Suddenly, it’s a neck-to-neck dash as we reach the homestretch of this abbreviated season!
With barely 4 playdates left in this NBA restart, 4 teams jostle for position for a chance to take the last bus to the Western Conference playoffs. The gladiators from Memphis, Portland, Phoenix and San Antonio dig deep as they engage in mortal combat to gain the honor of dueling with the crown favorites, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the first round of the playoffs. Already booted out of contention are the New Orleans Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings.
The Grizzlies started the Season Restart on the wrong foot, collecting 4 straight losses before eventually gaining its solitary win so far enroute to a 33-38 record. It presently leads the closely-bunched pack, making it a strong candidate for the 8th spot. Led by their exciting Rookie of the Year hopeful Ja Morant, the Grizzlies are the pleasant surprise of the season. Without any bonafide stars, these bright young turks were able to keep pace with the heavyweights. How far this Cinderella team will go will fall much on the shoulders of their prized rookie.
Just a nose behind are the dangerous Portland Trail Blazers at 33-39. Injuries caused the surprising demotion of the Blazers from Conference Finalists last year to mere playoff hopefuls. But the suspension of games provided the team the needed recovery time for injured starting bigs, Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. With their healthy big men aboard, plus Dame Lillard, CJ McCollum and a resurrected Carmelo Anthony providing the scoring sock, the Blazers are suddenly the dark-horse favorites to clinch the coveted 8th spot. Should this happen, the LA Lakers will be in for a dogfight. Among the four, it is the Blazers which have the experience and the manpower to pose the most serious threat to the Lakers.
Silently creeping forward with everyone’s eyes elsewhere are the elegantly-coached San Antonio Spurs at 31-38. Coach Gregg Popovich’s wards have shown great strides despite the lack of a superstar on the roster, ekking out 4 of six wins in this short run. However, while they still have a mathematical chance of making it, they will need the Grizzlies or the Blazers to lose their last 2 games to squeeze through.
Finally, the Phoenix Suns (32-39) have been the brightest stars in this shortened sprint-of-a-series, collecting 6 straight wins as of presstime against the best teams in the league! Devin Booker leads the Suns in an improbable, yet still very possible quest for that long-lost shot at the playoffs. Phoenix could still be the cinderella team that makes the last bus if it hurdles its last 2 assignments against the injury-riddled 76ers and the Doncic-led Mavs, and the Grizzlies or the Blazers falter.
Whatever happens now, we are guaranteed to witness a play-in for the 8th seed. With the 4 teams bunched together with just 2 games left in each of their skeds, we know that the 8th and 9th spots will differ by less than 4 games. Hence, as stipulated under the Restart bible, a short play-in between the 8th and 9th ranked teams will be needed to determine the playoff’s 8th seed.
This will be a thrilling ‘last 2 minutes’ for the 4 hopefuls. Each one striving to notch 2 Ws in 2 forays, each one hoping for the others to tumble. Each one bloodied and extremely exhausted, yet aware they must drag their bodies to do battle at the arena once again. Two more times. Two. More. Gut-wrenching. Muscle-aching. Mother-effing. Times.
Who will the angels favor? Who will step forward for the chance to meet Lebron and the Lakers? Things are moving fast and furious, folks. Come and watch the NBA Restart 2020!
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of Medium. Other photos courtesy of New York Times, Grizzly Bear Blues, Yahoo! Sports, NBA.com, A Sea of Blue, CBS Sports, Pounding the Rock, Bright Side of the Suns, Fansided and The Daily Courier.