The No. 8 seed in the Western Conference won’t be determined Thursday, with the four teams still capable of claiming the berth jockeying for a bid to a two-team play-in tournament. In other words, two teams will be eliminated by the end of the night and two teams will advance.
Making the playoffs would mean something slightly different for the squads still in contention. The Spurs are trying to extend their postseason streak to 23 years. The Trail Blazers are trying not to squander another year of Damian Lillard’s prime. The Grizzlies are trying to gain valuable experience for their young core. The Suns want to end a 10-year drought.
This should be one of the more dramatic ends to a season in recent memory — though the Orlando bubble setting will remove the home court hoopla typically associated with tense NBA basketball.
Below are the qualifying scenarios for Thursday’s schedule, as well as the NBA’s playoff bracket entering the set of games.
The Trail Blazers can secure the No. 8 seed by beating the Nets. If they lose to Brooklyn, they can still get the No. 8 seed through losses from the of the Grizzlies, Suns and Spurs.
It’s still possible for Portland to be eliminated entirely (meaning finishing below No. 9) — but that outcome is unlikely. To fall out of the play-in tournament, it would have to lose on Thursday and watch the Grizzlies, Suns and Spurs all win. If the Trail Blazers lose but just two of those other three teams win, they’d be safe in the No. 9 spot and qualify for the play-in round.
The Grizzlies need to beat the Bucks and have the Trail Blazers lose in order to reach the No. 8 seed.
Memphis is guaranteed at least the No. 9 seed if it wins on Thursday, regardless of what its rivals do. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is suspended for the contest, making that task a bit easier. If Memphis loses, it would need the Suns and Spurs to also lose in order to reach the play-in round.
The Suns need to beat the Mavericks and have the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies lose in order to get the No. 8 seed.
Phoenix would be the No. 9 seed if it beats Dallas and one of the Trail Blazers or Grizzlies lose.
Can the Spurs magic continue? It would take significant help from other teams in the bubble.
The Spurs need to beat the Jazz and have all three other teams in close proximity lose in order to be the No. 8 seed. They would sneak into the No. 9 spot with a win and losses by two of the three teams they’re competing with.
Here’s what the NBA’s first-round playoff matchups would be if the season ended today:
(1) Bucks vs. (8) Magic
(2) Raptors vs. (7) Nets
(3) Celtics vs. (6) 76ers
(4) Heat vs. (5) Pacers
(1) Lakers vs. (8) Trail Blazers
(2) Clippers vs. (7) Mavericks
(3) Nuggets vs. (6) Jazz
(4) Thunder vs. (5) Rockets
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