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NBA

The Race for Eighth in the West: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans creeping up on Memphis Grizzlies

The race for the No. 8 seed in the West is heating up.

The Memphis Grizzlies held a four-game lead on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference coming out of the All-Star break, but that lead has began to evaporate quickly.

Starting their unofficial second half of the season on the road, the Grizzlies dropped four consecutive away games to let a number of Western Conference hopefuls back into the playoff hunt. In their first game back in Memphis, they dropped a crucial one to the Sacramento Kings - one of the West's playoff hopefuls just mentioned.

Around the rest of the league, the New Orleans Pelicans handled the Cleveland Cavaliers to cut into their chase for the No. 8 seed, while the Phoenix Suns came up just short against the Detroit Pistons to lessen their playoff hopes.

For more on each of these games and the race for eighth, we have you covered below.

Updated race for eighth in the Western Conference
Seed Team Record Games back
8. Grizzlies 28-31 -
9. Pelicans 26-33 2.0
10. Trail Blazers 26-34 2.5
T-11. Kings 25-34 3.0
T-11. Spurs 24-33 3.0
12. Suns 24-36 4.5

Grizzlies drop fifth-straight in loss to Kings

The Grizzlies were desperate for a win, returning home for the first time since the All-Star break after losing four straight games on the road.

Despite a huge 32-point game from Dillon Brooks, a strong double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds from Rookie of the Year favourite Ja Morant and a monsterous 25-rebound game from Jonas Valanciunas, the Grizzlies could not snap their losing streak.

De'Aaron Fox put together a great showing against one of the league's most promising young guards in Morant, going for 25 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals. His performance alone was enough for the Kings to pull out the road win, bringing them within just three games of the No. 8 seed after beating the Grizzlies twice in the past two weeks.

Even though Memphis still has a few games on the field, FiveThirtyEight projects that the Grizzlies have just a 4% chance of making the playoffs, while the win increased the Kings' odds to 7% to claim that final playoff spot.

Zion makes history in Pelicans win over Cavaliers

The Pelicans controlled the Cavaliers for the entire game in this one as they continue to close in on the Grizzlies' No. 8 seed.

Collin Sexton went off for 31 points, but that wasn't nearly enough to stop the Pelicans three-headed monster of Brandon Ingram (29 points), Zion Williamson (24 points) and Jrue Holiday (22 points).

Williamson has really gotten comfortable just 14 games into his rookie season, and his 24 points in this contest marked a historic milestone for the 19-year-old phenom. This was Zion's 10th-consecutive game with 20-plus points, making him the first teenager in NBA history to achieve that feat.

He was as efficient as you'd expect, going 11-for-16 from the field to go with three rebounds, two assists and two steals.

New Orleans has now come within just two games of the final playoff spot, and FiveThirtyEight gives them the highest odds to make the playoffs of any team racing for the No. 8 seed at 73%.

Suns falling out of the playoff picture

The Suns were handed a crushing blow on Thursday when Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported that Kelly Oubre Jr. has torn his meniscus, making him unlikely to return this season.

Just barely hanging on to their playoff hopes prior to that, Phoenix desperately needed to handle business at home against a struggling Pistons squad. Derrick Rose enjoyed every second of spoiling the Suns playoff chances, going for 31 points and a couple big shots down the stretch to put Phoenix away while snapping Detroit's seven-game losing streak.

Devin Booker went for 26 points while Deandre Ayton (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Ricky Rubio (16 points, 13 assists) each notched double-doubles, but their efforts came up short in a contest that could be pegged as the nail in the coffin in the Suns' season.

FiveThirtyEight now gives Phoenix less than 1% of a chance to make the playoffs.

Other games this week that impact the race for eighth

Sunday: Blazers at Hawks, Lakers at Grizzlies, Magic at Spurs, Warriors at Suns

Monday: Pistons at Kings, Lakers at Pelicans

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