At the time of this writing, there are six weeks left in the NBA’s regular season. By the time March arrives, the games have a sense of urgency to them. This is because the time to secure a playoff birth is now. When looking at the standings, the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference all seem destined for the postseason. In the west, however, the final playoff spot is wide open. Currently, the spot is held by the Memphis Grizzlies with a 30-31 record. But there are four teams within four games of the Grizzlies all fighting for that last spot. The race for the eight seed is going to be one of the biggest storylines to follow through the rest of the season. So who has the edge in the race for the eight seed? Let’s explore the teams and their chances.
The Race For The Eight Seed In The NBA’s Western Conference
Current Leader In Race For The Eight Seed: Memphis Grizzlies
As stated earlier, the Grizzlies are in the drivers seat. Led by rookie of the year candidate Ja Morant, the Grizzlies have rebuilt quicker than anyone could’ve expected. They didn’t even get any consideration in my 2020 NBA Western Conference Playoff Predictions. But their young core of Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr, Dillon Brooks, and Brandon Clarke have all been productive. They’ve been an elite rebounding team (7th in the league), and one of the best shot-blocking teams in the league. As a team, they shoot an efficient 47% from the floor but are slightly below average shooting from three, and the foul line. Ultimately, this team will go as for as their superstar Morant can take them. Their 17 point victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on February 29th made a statement to the rest of the league that the eight seed is theirs to lose.
Ninth Seed: Sacramento Kings
Despite the race for the eight seed looking like the Grizzlies to lose, the Sacramento Kings are hitting their stride. After finishing ninth in the standings last year, the Kings find themselves there with six weeks left. Winners in six of their last seven, the Kings have put it together after a disappointing start. The backcourt duo of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield have once again been the catalysts for the Kings. Hield is shooting 38.7% from three on the year, but in the last ten games is shooting 45.8%. Fox’s teammate Cory Joseph said about Fox, “He’s the head of the snake over here, he’s driving the bus,”. The biggest concern for the Kings is that they don’t excel in any advanced metrics. They rank 21st in offensive rating, 18th in defensive rating, and 19th in assist to turnover ratio. Sacramento’s playoff hopes will ride on their star backcourt.
Tenth Seed: Portland Trail Blazers
It’s a shame we haven’t seen Damian Lillard play since February 12th. Before his injury, Lillard was playing better than any other point guard in the NBA. Through 54 games, Lillard averaged 29.5 PPG, 7.9 APG, and was fifth in player efficiency. In his absence, CJ McCollum has stepped up. He’s averaged over 28 PPG, has been very efficient shooting, and has added an extra 2 APG over his last ten games. Lillard is speculated to be back in the lineup as soon as Wednesday night. When he comes back, it’ll be important for McCollum to continue his improved playmaking. Because right now, the Blazers are last in the league in assists per game. Their defense is their Achilles heel. Although they have Hassan Whiteside averaging 3.1 BPG, defensively Portland’s been abysmal all season. They rank near the bottom in almost every defensive metric, and that could be their undoing.
11th Seed: San Antonio Spurs
What race for the eight seed would be complete without the San Antonio Spurs? Having made the playoffs the last 22 seasons, it’s surprising to see the Spurs on the outside looking in for once. But this isn’t the same Spurs team we’ve grown used to. This team excels at shooting the three (37%, best for sixth in the NBA), is the third-best free-throw shooting team, and turn the ball over less than anyone else. That said, this team allows a lot of points (114.3 PPG) and simply doesn’t have the same ceiling as the other teams in the race for the eight seed. DeMar DeRozan is still an above-average player but isn’t the superstar he once was. And without a star player to rely on in big moments, their ceiling is impacted greatly. Gregg Popovich has his work cut out for him.
12th Seed: New Orleans Pelicans
Finally, we’ve reached the New Orleans Pelicans. In an offseason full of storylines, the Pelicans dominated headlines in large part thanks to number one overall pick Zion Williamson. The story around the Pelicans was that if they could remain in the mix until Zion healed from injury, they would be a threat. While the world waited for his debut however, the Pelicans were showing they were more than just one player. Brandon Ingram has had a breakout campaign, improving in almost every statistical category. Ingram made the all-star team and has been playing like a top 25 player all year. Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball have also taken steps forward in their development. Now Williamson is playing and is imposing his will on defenses every game. If the Pelicans can improve their defense (27th in points allowed per game), this team can give Memphis a run for their money.
The Race For The Eight Seed Could Be One Of The Wildest Ever
The fact that we have this many teams competing for a playoff spot is remarkable. We entered this NBA season expecting parity and more competition than we’ve seen in a long time. And the NBA hasn’t disappointed one bit yet on those expectations. With six weeks to go, the race for the eight seed will be one of the most talked-about storylines in the league. It could also be one of the highly competitive races we’ve seen ever.
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