The restart to the NBA season is less than two weeks away down in Disney World. 22 teams are in Orlando preparing (and drinking a few beers) to compete for a championship. One of the unique additions to the restart is a possible play-in game between the 8 and 9 seeds. If the ninth place team is less than four games back of the eighth place team, the two teams will play to see who makes the postseason. The eight seed will only need to win once while the nine seed will need to win twice.
The Memphis Grizzlies enter Orlando in eight place but Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento are all 3.5 games back and San Antonio is four games behind Memphis. The first round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin on August 17.
Who will be the eight seed in the Western Conference?
Memphis Grizzlies -145
New Orleans Pelicans +310
Portland Trail Blazers +480
Sacramento Kings +850
San Antonio Spurs +1700
I am confident there will be a play-in game in the Western Conference. It seems unlikely that the Grizzlies will finish the eight game restart with a better record than the Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs and thus avoid a play-in game.
The New Orleans Pelicans are an intriguing play. The Pelicans have the easiest schedule of all 22 teams in Orlando. New Orleans opens the restart with games against the Jazz and Clippers but then finish with six straight games against teams under .500. In 19 games this season, Zion Williamson has lived up to the hype. Zion averaged 23.6 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game. The Pelicans went 10-9 with Williamson in the lineup and 18-27 without him. Unfortunately, Zion left the bubble due to a family emergency and his return is unknown.
In addition to Zion, Brandon Ingram has played like an all-star this season. Ingram was averaging a career-best 24.3 points per game at the time of the NBA suspending the season. With veterans Jrue Holiday and J.J. Reddick, New Orleans has a good mix of youth and experience for the sprint to the finish.
New Orleans is not my favorite play but at +310, it’s an intriguing one.
By the way, J.J. Reddick also seems pretty relaxed heading into the restart.
If the Pelicans aren’t my favorite play, who is?
The Portland Trail Blazers.
I made this bet back on June 8. Portland has reached the postseason each of the last six seasons and last year, the Blazers lost to Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Damian Lillard is a superstar. Lillard is fifth in the NBA in scoring (28.9 ppg), sixth in PER (26.25), and second three-pointers made per game (3.9). Lillard has some postseason experience.
Lillard averaged 33 points per game in last year’s first round series against the Thunder. He's certainly not afraid of the moment. C.J. McCollum joins Lillard to create one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Jusuf Nurkic returns to the lineup after breaking his leg last March. Nurkic averaged 15.6 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game prior to his injury last season. Hassan Whiteside has stepped in his absence leading the NBA in rebounding (14.2 rpg) and Zach Collins also returns from injury to add to the depth in the front court.
I am not the only one who believes in the Blazers. Yahoo Sports NBA Insider Chris Haynes is a believer. And Charles Barkley is quite confident in Portland, too.
I wouldn’t go that far but I like Portland to make the playoffs. The biggest issue for the Trail Blazers making the postseason is not beating the Grizzlies twice in the play-in game, it’s the schedule. Portland faces the third hardest schedule in Orlando. As noted above, New Orleans has the easiest. After opening the restart with Memphis, the Trail Blazers have a grueling six-game stretch against Boston, Houston, Denver, the Clippers, Philadelphia, and Dallas. Portland finishes its schedule against Brooklyn.
If somehow Portland can maneuver through that daunting schedule, we’ll be cashing a +480 ticket.