These past few days have been incredible, as the NBA’s restart has been chock full of great games and interesting matchups. There are quite a few teams still working their way back into gear, but the opening slate of games has provided a few interesting storylines for us to check-in on.
The Wide Open Race for the Western Conference 8th Seed
The 8th Seed in the Western Conference is providing the most drama in the seeding games of the restart. The Grizzlies are working to hold onto their lead, while the Trailblazers, Pelicans, and Spurs are all within striking distance of forcing a play-in series.
The early goings of the race have proved surprising, as the media-darlings Pelicans have faltered early after crushing the competition during the early scrimmages. The Pelicans dropped their first two games to the Jazz and the Clippers, falling back further in the standings while the Trailblazers beat the Grizzlies in overtime, but then could not come back against the Celtics.
The Pelicans have an easier schedule, but concerns with Zion Williamson’s playing time (not to mention his conditioning and defense) are pressing and if the Pelicans cannot right the ship soon, their playoff chances will slip beyond their reach.
The Spurs have taken the 9th seed at the moment, although their schedule is about to get significantly more difficult. The race is going to remain exciting.
The Western Conference Middle Seeds
The third seed through seventh seed in the Western Conference seed are separated by just four games. There is a pretty clear goal of what is ideal for these teams, which is to play the Jazz who have struggled without Bojan Bogdanovic, and not to fall to the 7th seed and face the Clippers in the first round.
Thus far, the Thunder have looked extremely solid, while the Nuggets are in dire need of their backcourt to return. The Rockets and Mavericks gave us a hilarious game on Friday night, as both offenses exploded to combine for over 300 points with one overtime period. The Rockets’ commitment to small-ball continued even when facing Kristaps Porzingis and Boban Marjanovic, which gave us this incredible possession.
I am all in on this Rockets team. It’s such a ridiculous way to play and they are going try their damnedest to make it work. It also provides us with more opportunities to root for Robert Covington, who came up huge in the Mavericks games even while shooting terribly, as Cov stuffed Porzingis at the rim and came up with the putback to force overtime. Following the win over the Mavericks, the Rockets went out and beat the Bucks.
The Solidifying Eastern Conference
While the Western Conference has proved volatile, the top-tier Eastern Conference teams have been anything but. The teams that we knew were good, the Bucks, Raptors, Heat, and Celtics, have come out strong. The Raptors showed how solid they were by clamping down the Lakers and the Heat demolished a flat-footed Nuggets team.
The 76ers still cannot figure things out, losing to the Pacers, with T.J. Warren exploding for 53 points. This was a huge loss for the 76ers, who are a game behind the Pacers for the 5th seed. They just do not have a lot of wiggle room to catch-up if the Pacers play solidly throughout the restart.
Dreaming of the Group Stage
One of the best parts of the early schedule is how enticing every matchup has been. Without the dregs of the NBA (aka the Minnesota Timberwolves and company), nearly every game has an interesting dynamic or moderate stakes. The few bad games are simply due to the extra invitations that were extended to the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns.
One of the ideas bandied about as the NBA was in the planning stages was stealing the World Cup seeding format. The NBA could have brought back 20 teams and split them into five pools, then utilize the group stage games to determine seeding. Of course, this would have been an incredibly significant departure from the typical playoff format and would have blown up the Western vs Eastern Conference dynamics.
But these seeding games have just been so much fun and they would be even more exciting if these were all group stage games. Every game would have high stakes, making all of these early close games more exciting outside of marginal playoff positioning for most of these teams.
What else has caught your eye in the early games?