“People can say we have a mindset of nothing to lose,” Booker said. “We don’t look at it like that.”
Difficult to argue. The Suns, like many other Western teams, have a lot to play for right now.
The best race in the bubble is the race for the No.8 seed in the Western Conference – and the right to face James Lebron, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs from a few weeks. The Lakers have already clinched the No.1 seed and can now sit back and watch the chaos that is about to happen.
Here’s the scenario: There are nine days left in the race, with six teams, all with five games to go, battling for a spot. It seems increasingly likely that a series of play-ins, which will occur if the teams finishing eighth and ninth are four games away from each other at the end of the regular season, will occur.
And Booker, who pushed them both away Kawhi Leonard and Paul George On what became the winning jumper at the end of time allotted in Phoenix’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, the Suns – who haven’t made the playoffs since 2010 – are at the heart of it.
“This whole experience, just being here in the bubble, we wanted to come here and make some noise,” Booker said. “And that’s what we do.”
Memphis still has the upper hand in 8th place, although the Grizzlies’ sway there is less than sure and Portland got within a game and a half of them beating Houston on Tuesday night. Memphis is 0-3 in the bubble, still has a brutal schedule and lost Jaren Jackson Jr. for the remainder of the season on Monday to a torn meniscus in his left knee.
As the game begins Wednesday, the Grizzlies are still eighth – although Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento, New Orleans and Phoenix are all within that four-game limit to force a play-in streak.
“We are fighting,” said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
The Spurs are looking to become the first team in NBA history with 23 straight playoff appearances. Like the Suns, they were in dire straits when the season was interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 11.
But a couple of wins in the bubble, combined with the opportunity to play, also breathed new life into Spurs’ chances.
“We’re here for a reason,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said. “We’re here to compete no matter who we have, young guys, older guys, whoever it is. The guys did a great job stepping up, taking on the challenge. We went there to try to compete for 48 minutes.
The Suns’ playoff drought is the second longest in the league, overcome only by Sacramento. The last time the Kings played a postseason game was in 2006.
As with other clubs in the West’s No.8 race, the Kings also feel they have a chance.
“We have five games left and if we get there – we run these five games – who knows where we are”, the Kings forward Kent Bazemore said. “We are always at the heart of things. There is not a team that is too far ahead. … We are here. The optimism is still there. ”
The league has been smart in setting up the schedule. Everyone in the race for eighth, in either conference, was done with their ranking games on August 13, a day before the end of the regular season.
If play-ins are necessary, these matches would take place on August 15 and 16. So by giving all those possible play-in-bound clubs August 14 off, it ensures that no team would have to play three consecutive days.
The race to the East is much simpler: Brooklyn and Orlando lead the way for the last two unclaimed spots on that half of the medium, and Washington – started 0-3 in the bubble – must go at least 4-1 in its last five games for a chance to force a play-in streak there.
This means that the East field could be finalized in the coming days.
The West looks like it’s going to come down to the wire.
“I still have a shot at getting the playoff spot,” said Kings goaltender De’Aaron Fox. “Don’t let go of the rope.”
Or maybe more just, don’t let the bubble burst.
WHO IS LEFT
A look at the remaining schedule for each No.8 seed contender in the West:
Memphis – Utah (Wednesday), Oklahoma City (Friday), Toronto (Sunday), Boston (August 11), Milwaukee (August 13).
Portland – Denver (Thursday), LA Clippers (Saturday), Philadelphia (Sunday), Dallas (August 11), Brooklyn (August 13).
San Antonio – Denver (Wednesday), Utah (Friday), New Orleans (Sunday), Houston (August 11), Utah (August 13).
New Orleans – Sacramento (Thursday), Washington (Friday), San Antonio (Sunday), Sacramento (August 11), Orlando (August 13).
Phoenix – Indiana (Thursday), Miami (Saturday), Oklahoma City (Monday), Philadelphia (August 11), Dallas (August 13).
Sacramento – New Orleans (Thursday), Brooklyn (Friday), Houston (Sunday), New Orleans (August 11), LA Lakers (August 13).
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