Despite all 22 teams in the Walt Disney World bubble having three or fewer seeding games remaining, so much of the Western Conference standings have yet to be decided. The Los Angeles Lakers at No. 1 and Dallas Mavericks in the seventh seed are the only teams in the West that have their standing already decided.
Perhaps the biggest toss-up remaining is the battle for the No. 8 seed and the play-in tournament that will undoubtedly happen. The New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings have already been mathematically eliminated, meaning there are four teams still fighting for a chance to play the Lakers in the first round.
The No. 8 seed — at the moment — belongs to the Memphis Grizzlies. At 33-38 with two games remaining, they hold a slim half-game lead over the 33-39 Portland Trail Blazers. If everything holds to form over their last two games, they will face off in the play-in tournament.
However, lingering just behind them are the 31-38 San Antonio Spurs and the 31-39 Phoenix Suns. The Suns, who entered the bubble at No. 13 in the Western Conference, are 5-0 in Orlando and sit 1.5 games back of the Grizzlies.
All four of these teams have the potential of getting into the play-in depending on the results of the final two — or in the Suns’ case — three games.
The team with the most difficult end to their schedule also is the one that controls their own destiny the most. The Grizzles winning out will give them the advantage of being the No. 8 seed, but winning just one of two will guarantee them a spot in the play-in. However, they’ll have to go through the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.
The Trail Blazers have perhaps the easiest path to a postseason spot. They face the Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets and would clinch either No. 8 or No. 9 simply by winning out. Lose either one or both of those games, and the door is wide open for the Suns and Spurs.
The Spurs have a relatively difficult path to the play-in. They face the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz, who are both still fighting for seeding. In order to make it to the play-in, they need to perform one game better than the Trail Blazers in their final two games.
The Suns have a window open, but it is quickly shutting. They have three games remaining, facing the Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers. The Suns are not in control of their own destiny, as virtually any chance of making it is predicated on the Grizzlies losing out. If the Grizzlies win one of their final two, it would be over for the Suns.
However, Phoenix winning out and the Grizzlies losing their two games would automatically put them into the play-in as the No. 9 seed.
A combined nine basketball games yield a great deal of influence over the final standings, and the Lakers will be the team most interested in all of it.
L.A. still has four potential matchups to prepare for. The Trail Blazers are the team they’d like to see the least, but is definitely the most likely option. However, the Lakers must prepare the same either way and fix their own issues before working on an individual series opponent.
Game 1 of the play-in tournament will take place on Saturday, Aug. 15 at 11:30 a.m. PT and be televised on ABC. If the No. 8 seed wins, they’ll immediately move on and face L.A. If they lose, a second winner-take-all game will happen on Aug. 16 at 1:30 p.m., which will be carried by ESPN.
League insiders believes Trail Blazers could upset Lakers
Given the Lakers’ struggles in the bubble during seeding games, and an online affinity for “hot takes,” the Trail Blazers have been picked to potentially upset L.A. should they have a chance to face them in the first round.
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