Welcome to the bubble in the bubble. The NBA announced that 22 teams will return to action at the end of July at Disneyworld to play eight games to determine playoff seeding. Do any of these NBA bubble teams have a legitimate chance at securing a playoff spot? Is this another wacky NBA conspiracy theory to help get Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans into the postseason? Will the NBA really return? And if they do, how many players will sit out?

Zion Williamson NBA Playoff Bubble Wizards
New Orleans Pelicans PF Zion Williamson and Memphis Grizzlies PG Ja Morant in 2020. (Image: Marco Esquondoles/Getty)

It’s been three months since the NBA shut down on March 11 due to the coronavirus outbreak and pandemic. If/when the NBA resumes, the 22 teams eligible for resumption will jockey for playoff seeding or a potential play-in game to determine the final spot.

In the Eastern Conference, only nine teams will return to action. The east is fairly shallow and only the top six potential seeds have a winning record. If the playoffs began today, the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic would both advance to the postseason with losing records.

The Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the entire NBA, and the defending champion Toronto Raptors have the third-best record overall. The East is top-heavy, with the bottom end cluttered with bad teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavs, Detroit Pistons, and the hapless New York Knicks.

Out in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers boast the best record with 49 wins. The #8 seed, Memphis Grizzlies, are the only projected playoff team in the west with a losing record at 32-33. The five bubble teams out west all have losing records. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors are the only two teams in the west who failed to qualify as a top-22 team.

DC Long Shot with Wizards

Do the Washington Wizards have a legit shot at catching the Brooklyn Nets or Orlando Magic? The Wizards are six games behind the Nets in the loss column. They trail the Magic by five games in the loss column. The Wiz would have to play near-flawless basketball if they even want a shot at a play-in game.

Bradley Beal played with a chip on his shoulder after he got snubbed from the 2020 All-Star Game. If he’s still salty and his bitterness carries over into the post-pandemic season, then he’ll be a tough player to stop. Beal increased his average to 30.5 points per game and was one of the hottest players in the NBA just before the season ended.

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF BUBBLE
#7 Brooklyn Nets 30-34
#8 Orlando Magic 30-35
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Washington Wizards 24-40

Beal has been mentioned in more trade rumors than any other player during the pandemic. The Brooklyn Nets would love to have him, but can they find a third team to get involved to make it happen.

The LA Lakers would also love Beal’s services out in Hollywood. They need a shooting guard and he’s one of the best in the league. But the Lakers don’t have the cap space for Beal. That rumor makes a great conversation piece though. Beal wants to stay behind in Washington and finish his career with the Wizards, but he’ll be wasting his best years playing on a bubble team.

Zion vs Ja Out West

NBA suits would love a play-in game between the top two rookies in the league with Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies) versus Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans). Of course, the winner of that exciting matchup would face the #1 Los Angeles Lakers.

Most fans don’t really care much about a #1 seed playing a #8 seed, but everyone will watch the series if it’s billed as “LeBron versus Zion” in Disneyworld.

There’s no shortage of valid and preposterous NBA conspiracy theories, but you can make a strong argument that the NBA created this 22-team scenario to give Zion and the Pelicans an extra shot at earning a playoff spot.

WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF BUBBLE
#7 Dallas Mavericks 40-27
#8 Memphis Grizzlies 32-33
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Portland Trail Blazers 29-37
New Orleans Pelicans 28-36
Sacramento Kings 28-36
San Antonio Spurs 27-36
Phoenix Suns 26-39

The Pelicans will need both the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies to struggle when play resumes. Plus, they’ll have to overtake the Portland Trail Blazers for a shot at a play-in game.

Zion and the Pels should have an easy time fending off three other teams, including the San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns. Pops and the Spurs haven’t missed the postseason in 22 years, but it looks like they’ll be long shots after LaMarcus Aldridge underwent shoulder surgery in April and will be out for the remainder of the season. The Suns and Kings are young teams without any postseason experience, so they’re not expected to be a factor. Why the heck did the NBA even invite them?

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