This year's NBA, as good as it has been, might be lacking some of it's usual drama. In years past, the league has been lucky enough to watch some exciting playoff races come down to the last few games to determine which cinderella teams will break through, and which ones will be dealing with early heartbreak. Fans would be treated with playoff-like games even before the playoffs started.
Not so much this year - many teams have been "clinched" for an extended amount of time. The upcoming playoff races seem about set, with the only thing left to determine being if the Warriors break any more records (still recovering from the Celtics loss..). While we look around the NBA today, we take a look at any races that still remain, and give a quick preview of the upcoming playoff potential matchups to get everyone excited for the pending postseason. Let's jump into it!
Four teams represent the last two spots in the playoff race. The challenge? None of the four teams seems interested in separating themselves from the pack. Usually in a playoff race, you get 1-2 teams who have the momentum. Here, all four squads have dealt with inconsistent play, injuries and falling short of expectations. It is the Battle of Who Could Care just enough to get in, and right now there are no winners.
Detroit currently sits on the top of the heap. They represent the most talent in this race, with Andre Drummond a legit world beater. They are 6-4 over their last 10, with a big home win over the Thunder. Can they rally their shallow bench to go with their now-formidable starting 5? Stan Van Gundy can rally these guys in a playoff series, and I wouldn't want to face them. They finish the season agains the Cavs and have two against the Heat before it's all over.
Indiana just simply never goes away. Never great, but never bad enough to be written off. They currently hold the 8th spot, and control their own fate. Their last 7 include 4 on the road, and a trip to Toronto. They also host Cleveland, but get two against the Knicks. Can the Pacers pull it off? I think they end up being the odd team out here.
Chicago is the big question mark in the four in my mind. Derrick Rose is hurt again, they are starting to get their players back, but nobody wants to play for the team anymore. Winning cures everything, but does not cure a full season of lost expectations. The Bulls sit a full game behind the Pacers, but have some gimme games to finish the season. Something tells me the sneak into the playoffs.. .and I'm still not betting against their talent in a playoff series.
Washington is not mathematically out, but their west coast trip didn't help them. Give credit where due - they were left for dead less than a month ago and have made a push. I think it will fall short, but this team has a good base for next year - that is when they get a legitimate coach again.
In the race for "who will face the Warriors in the first round" there are really no winners here... The only team that has truly separated themselves has been the Utah Jazz, a team that should be so much better than it has been playing all year. They have made the big late push, winning 7 of their last 10 to now own the 8th spot (could have been 8, but the Warriors didn't agree).
Dallas currently sits in the 7th spot, locked in with the Jazz. The Mavs have won three straight after a big win in Detriot on Friday. They finish the season at Utah then at home for the Spurs, so this veteran team needs to rally now when it counts. I picture a first round matchup against the Spurs in their future, which would be nice that they don't have to travel far before going home early...
Utah is on the roll right now. They end the season with winnable games against the Lakers and Suns. Book their tickets to Oracle.
Houston doesn't deserve to be in the conversation, but since they still have James Harden on the roster, they get to be. This team should go away, and do it quietly, but they still could find a way to sneak in. I don't see them passing the Jazz, but I guess I picture a scenario where the Mavs fall out of it. They have lost four of their last six, and Morey might realize a lottery pick is better than a first round sweep.
Potential First Round Matchups
1 Warriors v 8 Jazz Warriors win in 5 because the Jazz find a way to win one at home. Rudy Gobert gets his national spotlight ala Anthony Davis last year
2 Spurs v 7 Mavs Go Spurs Go. The Mavs get one vintage Dirk game, but it's not enough for a win. This one is over in 4.
3 Thunder v 6 Portland Now we get the good matchups. I'm calling for a seven game series here... Portland has had too many good flashes, and I just don't think the Thunder are consistent enough. KD still takes this home in a series clincher in OKC, but it still gets dramatic.
4 Clips v 5 Memphis Memphis has lost five in a row, and only sits one game ahead of the Blazers, so this could be in jeopardy. Either way, the decimated Grizz aren't beating anyone in a first round series. Clips with the sweep if this happens.
1 Cavs vs 8 Pacers/Bulls Niether of these two teams strikes too much fear in the Cavs. It will be a warm up series for Cleveland, and I don't predict a loss for them. LeBron in 4
2 Raps v 7 Pistons This is a great series on paper. Pistons make this one a challenge, but still lose in 6 when Kyle Lowry and co. bring it home.
3 Charlotte v 6 Boston the middle of the East is wide open, with 4 teams a game away from each other in the standings. If this ends this way, I ironically still picture Charlotte losing in 5. Boston is too good to lose, even as the lower seed.
4 Heat v 5 Hawks The Heat are my dark horse playoff team, so you can picture Ill give them the nod here. Playoff Hassan Whiteside? Look out everyone.
Sure the Warriors lost at home, and now the home streak is over. It had to come to an end, and a tired team missing two key players was playing on borrowed money. The schedule still has a few too many question marks before it ends to think we still have a 100% chance of reaching 72, but the odds still look pretty good. Get back on the court Iggy and Festus! We need healthy bodies ASAP!