NBA Playoff Picture 2020: Updated Postseason Bracket, Races to Watch

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 10, 2020

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, left, posts up against Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

And then there were 19.

The NBA's bubble is shrinking, as three teams have now been eliminated from playoff contention. The Bradley Beal-less, John Wall-less Washington Wizards were knocked out last week. Then, the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans were bounced from the race for the West's eighth playoff spot Sunday.

The postseason picture is coming into focus, but there's still plenty to be decided before the playoffs tip on Aug. 17. After running through the latest standing and current postseason bracket, we'll examine two races that have our attention.


NBA Standings

Eastern Conference

1. Milwaukee Bucks (55-15)

2. Toronto Raptors (50-19)

3. Boston Celtics (47-23)

4. Miami Heat (43-27)

5. Indiana Pacers (43-27)

6. Philadelphia 76ers (42-28)

7. Brooklyn Nets (34-36)

8. Orlando Magic (32-39)

9. Washington Wizards (24-46, eliminated)


Western Conference

1. Los Angeles Lakers (51-18)

2. Los Angeles Clippers (47-23)

3. Denver Nuggets (46-24)

4. Houston Rockets (44-25)

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (43-26)

6. Utah Jazz (43-27)

7. Dallas Mavericks (42-30)

8. Memphis Grizzlies (33-38)

9. Portland Trail Blazers (33-39)

10. San Antonio Spurs (31-38)

11. Phoenix Suns (31-39)

12. New Orleans Pelicans (30-40, eliminated)

13. Sacramento Kings (29-41, eliminated)


NBA Playoff Bracket

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Orlando Magic

No. 4 Miami Heat vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers

No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Brooklyn Nets


Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies

No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder

No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Utah Jazz

No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks


Playoff Races to Watch

The West's Battle for 8th

This deserves the most attention because it involves the most teams and the highest stakes.

A six-team fight for this seed has been whittled down to four, all separated by just 1.5 games. The Grizzlies have the leg up for now, but the Blazers, Spurs and scorching-hot Suns are all breathing down their neck.

Memphis has lost four of five games since getting to the bubble and lost frontcourt centerpiece Jaren Jackson Jr. to a season-ending meniscus tear. The Grizzlies' most recent defeat—Sunday's 108-99 loss to the Raptors—ensured this race will be decided by an 8-9 play-in game. Their star rookie, Ja Morant, was unsurprisingly in no mood to discuss their new path to the postseason.

"I'm not worried about no play-in game right now," Morant told reporters after the loss. "Our focus right now is learning from our mistakes from this game against the Raptors and try to fix them when we go out and play Boston."

As disappointing as things have been for the Grizzlies, it's basically all come up roses for the rest.

The Suns are the only undefeated team inside the bubble. The Blazers and Spurs sport identical 4-2 records and plus-2.6 net efficiency ratings (tied for seventh overall), per NBA.com.

So, who will eventually emerge from this field?

Whoever snags the eighth seed will hold a huge advantage, since they'll only need to win one play-in game, while the ninth seed needs back-to-back victories to advance.

Phoenix is on a ridiculous roll, and it never seems the smartest idea to bet against San Antonio, but this should be Portland's race to lose.

The Blazers have the heaviest hitter in five-time All-Star Damian Lillard (who has at least 45 points in two of his last three outings) and the softest schedule going forward. They're down to just a Mavericks team that's nearly locked into the seventh seed and a Brooklyn club that's playing without almost all of its recognizable faces.

Maybe Devin Booker goes berserk, and the Suns keep rolling right into their first playoff trip since 2010. Perhaps Gregg Popovich and DeMar DeRozan lean on their veteran savvy to keep San Antonio's playoff streak alive. Maybe Morant does what he's done for most of the season and makes Memphis one of the league's biggest surprises.

But this feels like Dame Time.


The East's Fight for 4th

Normally, you don't have to be the Flint Tropics to see the significance of a fourth-place finish. It means hosting a first-round series and theoretically giving yourself the best chance of advancing.

But when home-court advantage has been wiped off the table as it has in the bubble, is there still a reason to race for fourth? That's what the Heat, Pacers and 76ers all have to ponder, as they're all within a game of each other for the fourth overall seed.

Miami controls its future. The Heat have the fourth seed in their grasp at the moment. They have already won their season series with the Sixers and are up 2-0 on the Pacers with two more games to play at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

The Heat also have the cleanest health report. They've been without All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler, but he's on the mend. The Pacers are playing without Domantas Sabonis, who doesn't sound anywhere near returning from a foot injury. The Sixers lost Ben Simmons to knee surgery and then watched Joel Embiid exit their last game early with an ankle injury.

If these teams were at full strength, this would feel impossible to predict. Since they aren't, the Heat get the benefit of the doubt. They have the clearest route to the fourth seed, provided that actually means something in this unique year.