NBA bubble breakdown: Race for West’s No. 8 seed down to four teams

We’re going to get a play-in for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Now we just have to wait to see which two teams it will involve.

The field of contenders thinned Sunday, but the race between the remaining four teams is as close as ever. The New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings were eliminated from contention with losses Sunday. That’s the simple part. The hard part is trying to guess how things with play out between the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns.

Only 1½ games separate the four. Memphis stumbled again Sunday, losing to the Toronto Raptors to fall to 1-5 in the NBA bubble. Still, the Grizzlies maintain a tenuous hold on eighth place, a half-game ahead of the Blazers, who bounced back with a big win over the Philadelphia 76ers on the hot hand of Damian Lillard.

San Antonio eliminated New Orleans and kept its hopes alive for a record 23rd consecutive playoff appearance. The Spurs are a half-game behind the Blazers. Phoenix, the only unbeaten team in the bubble, is a half-game behind San Antonio.

Memphis, Portland and San Antonio each have two games left. Phoenix has three. Who gets the play-in spots will largely be determined by the schedules. According to NBA.com, the Blazers have the easiest remaining games and the Suns the toughest, but top teams potentially resting star players could add another element to the equation.

With the play-in essentially assured, the NBA announced Sunday that the first game between the eighth- and ninth-place teams will take place Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET. If the eighth seed wins, it clinches the playoff berth. If the ninth seed wins, the rematch will take place Sunday at 4:30 ET for the final playoff spot in the West. ABC will televise both games.

Ja Morant and the Grizzlies are trying to hold off the CJ McCollum and the Blazers for eighth place in the West.

Sunday’s games

Thunder 121, Wizards 103: Rookie Darius Bazley had a career-high 23 points off the bench as Oklahoma City kept Washington winless in the bubble.

Raptors 108, Grizzlies 99: Toronto held on to lock up the No. 2 seed in the East and left Memphis clinging to a half-game lead for eighth in the West.

Spurs 122, Pelicans 113: DeMar DeRozan had 27 points as San Antonio kept its hopes alive of making the West play-in and eliminated New Orleans from contention.

Celtics 122, Magic 119 (OT): Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum combined for 60 points to help Boston rally late to secure the No. 3 seed in the East.

Blazers 124, Sixers 121: Damian Lillard poured in 51 points as Portland held off Philadelphia after Joel Embiid left with an ankle injury in the first quarter.

Rockets 129, Kings 112: Austin Rivers scored a career-high 41 points off the bench and Houston used a big third quarter to pull away from Sacramento.

Nets 129, Clippers 120: Brooklyn blew a 21-point lead but shot 55.3% overall with 20 3s to hold off Los Angeles and clinch the No. 7 seed in the East.

Monday’s schedule

All times Eastern. All games also available on League Pass.

  • Thunder vs. Suns, 2:30
  • Mavericks vs. Jazz, 3 (NBATV)
  • Raptors vs. Bucks, 6:30 (ESPN)
  • Pacers vs. Heat, 8
  • Nuggets vs. Lakers, 9 (TNT)

State of the playoff race

The playoff picture got clearer elsewhere Sunday. Toronto and Boston secured their spots as the second and third seeds in the East behind Milwaukee. Brooklyn clinched the No. 7 seed, locking Orlando into eighth. Miami, Indiana and Philadelphia are still jockeying for seeds 4-6.

At the top of the West, seeds 2-6 are separated by just four games. While home-court advantage won’t be a factor in the playoffs, matchups will be key to who advances out of the first round. The final week of seeding games could still see plenty of movement between the Clippers, Nuggets, Rockets, Thunder and Jazz.

Essential reading

DAME TIME STRIKES: Inside Lillard’s clutch 51-point night to beat Sixers

TROUBLE BREWING: What’s wrong with the Lakers? Nothing …. maybe

GRIM NEWS: Sixers uncertain about Embiid’s status after latest injury

MORE BUBBLE: Union executive won’t rule out bubble for 2020-21 season

TALK ISN’T CHEAP: Draymond fined $50K for comments on Suns’ Booker

STILL ADJUSTING: LeBron struggling to get used to playing without fans

RACE FOR EIGHTH: Will contenders’ rest influence who gets No. 8 seed?

DELETE EIGHT: Teams not in the bubble losing ground for next season 

UNSUNG HERO: One of bubble’s most essential figures won’t be on court

DOING HIS PART: How Moe Harkless used quarantine to support Black culture

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