Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Losing teams don’t deserve to make the playoffs. They won’t last long. The bottom feeders are ruining the game. All things said about seventh and eighth seeds.
All these statements come about when it comes to the final weeks of the NBA regular season, and this year will be no exception.
With the second half of the 2020 campaign commencing on Thursday, there are always a couple of tiers people use to separate the haves, and the have nots. Contenders, pretenders, disappointments, and feel-good stories. Every major sport you can think of has these tiers. And with the influx of changes taking place in the offseason, it’s clear to see where most teams would be listed. The Lakers and Bucks are clearly the front runners for the Finals. The Clippers and Raptors are dark horses along with the Nuggets and Celtics. Philadelphia is my biggest disappointment, while the Grizzlies and Thunder have been the surprise teams this year with less than 30 games to go.
But what about the teams scratching and clawing to make the postseason tourney?
Seventh and Eighth Seed Conference Breakdown
As it stands today, more than a handful of teams are vying for the seventh and eighth seeds in their respective conferences.
West: Dallas, Memphis, Portland, San Antonio, New Orleans
East: Brooklyn, Orlando, Washington, Charlotte, Chicago
Do any of these teams strike fear into any of the top two seeds for East and West? Yeah, didn’t think so.
Let’s be real. It’s more than likely neither of these ball clubs has the personnel, coaching, or wherewithal to even think upset against the likes of the teams listed above. (Though I’m questioning Denver now after tonight’s loss and that horrendous trade. But I digress) The casual fan would typically sit in front of the TV or surfing social media going, ‘WTF.’ They aren’t wrong in their sentiments. None of these teams are worthy, let alone belong in the playoff picture for several reasons. Flaws, poor decision making from coaches and front office brass, lackluster fan support, and other factors. To most followers of the NBA, they know the results of the first round for the first and second seeds. A quick ‘dust them off’ scenario where they beat up on the lower teams in either a clean sweep or a typical five-game series.
What did you expect? This isn’t 1994 when the Denver Nuggets became the first eighth seed to eliminate a one by staging a 0-2 comeback against the Seattle SuperSonics, or the lockout-shortened seasons of 1999 and 2012 where the number one seed in the East went down to the lowly eighth seed. (That Knicks team in ’99 doesn’t get a lot of credit for that magical run.) In fact, since the NBA implemented a seven-game series for the first round in 2003, the eighth seed has won on only three occasions. (2007 Warriors vs. Mavs; 2011 Grizzlies vs. Spurs 2012 Sixers vs. Bulls.) The prospects are even lower for the seventh seed, the lone instance coming in 2010 with the Spurs upsetting the Mavs.
So it begs the question: Is getting the seventh and eighth seed worth the long grind of 82 games?
Take Portland, for example. You would think after last year’s run to the West Finals that this team would be right in the mix. They are, just not in the way most expected. This team endured a significant roster turnover, and even with the addition of Carmelo Anthony (Still think he’s a traitor), their season is hanging in the balance. They’re porous defensively, don’t have enough versatility, and their two best players can only do so much while playing close to 40 minutes a night.
Those extensions Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum signed are handicapping this team worse than a parking lot at your local thrift store. Yet, they can easily be a team no one wants to face in the first round should they get in. All it takes is a good stretch of games from either guard to send you home for the summer. (I’m looking at you, Denver)
On the flip side, I look at the Brooklyn Nets. Obviously, when you land 2 of the top 20 players in this league during the off-season, a lot is expected the following year. Hasn’t panned out that way. Kevin Durant has been unable to suit up after tearing his Achilles. Kyrie Irving having people questioning his leadership qualities (or lack thereof), not to mention dealing with his own injuries. (Now out for the year with shoulder surgery) Even if Brooklyn manages to make the playoffs, don’t expect them to make a lot of noise. Toronto, the likely two-seed, will be too strong to overcome due to their depth and experience after winning it all last June. However, it does give players like Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert a chance to prove themselves. To the Nets or to potential suitors that they can be reliable in a playoff setting long term.
All this can be taken with a grain of salt for this valid yet straightforward reason. Everyone starts the playoffs 0-0, and anything goes after that. The seventh and eighth seeds in the 2020 NBA Playoffs may not be the underdogs of years’ past, but who’s to say there won’t be any surprises this time around?