Breaking down the west’s exciting race to the No. 8 seed, Part Two
Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)
August 5, 2020
No. 10 San Antonio Spurs (29-37) | 2 GB of No. 8, 0.5 GB of No. 9
Bubble Results: W vs. SAC, W vs. MEM, L vs. PHI
Remaining Opponents: DEN, UTAH, NO, HOU, UTAH
Never count out Popovich.
The Spurs, with a few different bounces of the ball, could very easily be in the No. 9 position as of this writing (August 4). San Antonio was one Shake Milton buzzer beater away from starting 3-0 in the Bubble and sitting just a game behind Memphis with five to go.
But no matter, time goes on. The Spurs still have a very good chance to reach the play-in round. Their schedule isn’t as easy as Portland’s, but it’s definitely easier than Memphis’, and the Spurs already have a win over the Grizzlies in Orlando.
It goes without saying that the Spurs have to beat New Orleans on August 9. It feels like the winner of that game has the best chance to challenge Portland and Memphis for the two play-in slots.
No. 11 New Orleans Pelicans (29-38) | 2.5 GB of No. 8, 1 GB of No. 9
Bubble Results: W vs. SAC, W vs. MEM, L vs. PHI
Remaining Opponents: SAC, WAS, SA, SAC, ORL
Ah, the Pelicans. This team, honestly, should also be within a game of the Grizzlies. The Pelicans had the chance to knock off one of the West’s top five in Utah, but narrowly lost without Zion Williamson on the floor. Two night’s later, New Orleans blew another late lead — without Zion playing in the late fourth — against .
Finally, when Williamson played in crunch time, the Pelicans ran away from Memphis in the final minutes. Granted, Zion’s absence had been for a minutes limit, which is smart in the long term. But imagine where the Pelicans would be if those first two nail-biters went their way. They’d already be just a game back of Memphis.
But even so, holy cow was New Orleans gifted with a winnable schedule down the stretch. The Pelicans should at least win three, probably four, of their last five, and if they can ward off San Antonio in that pivotal meeting, make it a clean 5-0.
With this schedule, and the way the Pelicans played down the stretch with Zion on the floor, watch out for these guys.
No. 12 Phoenix Suns (29-39) | 3 GB of No. 8 Seed, 1.5 GB of No. 9
Bubble Results: W vs. WAS, W vs. DAL, W vs. LAC
Remaining Opponents: IND, MIA, OKC, PHI, DAL
If their remaining schedule wasn’t so tough, I’d say the Suns feel more dangerous to me than Sacramento, or maybe even New Orleans. It feels like it’s about time for Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton to prove themselves, and they showed us some glipses in playoff-esque basketball against Dallas.
But this slate is rough. The Suns, realistically, probably have to win three — minimum — of their final five games to see the play-in. And I can’t in good conscience predict three wins, let alone two, against this schedule. Even though the Suns beat the Clippers, I think we have to consider that game a flash in the pan for predictions' sake, rather than a trend, until proven otherwise.
The upsets over the Mavs and Clippers were fun, don't get me wrong. And playoff Booker would be a welcome surprise, though, so I’ll eat my words if proven wrong.
No. 13 Sacramento Kings (28-39) | 3.5 GB of No. 8, 2 GB of No. 9
Bubble Results: L vs. SA, L vs. ORL, L vs. DAL
Remaining Opponents: NO, BKN, HOU, NO, LAL
It’s funny. At the time of this writing, I was fully prepared to write that it doesn’t just feel like there’s much to talk about with this Kings team. And I stand by that; this roster doesn’t feel equipped to win as many as three games against its remaining schedule, which it likely needs to in order to sniff the play-in tournament.
Sacramento did just hang with Dallas, and that was impressive. But the Mavericks are major culprits of struggling in close games. Losing a close game to Dallas was about as prime and opportunity as the Kings were going to get to steal a win in the bubble, and the road doesn't get much easier from here.
This is really tough to call.
I’ll give the first spot to Portland. I'd say the Grizzlies, but I really don’t feel confident picking them to win another game against the schedule — especially without Jaren Jackson, Jr. — although I could see a win or two in there; the Jazz haven’t looked phenomenal, and Milwaukee will likely be playing its reserves by the time the two face off.
It’s tight, but I think the Blazers slide into the No. 8 spot, and am even more confident in saying so after last night's win over Houston.
The next spot is really tough, but if I have to choose, I’m giving it to New Orleans. I know, Grizzlies-Pelicans is a trendy pick, but I really think that, if they play their cards right, the Pellies can win out. And even if they go 4-1, that’s better than I’d predict out of Memphis or San Antonio with their situations and schedules.