Mirror, mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all? Or in the case of the nine teams looking outside the 2019-2020 NBA playoff picture: who’s good enough to join the 13 other teams that already punched their playoff tickets?
In the East, two of the playoff spots are up for grabs., and these would be fought over by the Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and the Washington Wizards.
It’s a six-cornered fight in the West for the last remaining playoff berth as the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trailblazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and the Phoenix Suns all have a chance to crash the postseason party.
And it’s not a straight up eighth best record clinch because if the eighth and ninth place teams in either conference are four games or less apart after the restart, those teams will figure in a play-in for the last postseason berth.
To spice things up, the eighth placed team would have a twice-to-beat advantage against the ninth seed in the play-in, which means the ninth seed would have to beat the eighth seed twice to make it to the postseason.
So, without further ado, here’s my take on the nine teams’ chances in making the playoffs and let’s start with the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn Nets (30-34)
The almost New Jersey Swamp Dragons should be ecstatic to be in the seventh seed when the NBA resumes next month. They’ve already outdone themselves playing without superstar Kevin Durant the whole season and Kyrie Irving only suiting up for 20 games.
With those two a no-show again for the final eight games of the regular season, Orlando will surge ahead and overtake them for the seventh spot.
Orlando Magic (30-35)
The hometown team when the NBA restart begins next month, the Mickey Mouse team will end up with the seventh seed when all is said and done.
Beyond that they have a chance to make some noise in the postseason with the core of center Nikola Vucevic, reclamation project and former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and Aaron “Dwayne Wade-rigged-the-dunk-contest” Gordon.
Washington Wizards (24-40)
The former Bullets already lost some prior to the restart as 3-point shooter extraordinaire Davis Bertans has already opted out of completing the regular season. Who could blame him as the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent is looking for a big payday next season.
And without John Wall, the Wizards will essentially be a one-man army in all-star Bradley Beal. It would be a miracle if Washington even forces a play-in game.
Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but don’t tell that to presumptive Rookie of the Year Ja Morant and the upstart Memphis Grizzlies. The team started slowly but eventually found its stride and is currently in the eighth seed in the highly competitive West. It would be nice to see them in the playoffs, but two straight heart-breaking losses in the play-in is more likely in the cards.
Portland Trailblazers (29-37)
The Trailblazers were fine until Trevor Ariza opted out from the Orlando bubble. The defensive stopper is the ideal 3-and-D player Portland needed. If there’s any consolation, hulking center Jusuf Nurkic is back from injury, which puts coach Terry Stotts in a conundrum on who starts — the big Bosnian or Miami Heat discard Hassan Whiteside. The former Jailblazers will fail to force a play-in.
New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)
Now, if conspiracy theorists are to be believed, giving Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans a chance to make the playoffs was the only reason the NBA green-lit a 22-team restart to the regular season.
But if I were to choose among the five West teams to force a play-in, the former Hornets would be my pick. They’re rock solid in every position led by super rookie Williamson, Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, who’s finally showing his worth. I wouldn’t even be surprised if they zap Memphis two straight and usher in the Age of Zion.
Sacramento Kings (28-36)
I always regarded the Kings as the New York Knicks of the West. They’re another team with a storied history seemingly stuck in neutral. Being invited to the dance (regular season restart) is already an accomplishment for the Kings, as usually, at this time this year, GM Vlade Divac and company are already busy thinking of ways of fumbling their pick in the NBA Draft.
San Antonio Spurs (27-36)
The San Antonio Spurs will finally end the NBA record for most consecutive playoff appearances it shares with the Philadelphia 76ers at 22. For perspective, in 1997 Bill Clinton was still in the Oval Office, the No. 1 movie in the Box Office was “Titanic” and the top-selling mobile phone was the Nokia 6110.
I’m not sold on the five-time champs making the postseason for one reason — LaMarcus Aldridge. The 6’11” center out of Texas will miss the restart after having season-ending shoulder surgery last April. Without the big man, coach Greg Popovich just won’t have enough horses to force even a play-in.
Phoenix Suns (26-39)
A long shot to force a play-in if I ever saw one. So, Devin Booker and his gaudy 26 points per game average will be missing the playoffs once again this season — fifth straight since turning pro in 2015. At least he gets to play eight more games to finish the 2020 season and develop much needed chemistry with pass-first point guard Ricky Rubio and center Deandre Ayton, the 2018 No. 1pick. The latter needs to make big strides in the offseason to finally make the Suns a contender.
Mark Rabago is a former reporter at The Manila Times. He has continued his journalism career abroad but remains a true-blue PBA fan. He can be reached at email@example.com.