The NBA is more than halfway through its seeding slate, and with each passing day, the postseason picture becomes a bit clearer. In the East, it's only a matter of positioning, but in the West, the final spot is still up for grabs. Two teams were officially eliminated from contention on Sunday, but there are still four teams competing for that final spot, which will now definitely be determined by a play-in series between the eighth and ninth seeds in the conference.
Also, injury issues continued to plague an Eastern Conference contender, and an All-Star guard bounced back in a major way after a disappointing performance on Saturday. Here are four major takeaways from Sunday's NBA action.
The playoff hopes of both the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings came to an end on Sunday. With the Trail Blazers victory over the 76ers, both teams were officially eliminated from playoff contention. The four teams still vying for the final playoff spot in the West are the Grizzlies, Blazers, Spurs, and Suns.
The Grizzlies still hold a slim lead in the race for eighth, but all three of those teams are within two games of Memphis with a couple of games remaining for each team. According to ESPN, the Grizzlies have a 62 percent chance of securing the final seed in the playoff picture. Whichever team ultimately ends up clinching the final spot in the West will face off against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers, who secured the top overall seed in the conference last week.
2. Western Conference play-in series guaranteed
With their 108-99 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, the Grizzlies guaranteed that a play-in series would take place. In order to trigger such a series, the ninth-seeded team in the conference needs to finish within four games of the eighth seed when the seeding slate is complete. That's mathematically guaranteed to happen now.
The idea of a play-in series for the final spot in a conference was added by the NBA prior to the restart of the season. The idea behind the series was to give teams in the hunt a fair opportunity to compete for the spot even though they wouldn't have the full 82-game slate to do so. In the series, the eighth-seeded team will only need to win once in order to claim the final playoff spot in the conference, while the ninth-seeded team would need to win two in a row before the eighth-seeded team wins once.
3. Dame Time
Dame Lillard had an uncharacteristically unclutch moment on Saturday, as he missed two free throws in the closing moments of Portland's game against the Clippers, and as a result, the Blazers went on to lose the game. The loss was especially tough to swallow considering the fact that the Blazers are fighting for a postseason berth. Lillard made up for it on Sunday though, as he went absolutely nuclear against the Sixers and, in turn, led the Blazers to a much-needed win. Lillard finished the game with 51 points and seven assists. It was the 10th 50-point performance of his career and fifth of this season.
When Lillard gets it going like he did on Sunday night, he's nearly impossible to stop, and ultimately the Sixers were flat out unable to do so. Lillard appears determined to give Portland the best possible chance of getting into the postseason, so don't be surprised if he has another huge game before the league's seeding slate is completed.
4. Injury issues continue to plague 76ers
The Sixers can't seem to catch a break in Orlando. Earlier this week it was announced that forward Ben Simmons would be leaving the bubble to undergo knee surgery, and he is expected to miss the remainder of the season as a result. So, the Sixers entered their matchup with the Blazers on Sunday night already down one All-Star, and in the first quarter of the contest they lost their other All-Star. After landing awkwardly under the basket, Joel Embiid exited the game and didn't return. Instead, he was ruled out with a left ankle injury. Embiid did ultimately return to Philadelphia's sideline, and he appeared to be in solid spirits. The Sixers didn't have an update on Embiid after the game, but an update on his status will likely be provided in the near future. Obviously, the Sixers will hope to have their centerpiece back before postseason play gets underway on Aug. 17.