Community Shootaround: Western Conference Playoff Race

When the NBA’s restart got underway last Thursday, the Grizzlies were in the driver’s seat for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, with at least a 3.5-game cushion on each of their five potential challengers. However, a slow start from the Grizzlies – who have lost three consecutive games to teams chasing them – has created a fascinating, wide-open race for that final playoff spot in the West.

After an 0-3 start, Memphis’ lead for that No. 8 spot is down to 1.5 games, and all five of their challengers are now within 3.5 games. To make matters worse, the Grizzlies will be without key big man Jaren Jackson Jr. for the rest of the season due to a meniscus tear, and the team’s schedule isn’t getting any easier. Contests against Utah, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee are on tap for the Grizzlies, who will have to hope that some of those Eastern teams are locked into their seeds by the last week of the season and decide to rest some starters.

The Trail Blazers, who currently hold the No. 9 spot, have looked like the biggest threat to Memphis so far in Orlando. With Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins healthy again, Portland is nearly at full strength and has recorded impressive wins over the Grizzlies and Rockets, sandwiching a tough loss to Boston. The Blazers are only a year removed from appearing in the Western Conference Finals. After struggling for much of the season, they’ve recently played more like the 2018/19 squad than the team that went 29-37 before the hiatus.

The Spurs and Suns have also looked rejuvenated since the season resumed. They own a combined 5-1 record so far, with the only blemish coming on Monday, when San Antonio lost a 132-130 heart-breaker to Philadelphia. The Spurs were four games out of the playoffs when the restart began, and the Suns were six games back, but they’re now within just two games and three games, respectively.

The Pelicans got off to a slow start last week, but their schedule is so forgiving that they’re still in a pretty good position to push for the No. 8 or 9 seed. After beating the Grizzlies on Monday, the Pelicans will play their final five seeding games against teams with losing records — Washington, San Antonio, Orlando, and Sacramento (twice). With Zion Williamson rounding into form, New Orleans has the most favorable schedule of any Western playoff contender.

Of course, those two games against the Kings loom large. Sacramento has been one of the summer’s most disappointing teams so far, having lost winnable games to San Antonio, Orlando, and Dallas. But the Kings are still just 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies and aren’t dead yet — those two games against the Pelicans will be massive, and Friday’s matchup against Brooklyn is certainly favorable.

No matter what happens over the next week-and-a-half, it looks like a near certainty at this point that we’ll get a play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed. The No. 8 team can only avoid a play-in tournament by finishing more than four games ahead of the No. 9 team, and right now even the 13th-seeded Kings are withing four games of Memphis.

Positioning will be crucial though. Only two teams can participate in that play-in tournament, so finishing 10th means little. Conversely, finishing in eighth place is massive, since it means only having to win once in the play-in tournament, rather than twice. At this point, there’s no guarantee the Grizzlies hang onto the No. 8 spot entering a play-in tournament — there’s even a chance they could slip to 10th or lower.

We want to know where you stand on the Western Conference playoff race. Has your opinion changed at all through the first six days of summer games? Which two teams do you think we’ll see in a play-in tournament? Which club do you expect to ultimately claim the No. 8 seed and face the Lakers in the first round of the postseason?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!

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17 thoughts on “Community Shootaround: Western Conference Playoff Race

    • Braves Niners & Suns? Quite a mix, almost like me. Did you live in all those three places for extended time is why you’re a fan? I’m Red Sox and warriors. Ever since I was a little kid. Lived in the Bay Area for quite a while and a Red Sox fan since I was 12. Been to Fenway like 20 times.

      • bravesninersnation

        Lol- I grew up a fan of legendary players of these franchises. Chipper Jones/Smoltz for ATL, Steve Young/Jerry Rice for SF and Kevin Johnson/Jason Kidd in PHX. I’m from Los Angeles, and the only reason why I’m not a fan of any LA teams is because my oldest brother is a fan of theirs and I dislike all of his teams lol. I have lived in LA my whole life but have always followed these teams cause of these players, through the best of times and the worst of times lol

        • Amen brother that’s how it goes. Makes total sense. When you like a team, you like them. It’s funny when we’re young we’re attracted to certain players and then as they move on or retire we still like that team and never leave no matter how bad things get.

          So you’ve had your day in the sun so to speak, lots of success Niners Braves and a little bit of Suns. Things are looking up for all three of those teams, right?

          I’ve lived in Southern California most of my life as well but every girl I dated was a Laker fan so there was no way in hayel I was rooting for them. But I did I take a beating for 25 years. Little glimpses of Hope in 92 and 07 but a lot of dark years and saying, “congratulations babe.”

          Same with the Red Sox. About 25 years of crap until 04 and then a little bit of success after that which has been real nice.

  1. I’ll admit as a warrior fan I’ve not looked closely at how this playoff thing works, so after reading this I have a headache. Luke you did a good job of explaining it… it’s really me I’m just a little slow.

  2. Sillivan

    Rockets small ball is not basketball game
    It’s a 3 point shooting competition
    They won some games because they have 2 MVPs pass 3 years

    • Curtisrowe

      I mean, that has absolutely nothing to do with the article you are commenting on…but ok.

    • harden-westbrook-mvps

      Sounds exactly like what Barkley said about GSW over the past 5 years.

      • KnickerbockerAl

        Serious bro. The Warriors play Centers. Last champion had Pachulia 7’, McGee 7’ 1”, Damian Jones 6’ 11”, Looney 6’ 9””,West 6’ 9”, KD is 6’ 11”. Just check out their rosters for the 5 yrs. They play their Centers and they play D. Unlike the Rockets. Warriors did play small ball. But they were more about stretching the floor with their shooting. Warriors won cause they were a very good offensive team and defensive team. Not just shooters. Although they did make outside shooting a weapon. I agree with Barkley. A jump shooting team is not winning a lot. Warriors are more than that bro.
        link to

  3. wagner13

    The Trailblazers certainly look the most well-rounded, with the return of Nurkic and Collins improving their frontcourt depth significantly. They’re still missing that reliable wing defender, but Trent has been a pleasant surprise.

    New Orleans has an unbelievably easy schedule and will only be strengthened as Zion gets back into basketball shape. The Grizzlies seem to have issues closing out games and I could see them falling back to tenth without JJJ. If Portland and New Orleans match up in a play-in series, that would be admittedly fun to watch.

    The Spurs will likely suffer without both Aldridge and Lyles. Sacramento already looks lost without Bagley and haven’t looked particularly cohesive this far. Phoenix has a shot, but they’ll need to surpass both the Pelicans and Trailblazers. Ayton and Booker look playoff ready, but the absence of Oubre might start to bite after a while

    • harden-westbrook-mvps

      You can stick a fork in the Grizzlies, even with a 2-game lead.

      • wagner13

        Yeah, without Winslow AND JJJ, the frontcourt will be pretty lacking. Clarke will be forced to start, depleting bench depth and eliminating one of their most consistent scoring threats. The defensive effort will be slashed as well

  4. KnickerbockerAl

    Blazers look like they want it. Grizz are down players. Yes it is a race now. Blazers probably look best to come out as 8th seed. After all is done. IMO they are only ones who a chance against Lakers. Good to see a race for last spot. Should be fun.

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