For most of the 2016/17 season, seven Western Conference teams have comfortably held postseason positions. The Warriors and Spurs have led the pack, followed by the Rockets, with the Jazz, Clippers, Thunder, and Grizzlies rounding out the top seven. The order those teams finish in has yet to be determined, but none of them are in danger of losing their playoff spots.
That leaves just one open spot for Western Conference teams vying for playoff contention, and the battle for the No. 8 seed has been an interesting one. With one or two exceptions, virtually every team in the bottom of the Western standings has been viewed as a viable candidate for that final postseason spot at some point since October — even the last-place Lakers created a little buzz when they opened the season with a 10-10 record before falling off significantly.
At this point, two teams look like top contenders for that No. 8 seed, and those two clubs actually completed a trade with one another just last month. The Nuggets and Trail Blazers swapped Mason Plumlee for Jusuf Nurkic in February, and those players have thrived with their new teams, helping to position them for a run at the West’s No. 8 seed. Both teams have been among the NBA’s best so far in March — Denver currently holds a one game lead over Portland with 13 to play, but the Blazers have won three games in a row and have a favorable schedule down the stretch.
Ultimately, it might not matter much which team claims the No. 8 spot — neither the Nuggets nor the Blazers is a serious threat to upset the top-ranked Warriors (or Spurs). Still, either club could at least make things a little interesting in round one as a frisky underdog, given how well they’ve been playing as of late.
What do you think? Will it be the Nuggets or the Blazers in that No. 8 spot at the end of the regular season? Or will another Western team – such as the Mavericks, Pelicans, or Timberwolves – sneak into that final spot with a hot streak in the season’s final weeks?
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