With the NBA Playoffs a little more than a month away, it’s time to start looking at the 16 teams that will make up the second season. This is setting up to be one of the more exciting playoffs in NBA history. A lot of that has to do with the newfound parody in the league, with the Golden State Warriors out of the mix and more teams going to more of a two-star roster, as opposed to the three-star mega-teams we’ve seen recently.
With a 9.5-game lead for the East’s No. 1 seed, the only hope is that the Bucks don’t be lackadaisical and start going through the motions down the stretch. There is plenty of motivation for Milwaukee to keep the pressure on, though. After all, they faltered late last season with a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals and now have even heavier aspirations of getting to the NBA Finals. Not to mention, Giannis Antetokounmpo is in a good position to win his second consecutive MVP award.
Despite losing Al Horford to the 76ers in free agency, the Celtics are back in strong standing in the East once again. The quintet of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward has been good enough to get Boston into this position. Now, it’ll be interesting to see if those guys can take the Celtics to the promised land.
Considering this team lost its best player, the Raptors have been one of the most impressive squads this season. Toronto still has a solid nucleus of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam; the latter of which, would be to defend Antetokounmpo should the Bucks and Raptors meet in the playoffs at any point. Keeping that No. 2 seed would be important to the Raptors, given the massive advantage they get from the home crowd in Toronto.
The Heat have been much stronger at home, going 26-4 compared 13-18 on the road. Needless to say, locking up the No. 4 seed or better will be vital to their postseason success. Miami has dealt with more than a few injuries as well, so getting this team healthy for the playoff run needs to happen. At the end of the day, the Heat have a great coach in Erik Spoelstra and a bonafide superstar in Jimmy Butler. There’s a very talented roster down there that can make a huge run if given the right matchups. It’s also worth noting that the Heat is the only team to defeat the Bucks twice this season.
Speaking of teams playing well at home, here come the 76ers. When playing in Philly, they are 28-2 compared to a lousy 9-23 on the road. Consistency has obviously been a huge thorn in the side of the 76ers but Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have both dealt with injuries. Not to mention, free-agent signing Al Horford has been absolutely atrocious this season. If Philly doesn’t make any noise in the postseason, it goes without saying this team will be looking for a new head coach going into next season.
The Pacers have the ability to win some games in the playoffs. However, at the end of the day, it’s likely going to come down to talent – and that’s where they’ll be outmatched. As it stands now, Indy would likely match up against Toronto or Boston. Neither of those series possibilities would go greatly in their favor. In fact, the Celtics swept the Pacers right out of the first round a season ago.
Waiting for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving has been a bit more of a struggle than anyone anticipated. This is a team that has really struggled for big portions of the season. However, the could thing we can say about the Nets is that they haven’t played their best ball yet. When Brooklyn finally gets back on the good foot, it is a team that can do some damage. The hope, though, is that the remaining teams in the East are weak enough for the Nets to stick around in the playoff picture. So far, so good.
The Magic are likely looking at a second consecutive first-round exit, especially if they stay in the No. 8 seed. Nobody wants to play the Bucks at any point during the playoffs, but that could certainly end up becoming a reality. Orlando’s shtick is on the defensive end, and that’s just not going to work against Milwaukee. Right now, the Magic are tied with the Nets for the No. 7 seed but it doesn’t look like a matchup against the Raptors or Celtics will do them much better either.
LeBron James was right – he needed Anthony Davis. After missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, LeBron is back at it with another one of those patented masterful seasons. Currently, the Lakers own a 5.5-game lead on the No. 1 seed over the Nuggets and Clippers. It doesn’t look like LeBron and AD will be slowing down anytime soon. If the Lakers do need to take a rest, look for it to be in the final games before the playoffs – not just yet.
We’re all hoping that we get that all-LA Western Conference Finals, and the Clippers are doing their job to make sure we’re happy. Paul George had some injury concerns earlier in the year, but he and Kawhi Leonard have made quite the formidable duo. Add in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell on the second unit and you’ve got efficient basketball on the court at all times. While the Lakers fans would dominate the crowd at Staples Center, the Clippers are content with getting that No. 2 seed.
Last season, the Nuggets squandered a golden opportunity to make it to the Western Conference Finals with a Game 7 home loss to the Trail Blazers. Getting the No. 3 seed is impressive, but the competition in the West this season will make it a lot harder for them to try and finally get over the second-round hump. A second-matchup with the Clippers or Rockets would be too much for them to handle.
Since making the move to a small-ball lineup, the Rockets have invigorated some energy back into this team. James Harden is still doing his thing but now the move has allowed Russell Westbrook to become a much more efficient player. No longer does he have to chuck up three-pointers; the offense is more spread out, and that allows Westbrook to drive the lane easier. The big problem, however, is when Houston faces some of these bigger teams in the playoffs. Those much bigger players will be able to impose their will in a seven-game series.
The Jazz certainly has all the pieces to make a deep run, but we’ll need to see them actually do it before we go anointing a series win. However, it would be interesting if they played the Rockets. In that scenario, Rudy Gobert would basically have an open season down low and on the glass. You do have to wonder, though, if Houston’s up-tempo style could take Gobert off the court for long stretches. It’ll be interesting to see which matchup the Jazz wind up getting.
Luka Doncic has been an absolute monster this season, notching one triple-double after the other. Him, paired along with the Kristaps Porzingis has worked as well as anyone could’ve ever imagined. Given the close proximity of teams bunched together in the Western Conference, it’s truly imaginable to see the Mavs moving up the standings. If they don’t, their current 21-11 road record should help them maybe get out of the first round.
This is probably the feel-good surprise story of the NBA season after OKC lost the last of its true superstars with Russell Westbrook heading to Houston – and also Paul George going to LA. Nevertheless, Chris Paul has been a great leader for this young OKC squad while Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams have also held the fort down. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has even emerged as a star with more playing time. This is not a team that any of the big guns out West want to face in the first round.
Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ja Morant has the Grizzlies on the verge of getting back to the postseason. This kid has really provided a boost for a team that really didn’t have many preseason aspirations. Memphis doesn’t appear to have any wiggle room and will likely stay in that No. 8 spot for a matchup with the almighty Lakers. The Grizzlies will have to keep winning in order to keep the Trail Blazers, Spurs, Pelicans and Kings out of the playoffs – all four of those teams are currently 3.5 games out of the final spot.
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