By Reid McEowen
We are just under a month away from the end of the NBA 2021 regular season and the start of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Some teams have continued to soar and cement their spots in the playoffs, but a few notable teams are struggling as underdogs work their way up the rankings. This article will highlight three in the Western Conference that could move in the rankings depending on this week’s outcomes.
The Phoenix Suns
I don’t think anyone expected the Suns to be second in the Western Conference with one month left until the 2021 NBA Playoff. The addition of Chris Paul has been the foundation to the Suns’ success over the past several months, and he will be the catalyst for the Suns’ success in the remaining four weeks. It’s also important to recognize the great contributions Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton have brought to the Suns as both players continue to mature into Allstar caliber talents. While the Phoenix Suns have one of the harder remaining schedules in the NBA season, this next week will allow them a little breathing room before the real gauntlet begins. The Suns will play their next four games in Phoenix, and only one of those four matchups will be against a team with a winning record, the Miami Heat. I fully expect the Suns to continue to put pressure on the Jazz over the next week as they look to dethrone the current Western Conference leaders and possibly guarantee themselves home court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs.
The Portland Trail Blazers
Portland has been all over the place throughout the 2021 season. While this team is incredibly talented, they have struggled to find traction as injuries, trades and COVID protocol have plagued the team. Although the Blazers haven’t quite met expectations, they find themselves sixth in the Western Conference with a record of 31-21. While this record is incredibly strong, their remaining schedule is stronger. The Blazers have the third toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, and I expect the Blazers will struggle to hold this impressive win percentage over the next several weeks. Over the next four games, the Blazers will run into 4 playoff teams, the Heat, the Spurs, the Celtics and the Hornets. While the Blazers are likely better than all four of these teams, this is just the beginning of the tough road ahead for Portland. If they aren’t able to win these tough games, I expect there to be a shake up in the Western Conference over the next month.
The Memphis Grizzlies
Like the Blazers, the Grizzlies have had an up and down season that has been riddled with injury and COVID protocol. However, they have begun to peak as of late, and have battled their way to the eighth seed in the Western Conference with a record of 26-24. Ja Morant has battled his way back from injury, and carried this young team to an ideal spot with a month remaining in the regular season. Memphis has the eighth easiest remaining schedule, and this is going to be music to the Grizzlies ears. Over the next week, the Grizzlies have to play Indiana, Chicago twice and the Dallas Mavericks. The Dallas Mavericks game will be the biggest game of the week as the Mavericks are one seed head of the Grizzlies and both teams will be battling for the seventh seed, and the upper hand in the NBA Playoff play-in games.
Edited by Emma Moloney