Who Clinches the Coveted 8th Seed in the Western Conference?
In the West, the top seven teams are nearly locks to qualify for the postseason; six other teams are fighting for the final spot.
Seven games separate eighth and seeds in the West.The final lap (stretch) of the race (season) is going to be fun, especially when it comes to seeing what the eighth car (team) to cross the regular season finish line will be.
Memphis Grizzlies - Current No. 8
The Grizzlies are in control of their playoff hold right now and playing immensely well of late. Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant is the main reason why.
Ja’s averaging 17.6 points and 7.1 assists this season, which is way ahead of where he was expected to be. Memphis is 17-9 when he either scores at least 20 points or dishes out at least 10 assists.
Fellow rookie and teammate Brandon Clarke is having a very efficient season as well, making 62.3 percent of his field goals and scoring 12.3 points per game.
Memphis won 16 of their final 21 games heading into the break, climbing into the eighth position in the process. The Grizz acquired Justise Winslow from the Miami Heat at the trade deadline to help enforce their defense and add to their young, flashy core. One of the most fun teams in the league, the race to eight theirs to lose.
Portland Trail Blazers – No. 9, 4.0 games back
The first half of the season was anything but pretty. The Trail Blazers struggled mightily to put it politely, and their streak of six straight playoff appearances is in jeopardy.
When you look at their supporting cast, it’s impressive that they’ve even done as well as they have. Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Hassan Whiteside have worked hard to keep the team afloat. Carmelo Anthony has been somewhat of a feel good story, but he isn’t what he used to be. Most devastatingly, the injury bug ripped through the squad. (But don’t even get me started on their defense.)
Still, you could put Lillard on a G-League team and it’d still be in the mix for the Western Conference Playoffs. He’s simply that good, and he absolutely refuses to quit. That passion and fire deserves a shot at the postseason. Springtime in the NBA wouldn’t be the same without him.
Dame’s posting career-highs with 27.9 points and 7.0 assists a night, while also shooting a career-best 44.6 percent clip from the field. His daggers from way downtown and the clutch in his genes keep Portland in the mix until the final lap.
San Antonio Spurs – No. 10, 5.0 games back
The Spurs have made the postseason for 22 straight years - tied for the North American pro sports record. It’s hard to not root for head coach Gregg Popovich and Co. to take pole position here. And I say that as a Suns fan.
If it weren’t for an eight-game losing streak in November, San Antonio’s chances would be much greater; they’d hold the eighth seed right now with a 3.0 game lead over the Grizzlies. Starting the season 6-13 certainly didn’t help either. You have to credit SA for battling back,though, as they’ve gone 17-18 since.
The two best players on the team are DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, but the Spurs need to allow Dejounte Murray to be more aggressive on offense. When he scores at least 10 points, the Spurs are 16-11.
This season isn’t over yet, and Coach Pop always finds ways to win, so you can’t count San Antonio out. But they’ll really have to run through the wall to extend that playoff streak.
New Orleans Pelicans – No. 11, 5.5 games back
Zion Williamson averaged an electric 23.3 points per game in the preseason before going down with an injury. Pelicans fans went from believing they were going to have a good season even without Anthony Davis (See: 5-0 preseason), to watching a bottom of the barrel team that seemed to be already ready for the lottery (See: 6-22 start).
New Orleans refused to quit. Brandon Ingram has played incredible basketball this season, a deserving All-Star selection. The Pels have gone 17-10 since that abysmal start, and are 6-5 with Zion back in the fold, who’s averaging 22.1 points on 57.6 percent shooting.
If he can stay healthy, there is definitely a chance New Orleans makes it to the postseason as the eighth seed. Where they would face Anthony Davis and the Lakers.
Because he missed so many games, Zion isn’t likely to win Rookie of the Year - Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies has almost cemented himself in place for that award. But there may be some friendly motivation to get back at Morant by taking his place in the playoffs.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Phoenix Suns – No. 12, 6.5 games back
The Suns have the best supporting cast around Devin Booker since he started his NBA career. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s having his most efficient season, and just played in his first All-Star game.
If the Suns didn’t play 25 games without the suspended Deandre Ayton, or deal with so many injuries, Phoenix would likely have a lock on the eighth seed in the West, or even better
Ricky Rubio has been his normal elite play-making self, Kelly Oubre Jr. has taken the next step towards a possible All-Star selection shortly down the road, and the team has shown signs of being a very intriguing squad that’s just missing a couple more pieces.
Sooner or later, Booker is going to make it into the playoffs and will be so much fun to watch. Frankly, I’m tired of waiting and ready to see it.
Sacramento Kings – Current #13, 7.0 games back
At this point, the Kings are the longshot to win the race, but they still have a chance. Sacramento hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 seasons, the longest drought in the league. It’s been a disappointing campaign for them despite “upgrading” to Luke Walton as head coach this past summer. The club struggled out of the gates and hasn’t been able to climb out of an early hole.
Marvin Bagley last played on January 20th. Richaun Holmes last played on January 6th. They’ve understandably been short-handed in the front court. However, DeAaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic have each played in all of the last ten games and Sacramento has gone 6-4 in that stretch.
Hield has been a human flamethrower through this recent run, making 5.1 threes per gane at a 49 percent clip. If he keeps that up, and Fox and Bogdanovic stay healthy, they’ll have a fighting chance to make it to the dance.
The Kings are the furthest out and just got news of Bagley being out at least several more weeks. The Suns, even if Booker displays his superpowers, would have to make an extraordinary climb to sneak in. The Pelicans would be a fun final entry due to all the storylines. The Spurs, despite the power of Pop, would likely be looking at injuries to DeRozan and Aldridge if they rode them hard enough to make it in and that wouldn’t be any fun. The Grizzlies have the most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA.
That leaves the Trail Blazers as my predicted eighth seed and Damian Lillard just should NOT miss the playoffs.