NBA Playoffs 2020: Explaining Play-In Format, Seedings and More

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistAugust 15, 2020

Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard (0) shoots the ball against Memphis Grizzlies Brandon Clarke (15) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, July 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)
Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

The final berth in the 2020 NBA playoffs will be handed out to either the Portland Trail Blazers or the Memphis Grizzlies.

Portland and Memphis fended off challenges from the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs to lock into the play-in series, which begins Saturday. The play-in series victor will take on the Los Angeles Lakers, who secured the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference inside the NBA bubble.

Fourteen squads are aware of their first-round opponents. The opening round of the postseason begins Monday, with Utah Jazz facing the Denver Nuggets.


NBA Postseason Seeds and Schedule



Play-In Format

As the No. 8 seed, Portland needs to win one game against Memphis to line up a first-round showdown with the Lakers.

Ninth-seeded Memphis must win two contests against the Trail Blazers to keep alive its season inside the bubble.

If the Grizzlies win Saturday afternoon's tilt, Sunday's matchup will be a winner-take-all contest.


Play-In Preview

Saturday marks the second time Portland and Memphis will face off in Orlando, Florida.

The Blazers opened their eight-game slate in the bubble with a five-point overtime victory against the Grizzlies. That result started Portland's ascension to the No. 8 seed and began a four-game losing run for Memphis.

Portland comes into the play-in series in better form and with the league's hottest player on its roster in Damian Lillard. The point guard's 29-point performance against Memphis was rather pedestrian compared to the totals he put up in the other seven games.

Lillard has eclipsed 40 points in four of the past five games, and he did so again Thursday despite the Brooklyn Nets focusing two defenders on him once he crossed the half-court line. He adjusted to the Nets' defensive strategy by extending his range, taking contested shots and relying on C.J. McCollum and others to knock down shots on some possessions.

Memphis could try to adopt that strategy Saturday, but it would leave itself exposed to McCollum's driving ability. McCollum finished with 25 points Thursday, which was his third-best total in the bubble. His top score in eight games was 33 against Memphis.

The drive-and-kick ability of McCollum and Lillard could also hurt Memphis, with Gary Trent Jr., Carmelo Anthony and others waiting to knock down open shots from the wing.

Ja Morant could also benefit from his penetration into the lane to create easy buckets or open opportunities for his teammates. The rookie point guard produced 22 points and 11 assists in the July 31 loss to Portland and has had at least eight assists in each of his bubble games.

In his past three contests, the Murray State product earned a double-double and he finished with a triple-double Thursday thanks to his first double-digit rebound game since February 9.

The biggest advantage the Grizzlies could have is with Jonas Valanciunas in the paint.

Although Portland carries more depth at the position in Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Hassan Whiteside, it struggled to solidify the glass in the fourth quarter against Brooklyn, which led to offensive rebounds for Jarrett Allen and second-chance scoring opportunities.

Valanciunas is coming off a triple-double against Milwaukee, which was his best performance inside the bubble. If he continues to be a force on the glass and adds 15-20 points to complement Morant, Memphis could have enough scoring to counter whichever total Lillard produces.

Containing the red-hot Lillard will be a tough task, but if Memphis is able to win other individual battles throughout the court, it stands a chance to force a second game in the play-in series.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from Basketball Reference.