We are just a couple days out from the NBA playoffs starting, but there is still much to be decided. The East is essentially decided, but the West is still a dog fight like it often is. The Pelicans could not overcome Zion's minute's restriction and the Kings just did not have the firepower to contend for the eighth and final playoff spot. That being said there is still plenty to play for if you are Spurs, Suns, Trail Blazers, or Grizzlies fans. With these four teams, all having a shot who is most likely to come out on top and battle the Lakers in the first round? And more importantly, who would have the best shot at beating them?
Disclaimer: This is not taking into account records, just who would be the best team that could earn the eighth seed.
4) San Antonio Spurs
I infamously wrote a few weeks ago that the Spurs would only win one game in Orlando and they have certainly done better than that. The Popovich led Spurs defeated Sacramento and Memphis to open up bubble play before defeating Utah and New Orleans the last two games. Demar Derozan has looked like his former all-star self, scoring over twenty-five points in three of the Spurs six games thus far. Patty Mills played a few games before picking up an injury, which hurts them quite a bit leading into these last two games. While the Spurs are the best-coached team out of these four, they simply lack help for Derozan to take the eighth seed. Even if they were to do so, the Spurs do not match up well with Lebron and company, as they lost all three games against them this year. If they had second-star LaMarcus Aldridge then they could easily top this list, but without him, the Spurs are looking unlikely to pull off the eighth seed.
3) Memphis Grizzlies
Yes, the Grizzlies are currently holding down the eighth spot, but they would only provide the third-best challenge to Los Angeles. Memphis has only won one game since entering the bubble (all be it they did knock off the Thunder by 29 points) but otherwise, they have struggled. This is not to take anything away from Memphis, as few gave them a chance to even be in this position this season. Ja Morant should win Rookie of the Year and four other players average double-digit scoring as well. The emergence of Grayson Allen in the bubble has been great to watch as a Duke fan, but this team needs more. Quite simply Dillon Brooks (while impressive) cannot be your second option if you hope to make the playoffs in the NBA. If Memphis does manage to hold onto that final spot they would struggle mightily to defend the Lakers. The Lakers perimeter defense would not be great, but they would still handle Memphis with relative ease.
2) Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns have been the surprise team in Orlando as they are the only undefeated team at 6-0. Fans never questioned the talent of Devin Booker, as he has been balling all year, including in Orlando, but the question was where would his help come from? The answer to that question would be DeAndre Ayton and Cameron Johnson. Cameron has scored in double-digits in all but one of their games and Ayton, despite messing up a COVID test, has secured three double-doubles in those six games as well. Despite the injury to Kelly Oubre others have stepped up to give Booker the help he so desperately needs. The fact that Phoenix is clicking on all cylinders would make for an entertaining first-round matchup with the Lakers. While the Lakers would still win that series, the idea of Booker finally getting to show out on the NBA's biggest stage is enticing. The Suns just miss out on the top spot, but this writer loves to see basketball in Phoenix finally thriving, even if it is just for a few weeks
1) Portland Trail Blazers
Dollar Dame looks poised to land that eighth and final playoff spot out West. Lillard has yet to score under twenty points in a game in Orlando, including a fifty-one point game versus the 76ers on Sunday. It has also been great to see Carmelo Anthony playing well as a starter, as he has had three twenty point games to support Damian. The Trail Blazers miss Hassan Whiteside's inside presence, but Jusuf Nurkic playing again has helped fill that void. The Trail Blazers earn this top spot because they have the depth and star power to play Los Angeles. Gary Trent Jr. has played well, CJ McCollum plays his scoring role well and even players like Zach Collins help fill out this rotation. If anyone were to upset the Lakers in the first round it would be Portland. But let's be honest, they cannot defend well so even they would be heavy underdogs to do so.
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