A week into the seeding games down in Disney, the quality of play has been very high. Almost all of the 22 teams are competitive on a nightly basis and have brought the drama to most contests. Such high-caliber hoops only shows up when the stakes are high and there's something worth playing for. The NBA gets credit for properly incentivizing all teams in the bubble, but the bloodbath of the standings before the shutdown has led to a frenetic pace in Orlando.
No place has been more of a bloodbath than the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers clinched the top seed, but teams 2 through 7 are all jockeying for position with each other. Meanwhile, the race for 8 is wide open and could provide drama until the very last seeding games have been played.
Over the next week, we'll dive one by one into the main contenders to see which teams might give them the most difficult matchups in the postseason. Whether due to matchups, style of play, star power or teams trending upward, we'll dive into a list of who each team would like to avoid most.
We'll start with the Lakers, who are eyeing six potential opponents all within three games of each other.
Team They're Rooting Against: Portland Trail Blazers
Injuries keep the Lakers' wishlist fairly fluid. The news out of Memphis that Jaren Jackson Jr. would be shut down for the season with a torn meniscus rejuvenated the race for eighth out West as the Grizzlies suddenly seemed more vulnerable. Borne from their faltering record (they haven't won in the bubble yet) and their injuries, the Grizzlies are seeing their grip loosen on the final seed.
Nipping at their heels are the Portland Trail Blazers, who boast a huge win over the Houston Rockets inside the bubble.
The Lakers, who have overwhelmed teams on the glass with lineups featuring Anthony Davis at the 4 next to either JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard, lose their size advantage against Portland. Jusuf Nurkic, Hassan Whiteside and Zach Collins counteract the size of those three. Nurkic, in particular, has been on fire since getting to Disney and joining a team that played without him the entire first part of the year. In the bubble, Nurkic is averaging 22 points, 12.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 3.3 blocks and 1.7 steals.
The Blazers are chocked full of veterans, with a guy like Carmelo Anthony tailor-made for a postseason series. The move of Anthony to the 3, where he'd match with LeBron James, is high drama with the relationship and play-styles each possess. At the 3 thru 5 spots, the Blazers' strength neutralizes any interior matchups for Los Angeles. They should be able to guard each other one-on-one without many traps, something most teams cannot accomplish.
Beyond that, the Lakers are missing two of their best perimeter defenders in Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo. Now the burden falls on Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green to slow the backcourt scoring prowess of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The worry isn't as much about the Blazers being a tight defensive unit on the Lakers' stars but the difficulty the Lakers might have in slowing Portland's dynamic duo. Portland would be fine trading threes for twos when those guys get hot.
Portland has a few other hot hands that can't be overlooked. Gary Trent Jr. has taken fantastic strides since the restart, with great shooting and competitive defense. He looks like a winning piece. Anfernee Simons is a strong second unit creator. The Blazers' top eight is, in the words of Larry David, "pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good."
The issue is that they have no depth or reliability beyond those eight. Mario Hezonja hasn't looked great in his limited minutes and nobody else has logged meaningful minutes. The Lakers have much more depth, veterans who can give spot minutes when called upon and the two best players on the floor. Portland makes their first-round series significantly more difficult if they make the postseason, but they aren't going to be a Vegas favorite to topple the Lake show.
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).