NBA Playoff Races Get Going As Season Restarts
The NBA season is scheduled to return to action on Thursday. Several Western Conference teams will be fighting for one playoff spot, while the Eastern Conference playoff race seems relatively settled, with only the seedings – not the actual teams – being uncertain.
The Eastern Conference
The East’s only source of real drama is if the Brooklyn Nets or the Orlando Magic will be the seventh seed and can therefore avoid the Milwaukee Bucks in round one of the playoffs. To be clear, either team would be a big underdog against the second-seeded Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs, but facing Milwaukee would mean even less chance of advancement in the playoffs.
The Magic seem to have the edge in the battle for the seventh seed. The main reason is that the Nets won’t have Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Wilson Chandler, and DeAndre Jordan for the Orlando restart. They have been blown up by the interruption of the season and the complications from the coronavirus. The Magic have a complete team, with no players (as of yet) choosing to skip the restart. Plus, the restart is in Orlando. The Magic face the fewest complications of any team resuming the season. It would be hard to think they would not be able to overtake the Nets when the season resumes.
The Washington Wizards are in ninth place and have a spot in Orlando, but they are 5.5 games behind the eighth-place Magic. They won’t have John Wall or Davis Bertans for the restart, so they won’t have the full complement of players needed to make a real run at the No. 8 seed. This all seems relatively clear in the East.
The Western Conference
The West has the fascinating playoff race. The Memphis Grizzlies are – at worst – going to be part of a two-game play-in series for the No. 8 seed in the West, behind the seventh-seeded Dallas Mavericks. For that reason alone, they have a decent chance of becoming the West’s final playoff team. However, two competitors have a good chance of earning a two-game series against them and having a chance to push past Memphis for the eighth spot.
The Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans are not going to overtake the Grizzlies for the eighth-place position in the eight seeding games which will be played in Orlando, but whichever team wins the battle to play Memphis in a possible two-game series will have a realistic chance of sweeping the two-game series and earning the No. 8 seed in the playoffs, knocking the Grizzlies out.
The big argument Portland has: Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, two elite scorers, could get hot and overwhelm Memphis, which lacks a single player as good as Dame and C.J.
The big argument New Orleans has: The Pelicans’ eight-game schedule is the easiest of any West team fighting for a playoff spot. The Pelicans can beat out the Blazers and become the opponent for Memphis in a two-game series. Zion Williamson looks a lot leaner and fitter than he did before the coronavirus-caused interruption of the season.
The other West teams – the Spurs, the Suns, the Kings – don’t have any of the advantages the Blazers and Pelicans have. It’s essentially a three-team race among Memphis, Portland, and New Orleans, and it’s anybody’s race to win, even though Memphis is the one team assured of a spot in a play-in series.