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The NBA has officially announced its plan to finish the 2019-20 season using a 22-team format at Disney World in Orlando, beginning July 31. Every team will play eight games each before the playoffs start, with the potential of a play-in tournament deciding the No. 8 seed in both conferences. In the East, the only two teams fighting for the final spot in the playoffs are the Magic and Wizards, though eighth-seeded Orlando holds a comfortable 5 1/2 game lead over Washington.

In the West, however, things stand to be far more interesting when the season resumes in July. The conference’s top seven teams may be pretty much guaranteed a playoff berth, but there will be six teams battling for the eighth and final spot. Even more enticing, three of those teams are just 3 1/2 games back of the current No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies. Although each team’s remaining schedule hasn’t officially been announced, our own Brad Botkin listed the presumed remaining games for every franchise when the NBA returns to action. Keeping that in mind, here’s how the six bubble teams in the West rank heading into Orlando. 

First, though, a glance at the West’s current playoff picture:

Team Record Seed GB final playoff spot

Memphis Grizzlies

32-33

No. 8

Portland Trail Blazers

29-37

No. 9

3.5

New Orleans Pelicans

28-36

No. 10

3.5

Sacramento Kings

28-36

No. 11

3.5

San Antonio Spurs

27-36

No. 12

4.0

Phoenix Suns

26-39

No. 13

6.0

6. San Antonio Spurs

With the news that LaMarcus Aldridge’s shoulder surgery will keep him out for the remainder of the 2019-20 season, any chance that the Spurs had at making the playoffs is growing grimmer by the day. Aldridge has been arguably the Spurs’ best player this season, and transformed his game by taking a career-high three 3-pointers a game, while hitting them at a 38.9 percent clip. Without him to anchor the frontcourt on both ends of the floor, San Antonio will have to rely on its youth in Luka Samanic, Trey Lyles and Chimezie Metu

Aldridge being out also won’t help when San Antonio has to play Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert twice each when the Spurs get to Orlando. At this point, these eight games will serve as a way for the franchise to take a look at its youth and try to envision a future as both Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan will be unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2021. The Spurs’ 22-season playoff streak may be coming to an end this year, and their future looks murkier than ever.

5. Phoenix Suns

The Suns will be getting Kelly Oubre back in Orlando now that the forward is fully recovered from meniscus surgery in February. However, his return doesn’t significantly improve Phoenix’s chances of making the postseason. Aside from sitting six games out of the No. 8 spot in the West, among the eight remaining games on their schedule, all but one are against teams with winning records, including tough matchups against the Clippers, Mavericks twice and

the Heat. This will be the first time that the Suns will be playing meaningful basketball at the end of the season in a decade, but other than playoff-like reps for Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and company, the Suns are just happy to be included in this experiment.

With their lineup expected to be fully healthy, though, they will be able to play Booker, Oubre, Ayton, Ricky Rubio and Mikal Bridges together for eight games, which was their most successful lineup by far in a limited amount of time this season. In 226 minutes of action, that lineup outscored opponents by 20.2 points per 100 possession. It will give Phoenix a small sample size of what this team could look like for the 2020-21 season when at full strength, and potentially make that jump from bottom of the barrel in the West, to legitimate contenders for a playoff spot.

4. Sacramento Kings

  • Record: 28-36 (Currently No. 11 seed)
  • Presumed remaining matchups: Pelicans (twice), Nets, Mavericks, Rockets, Magic, Pacers, Spurs

The Kings significantly turned their season around after an abysmal 12-22 start through the first two months of the season. In the last 10 games before the shutdown, Sacramento posted the best record (7-3) among the six teams fighting for the final spot in the West, putting itself in a three-way tie with Portland and New Orleans to be 3 1/2 games behind Memphis. It also helped that head coach Luke Walton made the decision to move Buddy Hield to the bench in favor of Bogdan Bogdanovic, providing them more cohesion in their rotation. In the final eight regular-season games, the Kings will have two tough matchups against the Mavericks and Rockets, but where they can make the most impact on making a playoff push is in the two games they will play against the Pelicans.

In the last month before the season was postponed, the Kings were playing at a much faster pace (101.23), reminiscent of the 2018-19 season when their 103.88 pace ranked third in the league. Playing quicker allows young guard De’Aaron Fox to have more freedom, using his blistering speed and quickness to his advantage against defenders. It’s not yet clear if Marvin Bagley will be available for Sacramento in Orlando, but without him, the Kings have enough to at least have a puncher’s chance of closing the gap on the playoff race.

3. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Record: 29-37 (Currently No. 9 seed)
  • Presumed remaining matchups: Grizzlies, Rockets, Mavericks, Celtics, 76ers, Nets

The Trail Blazers have the potential to be the most dangerous team when the season returns because of the players they’ll be getting back in their rotation. Jusuf Nurkic could return after missing all season due to compound fractures he sustained to his left tibia and fibula in 2019. Meanwhile, Zach Collins was progressing toward a return after left shoulder surgery. They’ll also have a fully healthy Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum who both were banged up before the season was postponed. With more depth in the frontcourt, it’ll help Portland not rely on Hassan Whiteside so much, and give the team a significant boost on defense, where it ranks 27th in the league (113.6). 

While Portland may be fully healthy for the first time all season, its schedule won’t allow for any easy games in Orlando. The Blazers’ schedule is also two games short, so the league will need to address that issue before any are played. Among the matchups that will for certain be on their schedule include games against the Celtics, 76ers, Rockets and Mavericks. It’s hard to predict what to expect from any of these teams after a long layoff, but Lillard’s penchant for late-game heroics is reason enough to never count the Blazers out. 

2. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Record: 29-37 (Currently No. 8 seed)
  • Presumed remaining matchups: Blazers, Jazz, Spurs, Thunder, Bucks, Pelicans (twice), Celtics

The Grizzlies are under the most pressure in this situation because every team listed on here will be gunning for them. Even if they do hold on to the No. 8 seed, and the No. 9 team is within four games of them, they’ll then have to win a play-in tournament to secure the final playoff spot. However, Memphis will be getting some much-needed help in Orlando as Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke will be healthy and ready to go after both missed a handful of games before the hiatus due to injuries. Memphis will also finally see the debut of Justise Winslow, who said in April that he was “pain-free and symptom-free” from his back issues. 

Winslow will slot into the starting lineup in place of Jae Crowder, who the Grizzlies included in the trade package that landed Winslow from Miami in a three-team deal. Winslow will be another threat at Ja Morant’s disposal on offense. Despite his down numbers this season from only playing in 11 games, Winslow shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc last season on nearly four attempts per game. If he’s able to find that shooting touch in Orlando, it will greatly benefit a Memphis team that ranks 21st in 3-point percentage this season (35.2 percent).

1. New Orleans Pelicans

  • Record: 28-36 (Currently No. 10 seed)
  • Presumed remaining matchups: Kings, Jazz, Clippers (twice), Spurs, Grizzlies (twice), Magic

The Pelicans couldn’t be in a more favorable position compared to every other team trying to push out the Grizzlies for the final spot. Not only do they have an easier schedule on paper compared to the rest of these teams with games against the Spurs, Magic and Kings, they’ll get to play the Grizzlies twice to try and shorten that gap between them. On top of that, they’ll be getting a fully rested, more in shape version of Zion Williamson

Before the season halted on March 11, Williamson looked virtually unstoppable on both ends of the floor. His raw numbers of 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists are ridiculous for having just played 19 games, and his 35-point performance against the Lakers had a real “I’ve arrived” feel to it. There hasn’t been a team yet that can match up with him physically in the post, whether it’s him muscling through to the basket, or ripping down an offensive board. The Pelicans were also playing at the second-fastest pace in the league (105.37) in the final month before the pandemic paused the season, while averaging 120.5 points a game. The momentum was shifting toward the Pelicans to catch the Grizzlies in March, and while it may be difficult for New Orleans to pick up where it left off, a lineup of Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday is a dangerous squad to try and hold off when the league returns.


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