NBA

NBA Daily: Tight Race for the Western Conference Eighth Seed

The Warriors will likely run right through the West’s eighth seed, but that doesn’t make the race for eighth any less interesting.

James Blancarte profile picture
Updated 1 year ago on

5 min read

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The NBA All-Star Break is nearly upon us with the playoffs only a few months away. After an exciting trade deadline, most of the East’s top contenders have made moves to be even more competitive. In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors recently moved into first place and are unlikely to yield that position. In fact, odds are Golden State will again be hoisting the championship trophy when the playoffs are over.

While the Warriors are heavy favorites, there is still some intrigue in the race for the final playoff seeds in the West as eighth, ninth and tenth place are currently occupied by the Los Angeles Clippers, the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers, respectively. Let’s take a look at where things currently stand.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers have long been in the playoff picture. At one point they held first place in the conference. But this team has overperformed early and things have been settling down since then. Many pre-season predictions had the team finishing somewhere around 10th place. Their downward descent is not a surprise based on the strength of the other Western Conference teams. While the team’s playoff standing has slipped, the front office set its sights on the future when they traded forward Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers.

By trading away the team’s best players in Harris, the Clippers obtained, among other things, two first-round picks and two second-round picks. In further bolstering the team’s long-term future, it’s likely the team’s ability to remain in eighth place or move up has been hampered. This isn’t as problematic as it sounds, however, as the Clippers will forfeit next year’s first-round pick if they make the playoffs this season. Should the Clippers fall outside this year’s top-8, the team’s obligation to convey a first-round pick to Boston is delayed until the next year. By next season, the team may be much improved depending on next this summer’s free agency results.

Since beating the Warriors in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, the Clippers have had little luck against Golden State. With the team’s attention on the future beyond this season’s playoffs, making it to the postseason appears to be less of a priority with a potential sweep by the Warriors on tap. Just don’t tell that to the players themselves, who just staged an exciting 28-point comeback against the Boston Celtics, led by the hot shooting of newly acquired rookie guard Landry Shamet.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings haven’t garnered as much attention in the league in recent years but that doesn’t mean they have been quiet. While 2017 No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball and No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum have had to deal with their names being mentioned in various potential trades for superstar Anthony Davis, De’Aaron Fox has been able to play this season without hearing his name in rumored trades and meanwhile has been turning in a spectacular sophomore campaign. Around him, the Kings added previous Mavericks-cornerstone Harrison Barnes, who helps to fill the gap at small forward. In addition to Fox and Barnes, the Kings feature Buddy Hield, who is also having a breakout season, talented rookie Marvin Bagley, Bogdan Bogdanovic and potential future standout Harry Giles.

General Manager Vlade Divac has been on the receiving end of some tough criticism the past few years after some questionable moves. Despite this, now the Kings front office has the team well poised to stay competitive now (despite the loss of well-liked veteran Iman Shumpert) and for the future as well. The Kings are one game behind the Clippers and are well-positioned to eventually leapfrog them and jump into the eighth seed.

While the Warriors likely await, the Kings can reward their long-suffering fans and potentially capture a larger audience to showcase their talented team. In addition, the franchise could also have a rematch with former Kings franchise star DeMarcus Cousins. The prospect of a sweep isn’t so bad when the franchise hasn’t been back to the playoffs since the 2005-2006 season and would relish the opportunity to play past the regular season.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have had a rough couple of weeks. After the very public tug-of-war with New Orleans over Davis, the Lakers have had to deal with possible fallout of having dangled nearly the entire team to potentially obtain Davis. Add that on top of James’s untimely midseason groin injury and Ball’s recent injury issues, and the result is uneven basketball that knocked the Lakers out of the playoff picture. At the deadline, the Lakers were able to add two capable shooters in Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala, which will hopefully add the shooting and spacing Los Angeles has desperately needed.

Armed with a better fitting roster, a healthy James and the potential for a strong finish, it would be unwise to bet against the Lakers finding a way into the playoffs. Moving past the Clippers and Kings won’t be easy but it can be done. Like the Kings, the Lakers would have an unfavorable likely matchup with the Warriors awaiting. Regardless, missing the playoffs with James would be very disappointing. Don’t discount the chance for drama with a first-round rematch of James and the Warriors, however one-sided. Another outside possibility, the Warriors take their foot off of the gas pedal allowing the Denver Nuggets to retake first place. While the Lakers are relatively young outside of James, the Nuggets best players are also untested in the postseason and could make for an exciting matchup.

Again, Golden State will likely run right through any team it may face in the first round of the playoffs. But the race for eighth remains interested and each team has its own reasons for jockeying for the West’s final two playoff spots.

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James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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