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Who Will the Portland Trail Blazers Play In the Playoffs?

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The question on everybody's mind. It's impossible to answer but we tried anyway.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We are less than a week away from the end of the season, and I think I felt more confident predicting playoff match ups before the season started. Things are so uncertain that people have actually gone through the trouble of making algorithms to try and make sense of it all.

That’s right people. The West is so ridiculous that we need computers to help us make basic predictions.

It’s a little easier for the Blazers because our playoff seed is locked. Portland is guaranteed not to drop lower than the fourth seed by the arcane and, frankly, stupid division title. Their loss last night ended any hopes of moving up or having home court in the first round. As a result, the question for the Blazers is really: Who will be the fifth seed? Let’s take a look.

Here’s what we know:

  • The Grizzlies have the tie-breaker over Houston and San Antonio. If those teams end up with the same record, Memphis will win the division. This division crown would then give them the tie-breaker over the Clippers. If Memphis does not win the division, but finishes with the same record as Los Angeles, the tie-breaker depends on how the rest of the season goes.
  • The Spurs have the tie-breaker over the Rockets but nobody else.
  • The Rockets don’t own the tie-breaker against anyone.
  • The Clippers have the tie-breaker over San Antonio and Houston.

But what does all that mean? Nobody really knows but here’s my best guess. At least things got a bit clearer after the Clippers beat the Grizzlies Saturday night:

With last night's Clippers win, the Blazers probably don't play them.

The Clippers remaining games are against Denver and Phoenix. Assuming they win those, Los Angeles would finish with 26 losses, and hold the tiebreakers against all the other teams EXCEPT for the division trump card. If one Southwest team finished with 26 losses (a probable outcome), they would bump the Clippers to the third seed.

If the Grizzlies beat the Warriors, the Blazers probably don't play Memphis

The loss to the Clippers gave the Grizzlies 26 losses as well. If they manage to best the Warriors and Pacers, they would still hang on to the second seed. San Antonio would drop to fifth and the Rockets would stay in sixth.

Just based on how they’re playing, I bet the Spurs and Rockets win out. If the Grizzlies lose to the Warriors, then both teams would leap-frog them. The Spurs would move into second and Portland would play Houston dropping Memphis to the sixth seed.

The Wildcard

The New Orleans Pelicans. Or I guess, more accurately, Anthony Davis.

The Pellies play both Houston and San Antonio while desperately clinging to the eighth seed. All of the above scenarios were based on San Antonio and Houston winning those match ups. I still think that’s likely but a Pelican upset would throw everything into disarray.


After last nights games, ESPN's algorithm predicts a 46% chance for Memphis, 21% for Houston, 19% for San Antonio, and 14% for Los Angeles. In order for those numbers to make sense, the algorithm must think it's likely the Pelicans beat the Rockets or the Spurs and Memphis loses to Golden State. I'm less convinced but it gives us a better understanding of who to root for.

  • If you don’t want to play Memphis, root for the Grizzlies and against the Pelicans.
  • If you don’t want to play San Antonio, root for the Spurs and against the Grizzlies.
  • If you don’t want to play Los Angeles, congrats! That's probably not going to happen.
  • If you don’t want to play the Rockets…really?