All the scenarios, all the magic numbers, all the scoreboard watching — it’s all getting settled on Thursday.
Here is where things stand as four teams battle for two spots in this weekend’s Western Conference play-in:
Portland Trail Blazers: win and they’re in (as the No. 8 seed).
Memphis Grizzlies: win and they’re in (as the No. 8 seed if Portland loses, and the No. 9 seed if Portland wins).
That’s the simple way to understand it, and the way the four teams are approaching it.
But if teams start losing, it starts getting a little complicated. If Portland loses, they can still hold the 8-seed if the other three teams lose. They can hold the 9-seed with a loss and any two of the other three teams lose.
If Memphis loses, they need San Antonio and Phoenix to lose to hold onto the 9-seed. The Suns are out if they lose but can finish eighth with a win and losses by Portland and Memphis, or Phoenix can finish at No. 9 with a win and a loss by one of the two.
The Spurs need the most help. They’re the 8-seed with a win and losses by the other three teams. They’re the No. 9 seed with a win and losses by any two of the other three. They’re out — for the first time in 22 years — if they lose.
Regardless, it’s going to be a frantic day of games for the four teams, trying to fight the urge to glance at a scoreboard. The Grizzlies face the top team in the NBA in the Milwaukee Bucks but caught a huge break with Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s one-game suspension. But then again, the Bucks are probably going full rest mode anyway.
The Spurs take on the Utah Jazz, who are now locked into their opening-round series against the Denver Nuggets. The Blazers get the Brooklyn Nets, who are locked as the East’s 7-seed. And the Suns, the undefeated bubble monsters, take on the Dallas Mavericks, who already clinched the 7-seed.
The Grizzlies and Suns tip off simultaneously, the Spurs tip-off as they’re both wrapping up, and the Blazers have the advantage of knowing exactly what’s in front of them as they close the day. Which means possible pressure. Which means … Dame Time.
— Royce Young
Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Thursday and Friday, and everything you need to know. Check back for highlights and updates throughout the day.
Booker leaves MKG in the dust
The Suns are fighting to stay perfect in the bubble and make the West play-in. Buckets like this will help.
The Grindfather and Z-Bo are in the building
“Grit ‘n’ Grind” legends Tony Allen and Zach Randolph were spotted in the virtual crowd during the Grizzlies’ final seeding game. A win clinches them a spot in the West play-in.
What were LeBron and AD laughing at?
The world may never know.
LeBron’s historic streak will continue into 2020-21
LeBron James scored 17 points in 15 minutes in Thursday’s seeding round finale for the Los Angeles Lakers. Head coach Frank Vogel said he wanted to play James in the first half to “get him some work, some rhythm” with the Sacramento Kings game being the last chance for a tuneup before L.A.’s playoff opener, likely coming Tuesday.
While it wasn’t the smoothest performance for the 17-year veteran — he missed a couple of point-blank attempts at the rim in the second quarter he’d surely like to have back — he did secure a couple statistical achievements worth noting. His streak of scoring 10 points or more extended to 995 games — he’ll officially take the streak, which began on Jan. 6, 2007, into next season with a chance to push it to 1,000 in the first couple weeks of 2020-21.
And while his four assists on the day dipped his season average to 10.2 assists per game, he still led the league, earning him his first assists title of his career.
— Dave McMenamin
LeBron James misses a couple wide-open layups in the second quarter in the Lakers last game of the season.
The Wizards leave the bubble with a W
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Washington Wizards became the first team to leave the NBA campus Thursday — and did so on a high note.
After losing each of their first seven seeding games here inside the league’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort, the Wizards beat the Celtics 96-90 before immediately flying back to Washington. By the end of the day Thursday, at least two other teams — the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans — will have joined them, and two others from among the four fighting for a spot in the play-in tournament — the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs — will see their seasons end, too.
For the Wizards, a win is a win — regardless of whether it came against a Celtics team that was resting its top six players in preparation for facing the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs next week.
“Well, I think we had a great experience here,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “We had a lot of good growth, a lot of good bonding experience, a lot of positives came out of it … We grew up a little bit these last two months together.
“I’m happy with it, and we’re all excited about the next phase of our development, and right now we are going to go home and connect with our families and go from there.”
— Tim Bontemps
What Westbrook’s injury means for Houston’s playoff run
An MRI Wednesday revealed a strained quad muscle for the Rockets’ All-Star guard, who’s now expected to miss at least the start of the team’s playoff series next week. How will the Rockets replace Westbrook and how much will they miss his presence?
Thursday’s must-see games
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Memphis Grizzlies | 4 p.m. ET
Memphis can guarantee itself a shot in the play-in tournament with a victory against the Bucks, locking up at least the No. 9 seed. A win and a loss by Portland later in the night gets the Grizzlies to the eighth spot, giving them the upper hand in the play-in.
The good news for Memphis is it probably won’t have to face a full-strength Bucks’ squad. Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss the game while serving a one-game suspension for his head-butt ejection from Tuesday’s game. Milwaukee could opt to rest more starters heading into the playoffs with the top seed in the East already locked up. — Andrew Lopez
Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns | 4 p.m. ET
Like the Grizzlies, the Suns might also benefit from a team that is looking toward the playoffs rather than going all out in the final seeding game. With Tuesday’s loss to Portland, Dallas is locked in to the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The Mavericks could look to rest Luka Doncic (who is averaging 32 points, 11.3 assists, 11 rebounds in six bubble games) and Kristaps Porzingis (30.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks in six games), which could open things up for Phoenix.
Even though the Suns are looking to get to 8-0, a trip to the playoffs isn’t guaranteed. They need one of Memphis or Portland to lose, combined with a win of their own. It would be Phoenix’s first eight-game winning streak since 2010, which is also the last time the Suns made the playoffs. — Lopez
San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz | 6:30 p.m. ET
Prior to Tuesday’s game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked what he would have said if a month ago someone told him San Antonio had a chance to go 6-2 in the bubble and make the playoffs. “I would have had them drug tested,” Popovich deadpanned. Popovich noted that when a team doesn’t have championship aspirations,it has to look toward development. Luckily for the Spurs, that has turned into a possible playoff berth. Because of percentage points, though, the Spurs need more help than others. Utah, however, could be playing for matchups in the playoffs. Currently No. 6, the Jazz have a chance to move up a spot if things bounce their way with other games. — Lopez
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Brooklyn Nets | 9 p.m. ET
What will Damian Lillard do next? 51 points? 61 points? More? Who knows. Lillard is averaging a bubble-best 37 points while also putting up an average of 9.3 assists in 41.4 minutes. CJ McCollum is the only other player in Florida averaging 40 minutes per game as Portland has leaned on its one-two combo to keep the Blazers in playoff contention. Brooklyn is locked in as the No. 7 seed and Jacque Vaughn — coaching for a chance to continue on as the Nets’ head coach next season — has his team 5-2 overall with three straight wins. — Lopez
- Washington Wizards 96, Boston Celtics 90
Updated West play-in standings
8. Portland Trail Blazers | 34-39 (.466) | —
T-9. Memphis Grizzlies | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
T-9. Phoenix Suns | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
11. San Antonio Spurs | 32-38 (.457) | 0.5 GB
The Suns improved to a 7-0 record since the NBA restart thanks in part to the play of Devin Booker.
Friday’s Must-See Games
For both of these teams, the goal will be to get into the playoffs healthy. Denver, which has dealt with injuries throughout the bubble, will likely be exceedingly cautious in this game as it waits on the return of wings Gary Harris and Will Barton.
The same should go for the defending champions, who sat rotation players OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka on Wednesday and have been judicious with minutes over the past few days. Head coach Nick Nurse will likely give most of the Raptors’ regulars the day off. — Tim Bontemps
These two teams met on Monday, and the Heat cruised to a comfortable win. With this now set as a first-round playoff series, expect both teams to rest their key players in preparation for their showdown starting early next week. — Bontemps
While Chris Paul will be going up against his old team, it’s hard to see him playing much. Same goes for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. What all of that will mean is Reggie Jackson will get a revenge game against his old team — which likely means big numbers from him (if anyone is actually playing DFS on the final day of seeding games). — Bontemps
The focus for these two teams won’t be what happens on the court, but instead what the health of two of their biggest stars is off of it. Joel Embiid left Wednesday’s game against Toronto because of a wrist injury, while Russell Westbrook sat out Houston’s loss to Indiana because of a strained quad. — Bontemps
Analysis and intel
Other awards include Comeback Player of the Bubble, Sixth Man of the Bubble and Best Coach
The playoff picture is beginning to take shape as the final week of seeding games continues.
Phoenix is 7-0, and Portland keeps winning. Here are the latest projections for the four-team race.