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Tell me why will the (pick one: Nuggets, Kings, Blazers, Mavs, Wolves, Pelicans) grab the No. 8 seed out West and the others won’t.
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Steve Aschburner: Give me Denver. Not just because they’re sitting at the top of that group as I write this, but because Nikola Jokic is getting better by the game and gives that team a versatile threat around which to gel. I’d like to see some dedication to defense, but we are talking the last guests to the party. The others have greater flaws, in my view, so I’ll stick with the Nuggets and hope Kenneth Faried’s back heals as scheduled.
Fran Blinebury: I’m believing in the Mavericks because Rick Carlisle is a relentless grinder who usually finds a way. I’m believing in a point guard named Yogi (Ferrell). I’m believing in the young legs of Nerlens Noel, who is finally getting a chance to play meaningful games. I’m also pulling for Dirk Nowitzki, because he doesn’t deserve to spend this part of his career in the lottery.
Scott Howard-Cooper: I'm going Blazers. I'm just feels like they should be good enough to put together an impressive two weeks along the way, and that may be all it takes to grab control of No. 8. Not great logic, but I keep coming back to that.
Shaun Powell: The Nuggets not only hold the No. 8 at the moment, they have the hottest player in Nikola Jokic, a big man blossoming before our eyes into something more than a traditional center. Only real threat among the others is a disappointing Portland team, but the Blazers can't play D and also recently gave Mason Plumlee, their best big man, to ... Denver.
John Schuhmann: The Nuggets are at least two games in the win column or two in the loss column ahead of the other five teams. None of these teams have been anything near consistent, but Denver got a solid road win on Tuesday. And among the six, they have the second easiest remaining schedule, with 12 of their 22 games against teams with losing records and seven against teams playing the second game of a back-to-back. Portland has the easiest remaining schedule, Minnesota has been the best team of the group coming out of the break, and New Orleans can make up a lot of ground with three games against the Nuggets in late March and early April. So I'm certainly not picking Denver, the league's worst defensive team, with a lot of conviction.
Sekou Smith: The Nuggets are the team that seem to have the goods to scrap it out for that final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but it really is up for grabs right now with all of those teams having a legitimate chance. I just like the balance of the roster in Denver right now and the fact that they have guys in Danilo Gallinari, Jameer Nelson and budding star big man Nikola Jokic in place and poised to continue the solid work they've already put in this season. I think the Nuggets have the best mix of talent and seasoning of all of the teams in the hunt. Now we'll see if they have the discipline and poise to fight until the end and hold on to that spot.
Ian Thomsen: The Blazers will be driven to the playoffs by their prolific backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Their offensive dominance -- along with 14 home games over their remaining 23 -- gives them the advantage over Denver. Sacramento and Dallas recently unloaded important players, while New Orleans is struggling to fit DeMarcus Cousins with Anthony Davis. Then there are the Timberwolves, who face a road-heavy schedule and the absence of Zach LaVine. Portland edges past the Nuggets in the final week.
Lang Whitaker: I think it's going to be Portland, mainly because of all the teams in the mix for that No. 8 spot, they've got the experience and motivation to get back to where they were a year ago. Although it would be kind of fun to see the Kings catch fire and make a last-minute run.