Zion Williamson and the Pelicans failed to come to the party but the race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference is almost as good as the NBA could have drawn up.
The unexpected rise of the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs since the season restarted — coupled with the more predictable charge of the Portland Trail Blazers and struggles of the Memphis Grizzlies — have created a dream scenario as the playoffs near.
All four teams remain alive ahead of their final regular season games on Thursday.
The NBA has introduced a play-in tournament ahead of this year’s postseason. The teams finishing the regular season in eighth and ninth will play off against each other for the right to play the LA Lakers in the first round.
And the race for those two spots couldn’t be tighter after Wednesday’s play.
The Suns (7-0 in the bubble) and Spurs (5-2) both won again in games they had to have to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Devin Booker had another monster game for Phoenix, tallying 35 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and a nasty left-handed poster dunk in a 130-117 win against a 76ers team missing Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson.
Devin Booker has been the MVP of the bubble. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
The Spurs took advantage of James Harden’s absence to punish the Rockets 123-105 as Keldon Johnson led all scorers with 24 off the bench.
Those victories were made even more important when the Grizzlies (1-6) lost to the Celtics 122-107 and saw their record drop to 33-39. Ja Morant had 26 points and 13 assists but Jayson Tatum (29 points, 4/5 threes) was dominant for Boston.
The Blazers (4-2), who many favour to make the postseason and have been described as the potential best eighth-seed in NBA history, are in a suddenly must-win game against the Mavericks.
If Portland loses they would fall to 11th and if the Spurs and Grizzlies win their respective final games against the Jazz and Bucks — who have nothing to play for and are expected to rest their starters — the Blazers won’t even make the play-in tournament.
Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony and the Blazers are suddenly vulnerable. Picture: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFPSource:AFP
RACE FOR EIGHTH — STANDINGS
8. Memphis Grizzlies 33-39
9. Portland Trail Blazers 33-39
10. Phoenix Suns 33-39
11. San Antonio Spurs 32-38
Trail Blazers v Mavericks (live) and Nets (Thursday, 11am)
Grizzlies v Bucks (Thursday, 6am)
Suns v Mavericks (Thursday, 6am)
Spurs v Jazz (Thursday, 8.30am)
Kuz hits GAME-WINNNG 3 for LA
NBA: Kyle Kuzma sinks the Nuggets with a game-winning three for the Lakers.
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