The race to the NBA Playoffs is a grueling bloodbath. Who will make it in?
The NBA Playoffs are almost upon us, and there are once again a bunch of storylines swirling around, as the spots to get in are limited, it’s a truly exciting time to be a fan. Let’s get into everything you should know heading into this final stretch of the NBA regular season.
In the Western Conference, no team is safe
The Western Conference is stacked with the most win-now teams in the NBA right now, as only the Spurs and the Rockets are truly out of the race altogether. Everyone from the 13th place Lakers to the 2nd place Grizzlies is within just a few games of each other. While only 6 teams get to advance automatically, 2 other spots are determined by the Play-In tournament. Other than the Nuggets, who have locked up the top seed pretty tight, any one of the Western conference teams could be vying for a spot in the Play-In tournament if even just a few games are lost.
In the Eastern Conference, the play-in is key
The Eastern Conference is much more orderly than its Western counterpart, as most of the contenders have locked themselves into the playoffs. Once you delve past the top 5 however, it becomes clear that there’s more chaos than meets the eye. The 7-10 spots will be competing in the play-in to shake some of the higher ranked teams, but who are they? As of now, the Heat, Hawks, Raptors, and Wizards are all in the Play-In. This could change if the Nets, now lacking a true superstar, continue to slide, or if the Knicks falter, or even if any of the 4 current Play-In teams make a push to get into a regular NBA playoffs spot.
The Sacramento Kings could finally end their playoff drought
In the stacked Western Conference, there’s only 2 teams that can safely say they have no shot at making the Play-In or the playoffs. The Kings, who currently hold the longest playoff drought in the NBA, are not one of those teams. The Kings have a strong core with some great young talent. All things considered, the Kings are a win-now team with the potential to make a run. However, the key to winning is to stay out of the muddled Play-In tournament, otherwise things could get ugly for this young team.
What about the 1 seeds?
The number 1 seeds in the NBA playoffs get a nice advantage as they play the weakest team to come out of the Play-In, and they are usually pretty strong teams who steamrolled their competition throughout the year. This year is not much different. In the West, the Nuggets easily wrapped themselves up the 1 seed. Nikola Jokic is making a strong case to win his third straight MVP award, which is almost an unheard level of dominance. His supporting cast has done well fending off the rest of the scrappy Western Conference, although Jokic and the Nuggets have disappointed in the past few playoff runs. In the East, the Celtics hold the 1 seed, but the strong Bucks are keeping pace, staying tied or less than a game behind the Celtics throughout most of the season. That’s a battle to watch, as the path to the title gets easier with the higher seed.
Do the Hawks have what it takes to make the NBA playoffs?
The Atlanta hawks have been trying to recapture the magic that brought them to the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals while also building a future that sees them contending for years to come. However, they just fired their coach, and have been sitting around .500 all season long. There’s very legitimate questions around the Hawks, and as of now, they are sitting squarely in a Play-In spot, which isn’t exactly meant for contenders. The duo of Dejounte Murray and Trae Young have been strong this year, but the depth is weaker than most might like. The Hawks would also have to be benefited by some slip ups by the Heat, Nets, Knicks, or any combination of the 3 if they want to show up in the playoffs without having to worry about the Play-In. Perhaps a new coach will help them.
So who is going to surprise us in these playoffs?
While we cannot say who is going to be the surprise for certain, several teams including the Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers all have the potential to surprise us when it comes time to watch the playoffs. Very few teams in the mix are truly bad teams, and the potential to have a good team go down early goes up with the amount of teams with strong potential ready to go in and put everyone on upset alert.
Who could be a major disappointment in the playoffs?
The LA Clippers have made win-now moves over the past few years to make themselves into a strong contender, but are they just too old? The Warriors haven’t guaranteed themselves a spot, and the defending champs might go down before they even get to a conference final. The Philadelphia 76ers have to win now or never with their current roster. Rumors are swirling about what will happen to Joel Embiid, and James Harden isn’t getting any younger. The Nets are currently led by Ben Simmons, so don’t expect them to go very far.
This final push to the playoffs is a great time to be an NBA fan, as every game matters just that much more. With how many strong teams are in the league some great talent is going to be missing out on the playoffs. The Play-In tournament is going to be must watch television. Once the playoff matchups are set, we’ll be in for quite the spectacle. We gotta make sure we stay tuned to teams like the Mavericks who may or may not make some noise. Ultimately, we just want to see some great basketball as the regular season winds down. Happy watching NBA fans!