The race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference feels more wide open than it has in years. If the NBA Playoffs began today, the upstart Memphis Grizzlies would actually clinch the final spot, but they have a tenuous lead – at best.
In fact, there are six teams within 4.0 games of Memphis, making the Golden State Warriors the only Western Conference team without a realistic shot at a postseason run.
Even if all of these teams don't stay in the hunt down the stretch, it appears this race is going to come down to the wire. With that in mind, here are the three teams with the best shot of clinching the final spot in the Western Conference Playoffs.
3. Memphis Grizzlies (19-22)
Rookie point guard Ja Morant has been far more impressive than anyone could've reasonably expected. Memphis' win total was set at 27.5 entering the season, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, and Morant's electric play has the Grizzlies on pace to win 38 games, as they've now won eight of their last 10. Memphis has benefitted from an easier schedule though, as the Grizzlies have a bit of a gauntlet ahead of them. Memphis has the eighth-hardest remaining schedule in the NBA, and 23 of its remaining 41 games will come on the road. Inexperience and that schedule could doom Memphis down the stretch, but the fact that the Grizzlies are the No. 8 seed about halfway through the season suggests their future is bright.
2. San Antonio Spurs (17-22, 1.0 GB)
Like New Orleans, the San Antonio Spurs also got off to an uncharacteristically slow start to the season. The Spurs were 7-14 as of Dec. 1, but they've gone 10-8 since then and are now only a game behind the Grizzlies. San Antonio was No. 17 in offensive rating in the month of December, but the Spurs are No. 7 midway through January. Part of the reason for that increase is that the Spurs are finally giving in and shooting more 3-pointers, particularly LaMarcus Aldridge. He was averaging 1.7 3-pointers per game over his first 26 games of the season, but from Dec. 23 on, Aldridge is now attempting 5.1 3-pointers per contest, sinking a ludicrous 53.6 percent during that stretch. If their star big man continues to play like this, the Spurs absolutely have a shot to make the postseason for the 23rd consecutive season.
1. New Orleans Pelicans (16-26, 3.5 GB)
After enduring a 13-game losing streak and starting out 6-22, few, if any, would've given the New Orleans Pelicans a shot to make the playoffs. But since that atrocious stretch, the Pelicans have actually gone 10-4, led by breakout star Brandon Ingram, who is averaging a career-high 25.8 points per game (PPG). Zion Williamson is expected to make his season debut on Jan. 22, and New Orleans has the eighth-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, and the easiest among all teams fighting for the No. 8 seed. JJ Redick has never missed the postseason in his career, and if the Pelicans keep playing like this, he certainly has a shot to keep that streak alive.
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Max Staley is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Max Staley also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username mstaley1212. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in their articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.