DAR Sports: NBA Playoff Picture

By @TrueGodImmortal 

Now, we've reached much beyond the halfway point in the NBA season and as things are beginning to get much more hectic over the next month and some change, I wanted to take a look into the current playoff picture and MVP race that's going on. While this season has the potential to make history in many ways, for some, it's merely a three team race in the West (two team race if you ask some folks), and the East has one proverbial front runner with a few teams who could steal the Eastern Conference Championship. As of now, let's look at the standings if the playoffs started today.

Western Conference
1. Golden State Warriors
2. San Antonio Spurs 
3. Oklahoma City Thunder 
4. Los Angeles Clippers 
5. Memphis Grizzlies 
6. Dallas Mavericks
7. Portland Trailblazers 
8. Houston Rockets 

Eastern Conference 
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
2. Toronto Raptors 
3. Boston Celtics 
4. Miami Heat 
5. Atlanta Hawks
6. Indiana Pacers
7. Charlotte Hornets 
8. Chicago Bulls

Now, looking at the playoff picture here, without looking at records, I'm sure the belief would be that most of these teams could likely make a deep run in the playoffs, right?


In the west, it comes down simply to three teams:

Warriors, Spurs, and Thunder... in that order.

The Warriors are on the path to possibly breaking the 72-10 record set by the 1995-1996 Bulls, and seem poised to possible repeat as NBA Champions. If the Warriors maintain being healthy and play hard, it would honestly be very tough to see any team beating them in a 7 game series. Especially for a team who hasn't even lost 2 games in a row this season. The Warriors were very good last year. They're even better this year. While they've struggled in the past with both the Spurs and the Thunder, this season so far has seen them handily defeat all the opponents who reportedly would give them trouble. They decimated the Spurs by 30, beat the Cavs and Bulls both by 30, have defeated just about every possible playoff team in each conference, and are still going strong. Klay Thompson has been quite consistent overall this season and the current 3 point contest champion has definitely provided what the Warriors need in a 2 guard. Draymond Green has improved considerably and exceeded everyone's expectations, becoming Mr. Triple Double this season. The bench has depth, the roster is stacked, and it is very likely that the Warriors could be headed to their 2nd straight title, and of course the man of the hour, the reigning MVP Steph Curry is the leading cause. Averaging 30 points a game currently, leading the league in scoring and breaking his previous 3 pointers in a season record(with 24 games left to go), Steph has stepped his game up as well. He's much more confident in his game, has grown as an overall player, and he is one of the best, if not THE best player in the league. The Warriors should make a very deep run in the playoffs and if they remain healthy, I predict them winning a 2nd straight title and I believe they will beat the Bulls record and finish the season 74-8.

The only team who to me could stop them is the Spurs. Now, the Spurs looked badly against the Warriors earlier this season, but Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are a hell of a duo to help lead a truly great team. Coach Pop is one of the best coaches we've ever seen and he has the Spurs possibly on the path to finish the season at 68-14, which normally would be easily enough to take the no. 1 seed and best record in the league, but not when you've got a team like the Warriors in the west. Even with a few newer additions this season, the Spurs have great chemistry and look better than they've ever looked in quite some time. Dominating wins, utilizing every piece perfectly and staying focused is going to get the Spurs to the Western Conference Finals for that big showdown with the Warriors. At that moment, it'll be put up or shut up for both teams.

You might wonder why I'm not raving about the Thunder, who I predict will finish the season 57-25, and it is because I don't have the faith in them as a unit. Westbrook has a case for the best player in the league today, as does Durant, however, their bench isn't really solid, and and they lack in a few areas. I truly have the Thunder likely making a 2nd round exit. The Clippers nor the Grizzlies look formidable enough to make a deep run, and honestly if the Blazers go in as an 7th seed against the Spurs or even an 8th seed against the Warriors, despite the recent win over Golden State, I have the Blazers either losing in 5 or getting swept. For me, the West still goes through the Warriors and Spurs.

The Eastern Conference is a bit more cluttered. While the first two seeds are strongly in position, for position 3-8, it is really too close to call. The Cavs still look great as a unit, and they play well under new head coach Lue as Kyrie is finding a rhythm again, but I truly have a belief that the Cavs could make an earlier than expected exit in the playoffs. They are still my frontrunners to win the Eastern Conference and make the Finals again, but a sleeper team like the Celtics, maybe the Heat, or even a refocused and healthy Bulls could give them trouble. Speaking of the Bulls, with Derrick Rose looking back in rare form, and Jimmy Butler on the way back in a week or 2, the Bulls could be gearing up for a big playoff run if everything goes well. Right now, they're at risk of being the 8th seed, but that could change by next week. Both Rose and Butler have played superb at different times during the season and if they can get it together, there's a very small possibility that we could see the Bulls in the Conference Finals or maybe even crack the Finals. It is realistically unlikely, but with the right focus, they could do it.

The Heat look great mostly, but I still don't have them pegged as a true contender for some reason. Same goes for the Pacers also, despite playing some good basketball. The Hawks proved that last year was essentially a fluke and I expect them to exit the first or 2nd round at best in the playoffs. The 8th seed is still up for grabs honestly and by the time the season is over, any team could be there really. The two teams in the East I see with the strongest chance of making a deep run in the playoffs are the maturing Toronto Raptors and the growing Boston Celtics. The Celtics have a damn good team and it surprised the hell out of me in some aspects. The Raptors have Lowry and Derozan playing top notch for the most part, but is it enough to push them to the highest level? That's a question that I can't really answer at the moment. Only they can answer it. I believe the Raptors can make the Conference Finals and there's a part of me that wants to say they could beat the Cavs in a 7 game series. If Bron is out of gas, and Kyrie isn't working as well, it could happen. The same goes for the Celtics in many ways, as they are my second pick out of the East to make the Finals. If the Cavs can't do it, I see the Celtics making the Finals from the Eastern Conference. They won't win the series likely, but they have the 2nd best chance of making it to the Finals in the East.

Now, we got some playoff picture talk out of the way, can we briefly touch on the MVP race?

The MVP Race
Reigning MVP Steph Curry is your current front runner for this year's award as well. Who could really argue against that? He put up 42, 51, and 46 in three consecutive games, along with 10 three pointers in back to back games. This was just last week. Through the season, he's had amazing games, and he stands as the leader of the current best team in the NBA. He's also the league's leading scorer and unless he has a ton of bad games going forward, he'll likely also win his first NBA scoring title. Some people said Curry shouldn't have won last year because his stats weren't that great, mainly his PPG(which at nearly 24 points a game last season, I don't see an issue with that number), but this year, the naysayers are now turning that narrative into "well, he only has that many points because all he does is shoot three pointers". Well, that's what you do in basketball. You take shots. Majority of the shots that Steph makes are not your average shots and he defies all logic by hitting some of these shots, like his game winner against the Thunder in OT. Steph is hands down the leader in the race to the MVP, but he's not the only one who could have a valid claim to it.

While the Thunder is a two man team and both Durant and Westbrook have claims to the MVP, I slightly have to give a bigger edge to Westbrook, who is proving himself to be the true alpha in the Thunder system. Durant is truly amazing and that goes to show the level of potential that is within the Thunder, having two candidates for MVP on the same team. The dynamic duo of Westbrook and Durant both have shown out this year and remained healthy, and if either one of them has a big end of the season, they could steal that award from Steph.

Kawhi Leonard has to be considered a candidate as well, leading the Spurs to another 50 win season, and stepping up to be the focus of the team. He has a great team surrounding him, so I don't expect him to really get the award, but his work to help drive the team is still something to marvel about. The same could be said for Lebron James, who is usually always a MVP frontrunner, but this season, I can't really see him as the winner for this award. He's playing great still, and his numbers are good, but the focus of the Cavs is also allowing Kyrie to step up more now as well. LeBron is always a possible candidate, but he doesn't seem like he's got as strong of a case this season, even with the Cavs as the no. 1 seed in the East.

Damian Lillard might actually have the strongest case this year, if the Blazers keep at the pace they've been at. It seems unlikely that someone who wasn't voted to the All Star game would have a case for MVP, but the turnaround that the Blazers have experienced is nothing short of amazing. They've defeated the Warriors, they've gone on long winning streaks, and though I don't feel that they'll end up going too far in the playoffs, Dame is focused and leading the team along with CJ. Dame is the leader of the Blazers and after losing so many other key elements during the season, he's found his rhythm. The Blazers could end up as the 4th or 5th seed and I think Dame would have a huge claim to the award, or at least become a true frontrunner.

So, there we have it. A MVP race that's right now likely in the bag for the reigning winner, and a Playoff picture that could very well see a repeat champion, and a repeat of the same Finals last year. Only time will tell, but as we get into the final stretch, the NBA is about to get much more exciting.



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