Western Conference Playoffs: Race to the Eighth

Heading into tonight’s games, there are five probable teams that can capture the eighth seed in the Western Conference. With so much focus on the top teams in the conference (Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks), I thought I’d discuss the much sought after eighth seed.

There are five teams that are within 4 games of the eighth seed. The eighth seed is currently occupied by the Portland Trail Blazers, but the Memphis Grizzlies are within sniffing distance, at half a game back. Two games behind the Grizzlies, are the Phoenix Suns, who are trailed by the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, at one game and one and a half games behind the Suns, respectively.  If any of these teams catch fire at the right time, they could end up in the playoffs.

Last year, if you remember, the eighth seed was occupied by the Oklahoma City Thunder. And if you remember, the Thunder took the Lakers to six games. The Thunder could have taken the series to seven games, had it not been for Pau Gasol’s last second heroics in Game Six. And of course, who can forget the year the Golden State Warriors took out defending conference champions, the Dallas Mavericks, in the first round? So if your saying, “who cares about the eighth seed?” the answer is simply…the first seed!

So which team is most likely to make the eighth seed? Let’s go through this step by step.

  • The Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are the most unlikely candidate, out of the five teams I listed, to make the playoffs. The Warriors have a good offense, highlighted by the high scoring Monta Ellis, but don’t play much defense. Their defensive rating is 27th in the league, and they allow the third most points per game. Bad defense means inconsistency. Inconsistency means the Warriors miss the playoffs yet again.

  • The Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers are currently the team that holds that eighth spot. While they have a very talented roster, two of their best players are out indefinitely. Brandon Roy is out after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both knees, and Marcus Camby is out after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. How much longer can LaMarcus Aldridge hold down the fort? Will the Aldridge continue his stellar play? Will the Blazers make the playoffs, or will their post-season aspirations be over faster than Greg Oden’s career?

  • The Houston Rockets

The Rockets are a team that had huge expectations coming into the season. However, the expectations hinged on Yao Ming staying healthy, which of course, he hasn’t. The Rockets have a talented roster, but when your best player is a pure scorer, like Kevin Martin, your season is likely to have some ups and downs. The Rockets have no size, and will lose a ton of games (and have) because of it.

  • The Memphis Grizzlies

I think this playoff race goes right down to the wire. The Grizzlies have a very talented roster, and have been very good as of late. Their front court of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Rudy Gay is one of the best in the West, and once OJ Mayo comes back from suspension, he can be their X factor. Mayo has the potential to be a spark plug off the bench. If he can get motivated, and play like he had in his first two seasons, the Grizzlies may be in for a treat. On the flip side, if he gets traded, he can net them a good contributing player and possibly a draft pick. The Grizzlies are better than the other three teams I’ve listed, but there’s one team that I like just a little bit more…

  • The Phoenix Suns

Yes, the Suns. The Suns have the best guard out of any of these potential playoff teams, and have found new life with Marcin Gortat as their center. Steve Nash still has a lot left in the tank. In fact, his number this year, are as good as they were last year, when his team made it to the Western Conference Finals. Grant Hill is still reliable, and Vince Carter is…well…Vince Carter. The Suns are playing horrible defense, with probably the worst, or second worst, defense in the league. I know I slammed the Warriors for their bad defense, but for the Suns, it’s nothing new. The Suns have always won games by offense, and have one of the top ten offenses in the league again. The Suns are only 2.5 games back, and still have plenty of time left.

Let’s be honest, none of these teams are very good. But in the playoffs, anything can happen. Will one of these teams pull off a great upset? Or will they be swept? I know one thing for certain, these playoffs are bound to be exciting.

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