The NBA announced today that they will be returning in Orlando, with 8 games for every team to determine the final seeding in each conference. There have been 6 teams not in playoff positions invited, with a chance to still get in. These 6 are the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Spurs, Kings, Suns and Wizards. If any teams are within 4 games of the 8th seed at the end of these 8 games, there will be play-in tournaments, to compensate for losing a chunk of the regular season, before the playoffs begin. Here are mine and fellow writer, Colin Wells’ predictions for how the race for the 8 seeds will shake out.
East : Wizards move up to the 7th seed, Magic stay at 8, Nets do not make the playoffs
I see this scenario playing out whether John Wall returns or not, but if he does, the Wizards can do some serious damage. Bradley Beal has been on a mission all season, and they have some other nice pieces in Hachimura and Bertans. I see them as the most talented team of the 3 with who will be healthy, and have the best player in Beal, who will be playing angry after an all-star snub this season. The Magic have a solid core with Fournier, Vucevic, Gordon, Isaac and Fultz, and should have enough to hold onto the 8th spot, but likely will be bounced in the first round. However, the future does look very bright for them, with Isaac a DPOY candidate this season and Fultz finally finding his form that made him the first overall pick. The Nets as a whole just seem disinterested in this season’s results. Dinwiddie attempted to have fans choose his next team before this season was over. Durant’s agents have already said he will not play until next year, and Kyrie always has either an injury or personal issue going on. With Kyrie and KD only returning next season, I do not see them staying in a playoff spot. A contender next season for sure, but Brooklyn likely won’t scare anybody for the rest of this season without their two superstars.
West : Trail Blazers get the 8th seed, Grizzlies fall out of the playoffs
Lillard and Mccollum have showed they can get it done on the big stage many times before. Dame has had many signature games, including game 5 vs OKC last season and game 6 vs Houston in 2014 just to name a few. C.J. came up huge in game 7 last year vs Denver, and both players have been shown to have a killer instinct I just don’t expect from any of the other west teams battling for 8th. Also, with the way Whiteside has played, he may be their best third option in quite a long time, especially on the defensive end. The Grizzlies and Pelicans have both shown great promise this season, and have bright futures due to studs like Morant, Zion, Jackson Jr, Lonzo and Ingram. However, with everything on the line, I side with a more experienced and deep team like Portland over these two. I just do not see guys like Morant or Ingram hitting the clutch shots that the Blazers backcourt are accustomed to knocking down, nor do I see Zion being able to takeover in multiple high pressure games this early in his career. These 3 could all wind up in a play-in for that last spot, meaning these young guys would face pressure they have never seen at this level. In my opinion, the three other teams are either simply not talented enough, or are not ready to make a playoff run this season. The Spurs are simply past their period of contending, and should likely be rebuilding beginning this off season. As for the Kings and Suns, they both have some nice pieces, but do not have the experience or proven players to get there this season. I do think the Suns will be ready for a run next season, with Booker, Ayton, Oubre, Saric and hopefully another high draft pick to add to the roster.
East : Magic move up to 7, bumping the Nets to the 8th seed
As of right now, the only team contending to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference is the Washington Wizards. With this said, they simply do not have the team to bring themselves out of the five and a half game deficit they are currently in. Although news has recently broke out that teams are preparing for a John Wall return, it’s very unlikely that it will happen. Even if Wall does come back, the man hasn’t played a game of basketball in nearly two years. There is little doubt that Brooklyn and Orlando, essentially the two teams fighting to stay in the playoff picture, have more talented rosters. In addition to the Wizards not making it into the playoffs, the Orlando Magic will move up into the seventh seed, therefore bumping the Nets down to the eighth seed. Last year, the Magic managed to finish the year as one of the hottest teams in the league, going 22-9 in the final 31 games. This run that they went on was extremely clutch, as they were fighting to secure a playoff spot. Another magical run can be made by this young squad. Along with this, although the possibility is slim, the Magic may be getting back Jonathan Isaac. Before getting injured, Isaac was blossoming into one of the best defenders in the league. Having only played 32 games this season, it’s very likely that if he were healthy for a bigger portion of the season, the Magic would already have been in that seventh seed spot, seeing as though they are only one win away from overtaking it. The Nets are also without their two best players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie irving. This will prove to be detrimental to their team and ultimately lead to their drop in seeding. All in all, the Orlando magic will claim the seventh seed as the Brooklyn Nets settle for eight and the Wizards stay out of the playoff picture.
West : Grizzlies hang on to the 8th seed
As for the West, things become a bit more complicated. There are currently five teams eyeing up that eight seed, with only one team able to conquer it. This team will be the current placeholder, the Memphis Grizzlies. Looking at the bottom tier teams trying to make it through (The Spurs, Suns and Kings), they simply don’t have the rosters to clutch up and overthrow the Grizzlies for their spot. The Spurs are simply getting older and will have trouble keeping up with guys like Jaren Jackson Jr. underneath and Ja Morant out at the perimeter. The Kings are just too young as of right now to take their game to the next level and make the playoffs. As for the Phoenix Suns, they’re just not good enough. Aside from Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, nobody on that team is a serious threat to opposing defenses. Now, for the two teams competing at a high level for that final spot, it will be insanely close. Both the New Orleans Pelicans and the Portland Trailblazers are teams who could easily come out of this with a playoff spot, but they won’t. The reason for the New Orleans Pelicans simply being they aren’t there yet. They have talented young players in Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball but they need more experience in these long stretch, clutch games situations. They currently have none of that win or go home type of situations aside from the few veterans, and this will prove detrimental to them. The Portland Trailblazers are a team that could take this spot with ease. They have one of the best point guards in the league in Damian Lillard along with a talented number two in CJ McCollum. A big reason for them being out of the race in the first place has been because of injury, and they are getting a number of guys back for the last part of the season. The reason they will miss the playoffs by a hair is because the grit and grind mentality that has been instilled into Memphis’s culture will prove to keep them in there. Although less talented than previous rosters, this team has the grind to finish out the season strong and make the playoffs. As Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. develop, so will this Grizzlies squad. The playoff experience they get this year will be instrumental to their growth.