Breaking down the west’s exciting race to the No. 8 seed, Part One

Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)

August 4, 2020

The race is on.

It’s not exactly a hot take to say that this NBA season is weird. It’s super weird. And one of the weirdest parts of it, from a procedures standpoint, is how the league is deciding who makes it past the playoff cut line.

The simple part is that 14 teams — the top seven in each conference — will automatically get playoff spots. That’s easy.

But getting the No. 8 seed is all kinds of chaotic; if you’re like me, that’s a good thing. It’s a blast.

How it Works: Before we dig into the race itself, it’s important to know what these teams are racing for. When August 14 rolls around and the NBA’s seeding games conclude, if whichever team finishes ninth in its conference standings is within four games of its eighth-seeded counterpart, the two will play what’s called a “play-in tournament.” Essentially, it’s a play-in game, but it could be two; the No. 9 seed must win it twice; the No. 8 seed only needs to win once to get in.

It’s like a one-and-one at the free-throw line, for the No. 9 seed. The No. 9 seed needs two points; if it misses the front-end, the series is already over, and the No. 8 seed moves on. If the No. 9 makes one and misses the next, again, no dice. But if the No. 9 seed goes two-for-two, they’ve notched the final playoff spot.

Makes sense? Awesome.

These rules technically apply as well in the East, but No. 9 Washington sits eight games behind No. 8 Brooklyn — with six to play — after the Nets’ Tuesday win over Milwaukee. The odds are slim-to-none that a play-in is forced in the East.

So, let’s talk about the West.

No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies (32-36)

Bubble Results: L vs. POR, L vs. SA, L vs. NO

Remaining Opponents: UTAH, OKC, TOR, BOS, MIL

Okay, let’s be honest, there’s a legitimate chance the Grizzlies don’t win a game in The Bubble. They’ve already blown three close ones in winnable games, and their next five are all against teams with 40 or more wins. What a gauntlet of a schedule.

The worst part is that Memphis entered The Bubble with a significant lead over the field of No. 8 seed contenders, and not only did the Grizzlies open their stint in Orlando with three consecutive losses, they lost to pretty much all of the teams who have been chasing them.

There’s still a bit of breathing room there, but if the Grizzlies don’t pull off a couple of upsets down the stretch, there’s a legitimate possibility they could miss the play-in tournament all together.

Everyone wants to see playoff Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. But it’s clear this Grizzlies team needs to grow. And there may just be some other playoff stars you might like to see in Memphis’ place, if Ja and company can’t get it done.

No. 9 Portland Trail Blazers (30-38) | 2 GB of No. 8 Seed

Bubble Results: W vs. MEM, L vs. BOS

Remaining Opponents: HOU, DEN, LAC, PHI, DAL, BKN

Who doesn’t want to see playoff Dame?

It’s true that the 2019-20 Blazers haven’t been the same Blazers we’ve known in recent years. This is a team that won 53 games last season. But Damian Lillard is still Damian Lillard.

It’s unlikely that Portland — or any of these teams, really — sticks with the No. 1 seed Lakers in a seven-game series, but if there’s anyone you want to see try, Damian Lillard has to be near the top of the list.

Portland has certainly helped its cause in Orlando. Opening with a win over Memphis to gain ground has helped. The Blazers would be in even better shape if they could have completed their 24-point comeback against Boston, but gaining one game of ground through two contests is still huge.

Unlike the Grizzlies, though, Portland has some pretty winnable games down the stretch. The first three will be tough, and Philadelphia won’t be easy, but Dallas has proven beatable — especially in close games — and the Nets, despite having beaten the Bucks, are still one of The Bubble’s worst rosters. 

There's a decent chance that the Blazers at least go 3-3 down the stretch, which, given Memphis' tough slate, might just be enough. 

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