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THE RACE FOR THE 8TH EXPLAINED What to watch tonight

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Two games to go and a lot of possible combinations - everyone's head is hurting from trying to figure out what the hell is happening in the race to the 8th spot in the West. For these last two games, every team plays on the same day (Tuesday and Thursday), and we have four teams within one game. Memphis is at 8th, with the Blazers half-game back, and the Suns and Spurs one game back. Here's their upcoming schedule:

  • Grizzlies - Celtics (Tuesday), Bucks (Thursday)
  • Blazers - Mavericks (Tuesday), Nets (Thursday)
  • Suns - 76ers (Tuesday), Mavericks (Thursday)
  • Spurs - Rockets (Tuesday), Jazz (Thursday)

Memphis and Portland control their destiny, while Suns and Spurs have to win and hope other teams lose. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Blazers have the highest probability to make the Playoffs, and the easiest strength of schedule (courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets.) Here's the full overview.

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  • Grizzlies - remaining strength of schedule: .729, playoff probability: 14 percent
  • Blazers - remaining strength of schedule: .538, playoff probability: 76 percent
  • Suns - remaining strength of schedule: .594, playoff probability: 8 percent
  • Spurs, - remaining strength of schedule: .621, playoff probability: 2 percent

The most likely outcome is a Blazers - Grizzlies play-in, and this is where seeding counts. The play-in game works like this - if the 8th seed wins, they are going into the Playoffs, and that's it. If the 9th seed wins, then a second game is played, and the winner of that game goes to the playoffs. Portland needs to win both, and Memphis lose one for the Blazers to jump to 8th and have the luxury of losing the first play-in game. 

Things to watch tonight

Grizzlies clinch the 8th seed if they win against the Celtics and Blazers lose to the Mavericks

Grizzlies clinch the play-in game if they win against the Celtics or Spurs and Suns lose tonight

Blazers clinch the play-in game if they win against the Mavericks and Spurs and Suns lose tonight

Suns are eliminated if they lose, and Blazers win

Spurs are eliminated if they lose, and Blazers win

I was hoping the Blazers are going to make it before the bubble started, and that hasn't changed. But I never expected the other team I'd like to see in the play-in game would be the Phoenix Suns. The cinderella story of the bubble, the Suns have been spectacular. Eight percent isn't a lot, but it's more than the odds of them winning six straight were before the bubble started. 

Whichever your preference is, we have a spectacular night of basketball ahead of us. Get your booze and snacks ready and write a draft of your "I'm sick, can't come in to work" email. 

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