The Portland Trail Blazers have officially completed the Western Conference play-in matchup and will face the Memphis Grizzlies in a battle for the final NBA Playoffs spot. The winner advances to play the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the postseason.
The Trail Blazers secured the No. 8 seed with a thrilling 134-133 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday thanks to another outstanding showing from Damian Lillard. The five-time All-Star, who is averaging 37.6 points per game in the Orlando bubble, did not crack under the pressure of potential elimination and finished with 42 points and 12 assists.
The play-in tournament tips off Saturday, Aug. 15, at 11:30 a.m. PT and will air on ABC. Should the Grizzlies prevail, the teams will meet again Sunday at 1:30 p.m. for a winner-take-all matchup.
Portland is favored for many reasons. First and foremost, they will only have to defeat the Grizzlies once because they currently occupy the No. 8 seed.
But Memphis, who began the NBA restart in eight place with a comfortable 3.5-game lead over other teams, have also lost Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow to injuries and finished with a 2-6 record in seeding games.
Meanwhile, Portland has been red-hot in the bubble and won six out of their eight games. One of their victories was a 140-135 finish against the Grizzlies in the Trail Blazers’ first seeding game.
No other team has had a more efficient offense than the Trail Blazers who are averaging 126 points and hold the best offensive rating of 122.5 so far during the NBA restart.
On the downside, their defense ranks third-worst (120.4 in defensive rating) behind the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets. They have also been uber-reliant on the Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt.
The two Trail Blazers are the only players in the bubble playing more than 40 minutes on average every game. Portland’s victory over the Nets was also the final nail in the coffin for the Phoenix Suns and their miraculous playoff pursuit.
They were only given a 1% chance of making the Western Conference play-in before the seeding game started. Yet, Devin Booker and the Suns leave the bubble as the sole unbeaten team.
League insiders believe Portland can upset Lakers
The four-month hiatus allowed Trail Blazers starters Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic to heal their injuries and return to the team, making Portland a completely different side and a potentially tough matchup for the Lakers in the bubble.
Certain league insiders reportedly believe the Trail Blazers are capable of stunning the purple in gold in the first playoff round. But Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma sees the clash as an opportunity rather than misfortune.
“It’s not a worst-case scenario,” he said. “I think any time you can be tested early in the playoffs, it’s going to help you in other rounds.”
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