Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

The NBA Friday announced its schedule for what it is calling “seeding games” for the teams that will be sequestered in Orlando for the league’s return-to-play plan.

And it probably should have just handed the New Orleans Pelicans the eighth seed in the Western Conference along with it.

With the Trail Blazers sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference, the schedule becomes an important piece in the team’s hopes of overhauling Memphis for the eighth and final playoff berth in the conference.

Portland, New Orleans and Sacramento are all three-and-a-half games behind the Grizzlies for that spot but the Trail Blazers have a percentage-point edge over the other two teams because they have played two more games.

Each team will play eight games prior to the playoffs being decided and the schedules for those three teams shows the Pelicans with a huge advantage in the caliber of competition.

New Orleans -- which would have had the easiest schedule had the season run to its natural conclusion -- has a monstrous scheduling edge in the seeding games.

The combined record of the eight teams the Pels play is 254-259. The record of the squads Portland plays is 311-208. And Memphis faces a schedule of teams that compiled a 307-207 mark.

What a disparity.

The bottom line, the Trail Blazers are going to play six teams that finished the pre-hiatus with an above-.500 record. New Orleans will play two teams that had records over .500. In fact, the Pelicans have the easiest schedule of any of the 22 teams in Orlando.

And you wonder why the Trail Blazers voted against this return-to-play plan?

Obviously, at this point there is no way of knowing what sort of motivation any of the teams that are locked into a playoff berth will have when they play their “seeding” games. Any of the teams fighting for a chance at the playoffs could get lucky and meet an upper-echelon team that decides to rest a key player or three.

That remains to be seen.

But we know now that it is going to be a steep uphill battle for the Trail Blazers.

And we also know the NBA is very likely to get what it wants for television -- a LeBron James vs. Zion Williamson matchup in the first round.