We are now officially in the NBA season crunch time — the starters have had their rest and are back on the floor for the final push. Every shot counts, every loose ball is a huge momentum swing. Which players, which teams will deliver when it counts?
With roughly a month to go, the NBA playoff picture is starting to take place. A couple of teams have clinched their berths already (Warriors and Spurs) and we have even officially eliminated some teams at this point (sorry Philly). Though the races will not be as exciting as they have been in years past, we still have a few questions coming into the final stage of the season.
This week we look at those pressing questions/matchups/races, including one very close to the minds of Warriors fans!
Cleveland and Toronto continue to trade blows at the top of the division. The Cavs seem to be imploding internally, the Raptors are streaking and are putting the pressure on LeBron and crew. The rest of the conference seems to be shaking out pretty clearly, however there are still a few questions to be answered:
Who will win the Three-Seed, Boston or the Heat? There is currently a great race going on between the streaking Celtics and the consistently scary Heat. Both teams represent squads that didn't have high expectations to start the season, who have both shown roster cohesion and great coaching will get you pretty far. Miami has won 5 in a row through Tuesday, and looks to have the momentum. In true schedule bliss, these teams play each other on the last day of the season. What is at stake? The 4th seed gets you the Cavs in the second round. The 3rd seed though would currently get you 7 games against Kemba Walker and the motivated Hornets. Who ends up on top?
This guy's guess: Boston ends up in the 3rd. They have more momentum and too many good pieces. The Heat are still a bit too old.
Who sneaks into the 8th seed? The Bulls, Pistons or Wizards? There are too many good teams at the bottom of the Eastern division at the current moment. The Bulls, with all their talent and returning injuries, have the advantage simply based on All-Stars and pedigree. The Pistons have weapons, and would be a scary match up in the playoffs (see: Pelicans from last year). The Wizards have finally decided to wake up at the end of the season, and are making their push (though might have started to fall flat with two straight losses). Which one of this group makes the leap? Do multiple teams make the jump and knock out a team like the Pacers who are in the 7th slot?
This guy's guess: The Bulls keep their spot, but the Pacers get pushed out in favor of the Pistons
When the dust settles and we realize the loss to the Lakers was not the end of the world, the cushion at the top of the conference stays the same. With two big victories over the Thunder this week, the Warriors were bound for a let down game. But a lucky loss from the Spurs to the Pacers in Indiana keeps a 3 1/2 game lead for the top spot. Crazy that we are still taking about the one seed being in general while the Warriors push for the best regular season record of all time.
The Spurs have proven to be historically good in their own right, and this race for the #1 seed should still come down to the three games these teams still have left to play together. Here are the other pressing questions for the conference:
Who will end up in the 8th spot? The Jazz or the Rockets? I am not sure what surprises me the most - that the Jazz are ONLY in the 9th spot or that the Rockets have fallen as far as the 8th spot. The Jazz on paper are a brutal front court with wing scorers who play on a tough home court. The Rockets have one of the top 5 players in the league and the artist that use to be Dwight Howard. Which of these two teams find themselves in the 8th spot? The Jazz can't seem to find cohesion with their full roster yet, while the Rockets do this.
This guy's guess: I hope it is the Jazz because they are a fun team to watch, though I believe it will be the Rockets because they will wake up in time and realize who they are. As for a Warriors matchup, both teams have shown to be tough at times for Golden State, but I'd still take the Warriors in 5 in both match ups.
How high will the Blazers climb? Past the Mavs? It may seem inconsequential, however there is a lot of importance placed on which team can find themselves in the 6th seed. Nobody wants to face the Spurs or the Warriors in the first round. Currently the Mavs hold the 6th spot, but with the Blazers on the run into the playoff hunt they have made it a fight to the finish. Portland has cooled off to three straight losses after their world-beating streak of wins (and Lillard scoring), but are currently tied with the Mavs on the standings. Dirk has started to look like young Dirk again, and Chandler Parsons is playing for that new contract. Which of these two teams will earn the right to skip the big two (and "win" a first round fight against the Thunder?)
This guy's guess: Portland had its moment, but they are playing above their means and are still a year away from being really good. The Mavs have the veteran presence, and should hold their seed.
Around the NBA
- This is a huge week for the Warriors, with big games against the Jazz and the Blazers. If Golden State holds court at home through the season, they should be in great shape for the record. They hold the advantage over the Spurs, in that even if San Antonio sweeps them at home the Warriors still have the advantage because of the win earlier in the season. Why won't these Spurs just go away already!
- Some nice under-the-radar transactions over the last week with Joe Johnson going to the Heat (averaging 14 ppg on 60% shooting), Ty Lawson ending up in Indiana, and even Kevin Martin finding his way to San Antonio. The Warriors need their stars back from injury, with Iggy and Festus still on the mend. Did Golden State miss the boat by not signing another FA? We have seen how well Andy Varajeao has played out so far, so I am guessing you realize it takes longer to usually integrate someone into your system than you think. I believe the front office did the right thing by standing pat and not going for another vet, but we will see.
- I am beginning to think Draymond Green needs a night or two off. I think when Iguodala makes his return to the roster, that you give Green a night in street clothes to get his head right. Maybe the same for Harrison Barnes, who is simply murdering his free agency value to the Warriors benefit. Thank goodness Curry seems to not lose a step down the stretch, or this team would be in huge trouble with it's contributors having such issues right now.
Another week, another deep dive into the NBA as a whole. The Playoffs are shaking up nicely. and I believe there will be more competitive match ups than there were last year. Which is a win for all basketball fans!