, they are a playoff team.

Unfortunately, they’ve shown the NBA how to keep them off balance in their previous four games in Orlando. But that’s not necessarily their fault, though it does have some serious consequences.

The Grizzlies’ first four games included matchups with the Pelicans, Spurs, Blazers, and Jazz. Three of those games came against teams with worse records than they have. Those games could have really helped Memphis secure the 8th-seed, and push away from the potential of a play-in game. Instead, the Grizzlies will have to attempt to win-out, as the rest of the West tries to knock them off the top spot.

So who do they face in their final few games?

The Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, and Milwaukee Bucks. The top three teams in the Eastern Conference. Good luck and Godspeed, Memphis. You’re going to need it.

While the Eastern Conference came into the bubble games without much wiggle room for playoff contenders, the West has become the hotbed for exciting games as the season winds down. So if you haven’t been paying attention to the race to the 8th-seed, look West.

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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