- The NBA will have a “play-in tournament” for the eighth seed of the playoffs in the Western Conferece this year.
- Four teams – the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, and San Antonio Spurs – are all competing for the two play-in spots, each with one game left to play.
- We broke down each team’s remaining schedule and chances of getting in.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The race for the NBA’s first-ever play-in tournament is getting tight in the Western Conference.
When the NBA decided on a format for resuming its season in a “bubble” in Disney World, the plans included a play-in tournament for the eighth and final playoff seed if the eighth and ninth-place teams were within four games or fewer of each other in the standings.
In the East, the race is over, with the Washington Wizards eliminated from playoff contention. But in the West, four teams are neck-and-neck in the race for those two seeds.
We broke down the four teams racing for the play-in tournament and their playoff odds, via 538, below.
First, here is a look at the Western Conference standings as of Tuesday morning, August 11.
Just half-a-game separates the eighth-place Portland Trail Blazers and the 11th-place San Antonio Spurs.
Each team has one game left. Here’s what they need to make the eighth and ninth seeds and qualify for the play-in tournament.
Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 34-39, 8th place
538 playoff odds: 80%
Games remaining: 1 – Brooklyn Nets
Where they stand right now: The Blazers are in control of their destiny, thanks largely to Damian Lillard. It’s not a one-man show, of course, and the Blazers have gotten excellent contributions from Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr., but Lillard is willing Portland into the playoffs. He had 61 points in a must-win over the Mavericks on Tuesday, following 51 points over the Philadelphia 76ers, giving him 112 points over two games just as Portland’s back was against the wall.
The Blazers still have to beat the Nets, but after grinding out their last two wins, that looks like an easier feat, as the Nets should be resting their best players for their final seeding game.
Record: 33-39, 10th place
538 playoff odds: 12%
Games remaining: 1 – Dallas Mavericks
Where they stand right now: Phoenix has been the best team in the bubble, full stop. They’re 7-0, with a whopping 11.2 net rating. Devin Booker might be the most lethal scorer in the NBA right now, Ricky Rubio is playing some of his most efficient basketball, DeAndre Ayton is showing why he was the 2018 No. 1 pick, and the Suns are getting contributions from all levels of their roster. Where was this all season?
The Suns need a little bit of luck to get in, however. While the Mavericks should be resting their top players with the 7th seed locked up, they also need the Grizzlies or Blazers to lose their game just to get to the 9th seed. It’s an unfortunate reality for Phoenix after a marvellous, unexpected display in the bubble.
Record: 33-39, 9th place
538 playoff odds: 5%
Games remaining: 1 – Milwaukee Bucks
Where they stand right now: The surprise team of the NBA season stumbled out of the gate in the bubble and could miss the playoffs because of it. Through seven games, the Grizzlies have the fifth-worst offence but have been competitive thanks to their defence. Unfortunately, they have stumbled in close games, thanks to 18% shooting (2-of-11) from three and a 135.9 defensive rating in the clutch.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is out for the remainder of the bubble, and the Grizzlies face have a tougher final opponent than the Blazers and Suns. The Bucks may rest their stars for the final game, but given how Memphis has looked in the bubble, it’s still no sure victory.
San Antonio Spurs
Record: 32-38, 11th place
538 playoff odds: 2%
Games remaining: 1 – Utah Jazz
Where they stand right now: San Antonio has gone small in the bubble to great effect. They still don’t shoot many threes (27 per game, last in the bubble), but they hit them (41%, third-best in the bubble). They’re playing at a quicker pace, rarely sending opponents to the line, and defending shots well.
But San Antonio has been a little lucky so far and needs that luck to continue. They not only need to beat the Jazz on Thursday, they need two of the teams in front of them to lose. Can Gregg Popovich work a miracle for his roster? A 22-year playoff streak rides on it.