Four days. Two games.
That’s all that’s left of the seeding games in the Western Conference, yet four teams are still in the chase for the final playoff spot. More accurately, four teams are left trying to get into the upcoming play-in series (with the ultimate reward of facing LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round).
It leads to a lot of play-in scenarios in the West.
Memphis and Portland control their own destinies, but should either stumble San Antonio and red-hot Phoenix — still perfect at 6-0 in the bubble — are lurking. Here are the standings heading into Tuesday’s games.
There is great value in being the eighth seed — it’s a two-game play-in series and the eighth seed only needs to win one to get into the playoffs. Just get a split and that team advances. The ninth seed team needs to win both legs of that “home-and-home” (that is all played in Orlando, but work with me) to advance. The play-in games are Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday.
The 10 and 11 seeds go home.
Let’s break down the West play-in scenarios and what each team needs, in order of their seeding spot. (Note: Each team plays Tuesday and Thursday.)
8. Memphis Grizzlies
Remaining games: Boston, Milwaukee
Scenarios: The Grizzlies control their own destiny, go 2-0 and they will be the eighth seed. Doing that against two of the top three seeds in the East is not as daunting as it looks, both the Bucks and Celtics are locked into their seeds and have nothing to play for, so the East teams may take their foot off the gas this final couple of games.
If the Grizzlies stumble, they still have a cushion. If Memphis splits their two games, Portland can pass it for the eighth seed if the Blazers are undefeated (by 0.00075 percentage points). However, the Grizzlies have the tiebreakers over the Suns and Spurs, so if Memphis goes 1-1 it still advances to the play-in (just possibly as the nine seed).
Should Memphis go 0-2, then Phoenix and San Antonio could pass them if they win both remaining games.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (0.5 games behind Memphis)
Remaining games: Dallas, Brooklyn
Scenarios: Portland also controls its own destiny. If it goes 2-0 it will be in the play-in series (maybe as the eighth or ninth seed, but in). The Blazers catch Dallas on a back-to-back Tuesday (but with a rested Luka Doncic who sat out Monday), and the Nets are locked into the seven seed and have nothing to play for.
If Portland goes 1-1, it gets complex — the Blazers could be the eighth seed or out of the playoffs entirely, but it’s out of their hands. Let’s break it down. The Blazers could split their games and still be the eighth seed if the Grizzlies lose both games and the Suns and Spurs go 1-1 or worse. Or, a 1-1 Portland team could be the nine seed if Memphis is 1-1, and Phoenix and San Antonio are 1-1 or worse. Finally, a 1-1 Portland team could fall out of the playoffs if the Grizzlies are 1-1 or better and either the Suns or Spurs go 2-0.
If Portland goes 0-2 it needs help — both the Suns and Spurs would also have to lose out, if either won a game Portland goes home early.
10. Phoenix Suns (1 game behind Memphis)
Remaining games: Philadelphia, Dallas
Scenario: Devin Booker is draining threes, talking trash, and has made Phoenix the story of the restart at 6-0 — and it still likely needs to go 8-0 to get into the play-in. Even that may not be enough.
If the Suns go 2-0 they could be the eighth seed but only if the Grizzlies go 0-2 and the Trail Blazers go 1-1 or worse. If Suns go 2-0 they get in the play-in as at least the nine seed if the Trail Blazers go 1-1 or worse, no matter what the Grizzlies do). But Phoenix could go 2-0 and still be out of the bubble on Friday if Memphis and Portland both also go 2-0.
If the Suns go 1-1 they need a lot of help — Portland going 0-2 and San Antonio going 1-1 or worse — just to make the nine seed. If the Suns go 0-2 they will be fishing in Cancun by Friday.
11. San Antonio Spurs (1 game behind Memphis)
Remaining games: Houston, Utah
Scenarios: The Spurs essentially have to go 2-0 to have any chance at the play-in and keeping their 22-season playoff streak alive. Lose one game and they can’t finish behind Memphis and would need the Trail Blazers and Suns to go 0-2 to get in as the nine seed. The most likely scenario for the Spurs getting in is they earn the nine seed by going 2-0 while both the Trail Blazers and Suns go 1-1 or worse.
San Antonio could, in theory, be the eighth seed if it goes 2-0 and the other three teams go 0-2, but those are some long odds.