As a result of this past weekend’s games, we’re now assured of having our first-ever “play-in tournament” in the Western Conference, since there’s no way that the Grizzlies – or any other team that can finish at No. 8 – will finish more than four games ahead of the West’s No. 9 seed.
That won’t be the case in the East, where the Nets are locked into No. 7 and the Magic into No. 8, with the Wizards too far out of contention to force a play-in. But two teams out of the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Spurs and Suns are set to participate in a play-in tournament in the West. The Kings and Pelicans have officially been eliminated from play-in contention.
That play-in tournament will essentially be a best-of-three series, with the No. 8 team being staked to a 1-0 advantage in the “series.” In other words, the No. 9 seed will need to win twice to earn the conference’s final playoff spot, while the No. 8 seed will only need to win once in two tries to make it through.
Here are the current standings in the West:
|Seed||Team||Record||Games back||Games left|
|11||Suns||31-39||1.5||OKC, PHI, DAL|
The Grizzlies are the only team that fully controls its own destiny when it comes to claiming the No. 8 seed. Wins over Boston and Milwaukee would ensure that Memphis holds that spot, and a win in either one of those games would guarantee that the Grizzlies at least participate in the play-in tournament.
Those games – against two of the East’s top three teams – won’t be easy, though, and if the Grizzlies lose both of them, the race will be wide open, with any of the three teams chasing them technically still in play for the No. 8 seed.
The Blazers, with the softest remaining schedule, still look like a good bet to participate in a play-in tournament, but they’ll need to finish strong — losing one of their two games would leave them vulnerable to being passed in the standings by the Spurs and Suns if those teams win out. If Phoenix and San Antonio both win out, the Suns would finish slightly ahead of the Spurs.
All four teams still alive for the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds play their final seeding games on Thursday, so we’ll know by the end of that day which teams will take part in the play-in. The most important game to watch on Monday’s schedule is Suns vs. Thunder. Phoenix won’t be eliminated from play-in contention with a loss, but it would make their path a whole lot more difficult.