DAR Sports: NBA Playoff Picture

By @TrueGodImmortal

As the NBA regular season reaches its end, we see the playoffs really shaping up. While nothing is a lock as of now, we are pretty sure of two things: one, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs will be the top 2 seeds in the West (it is not clear who ends up at no. 1 or 2 officially), and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics are likely to be the top 2 seeds in the East (unless the Washington Wizards pick up the pace again). With those seeds seemingly in place, we wanted to get a glimpse at the playoff picture, how the teams will shape up and what matchup these teams need to fear. Let's take a look.

Western Conference
The tougher conference for the last few seasons is seeing extreme competition, as the MVP winner is once again likely in the West. It's a three man race if you ask me, as Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard make the most convincing arguments for MVP this year (and before you say it, yes LeBron is a top candidate, but he's not the winner). Who wins MVP? My guess is Harden, but my pick is Westbrook. Still, the Western Conference is stacked as usual and the playoff picture looks very interesting. Let's take a look at the top seeds in the West.

*Golden State Warriors (1st in the Western Conference)
-The Warriors seem to be back on track after a successful 3 game home stand. After getting through what seemed to be their toughest task of the season, they are seemingly back in form. Over the three games, it seemed as if we watched Stephen Curry shoot his way out of his slump, and the bench provided more productivity than we've seen in recent times. Kevin Durant is able to walk around and shoot jump shots, and it seems as if he will be healthy enough to play when April starts for the last few games of the season. In a way, the Warriors finding their footing again after looking sluggish and lost in a number of those losses might have been a blessing in disguise. They lost a number of close games (minus the one game they basically forfeited to the Spurs) on the road, and looked terrible at home against the Celtics in the 4th quarter, being held to only 86 points, one of their lowest games this season. With the bench productivity looking up and hopefully ready for the playoffs, along with the return of a sure to be revitalized Kevin Durant, the Warriors have what it takes to make a big run in the playoffs for a third straight year. KD's injury might have been exactly what the team needed to learn how to get through those tough stretches in a game, and make them playoff ready. Time will tell.

*San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the Western Conference)
-The only thing that stands in the way of the Warriors making the Finals again, is this team. Do I see them legit stopping the Warriors in the playoffs this year? Yes and no, but this Spurs team is the only one in the West who stands in the way of another Warriors Finals appearance. Their team and system is undefeated when working well, and for my dollar, I'd put Kawhi Leonard right front and center in the MVP talk. He's one of the best, if not the best two way player in the game today. He gets it done on both ends of the floor, and the two time Defensive Player of The Year hasn't lost a step, though I don't see him winning a third straight award. Kawhi is a top tier MVP candidate and I think we could end up seeing the Spurs making a deep run in the playoffs. However, the only teams that I could see possibly giving them problems in the playoffs are the defensive minded Memphis Grizzlies and of course, the Golden State Warriors. The Houston Rockets could present challenges, but in a 7 game series, I would bet on the Spurs.

*Houston Rockets (3rd in the Western Conference)
-The Rockets are really a good team this year. They have a surprisingly deep talent pool on their roster, with James Harden leading the way. Their depth is what could make them a problem, but for a defensively elite team and an offensively elite team (Warriors and Spurs come to mind this season), they would be able to stop them likely in a 7 game series. One team that could really present a challenge for the Rockets that's NOT the Warriors or Spurs in the playoffs is the Memphis Grizzlies, who fully healthy is a defensive juggernaut and can put a stop to the live by the three, die by the three way of Houston. Still,  Houston is a contender, they are just very possible to beat.

*Utah Jazz (4th in the Western Conference)
-This team is defensive minded and solid all around. Will they advance beyond the first round? Likely. Will they advance beyond the second round? If they're facing the Warriors or the Spurs, don't count on it. This team has immense talent with Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and more, but the truth remains that the Jazz don't seem like a legit title contender. At least not this year.

*Los Angeles Clippers (5th in the Western Conference)
-The Clippers are the biggest joke in the Western playoff picture, but they're still a solid team. It's just time to break the band up. I don't see this team getting beyond the Jazz or the Rockets, or even the Spurs in the first round. If the Clippers fall to 6th or 7th, it just signals an easy loss for them in the first round I think. The talent is there, the drive is not and this team has watched their ship sail on a championship opportunity.

*Oklahoma City Thunder (6th in the Western Conference)
-The man I see as MVP, Russell Westbrook, has led this team to 40 wins already and a chance at 45-48 wins on the year (50 if they get REALLY lucky). This is a sleeper team that with the right amount of focus and heart, they could end up getting out of the first round as a 5th or 6th seed. The last thing they would want however is to have the 7th seed, because the Spurs would be far too tough of a matchup for them. Russ is great, and I think against the Jazz or Rockets, he could have a chance to win and advance, but the Spurs would end up being a huge disadvantage and a second round matchup with the Warriors would not end well. Still, this team is a sleeper team to watch just in case they catch fire.

*Memphis Grizzlies (7th in The Western Conference)
-Vince Carter is playing at a high level. Mike Conley is playing well. Marc Gasol is playing well. And honestly, I could predict that there will be a tough battle if the Grizzlies remain in the 7th seed in the playoffs. The Spurs and Grizzlies will be a tough matchup and the Grizzlies could pull off an upset, but we've seen in the past that the Spurs can eliminate the Grizzlies without issue. It would be ideal for the Grizzlies to obtain the 5th seed, as I believe they're a better match for the Jazz and have a higher chance of winning that series.

*The 8th Seed
-The final seed in the West can go to the Denver Nuggets, the Portland Trailblazers, or the Dallas Mavericks. I think the Nuggets will hold onto the 8th seed and manage to go on to lose in the first round to the Warriors or the Spurs. The 8th seed is not going to matter because they won't get by any of the top two choices.

Eastern Conference
The East is improved and have a few legit contenders this year, but it's still expected that the Cleveland Cavaliers will be able to get the victory and make another NBA Finals. Let's take a look at the East and how it stacks up.

*Cleveland Cavaliers (1st in the Eastern Conference)
-The favorite as always, Cleveland doesn't look as good as they did last year, despite adding more depth. The team chemistry is still there, and by adding Deron Williams and Kyle Korver, they have some formidable secondary options, but their defense and rebounding has suffered greatly in the regular season. That will likely change in the playoffs, but then again, there's always a chance it doesn't. I still see the Cavs winning the East and making another Finals, but they might face greater challenges than years past.

*Boston Celtics (2nd in the Eastern Conference)
-The Celtics are a really good team and if they finish with the 2nd best record in the East, I think they will be able to get beyond whoever the 7th seed ends up being. My pick for the Conference Finals would be the Celtics vs Cavs in a heated 6 game matchup, but ultimately I see the Cavs winning that. Still, this takes away nothing from what Isaiah Thomas and company have done.

*Washington Wizards (3rd in the Eastern Conference)
-Who would have expected the Wizards to be competing for second seed in the East. They are currently third and likely will finish third, but one thing about this team is that you can't count them out. I counted them out and look where they are now. John Wall is having a masterful season, as is Bradley Beal, so if they keep it up, they could be a true contender and make a possible run at the Finals. It is doubtful, but I could possibly see it if everything clicks.

*Toronto Raptors (4th in the Eastern Conference)
-Last year's no. 2 seed aren't the same team exactly that they were last year, but they are still extremely viable. The Raptors are witnessing one of the best seasons in franchise history from DeMar Derozan and when Kyle Lowry gets back, they could truly be a problem in the postseason. I'd pick them to win that no. 4 vs no. 5 seed battle, but there's no way that they get beyond the Cavs in the 2nd round. A solid playoff team just not one that will REALLY make a big splash beyond the 2nd round.

*Atlanta Hawks (5th in the Eastern Conference)
-I find the Hawks to have been better than I expected yet also worse than I expected if that makes sense. They're as inconsistent as I expected them to be, but can compete very well and at the highest level when necessary. Dwight and Paul Millsap could very well make them a threat in the first round but that's where the party stops. The Hawks are not a contender.

*Indiana Pacers (6th in the Eastern Conference)
-The Pacers are not a contender. I thought they would be, but they haven't really showcased the chemistry needed to win a playoff series or make a deep playoff run. Paul George has stepped up his play but for the most part, the Pacers seem like they are struggling to find footing. I see a 1st round exit in their future.

*The 7th and 8th Seeds
-The last two seeds of the East can go to anyone... Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, or Miami. The fact remains, whoever gets the 7th or 8th seed will likely be eliminated quickly. The Bulls have made the Cavs lives a living hell, but are without Dwyane Wade so that 8th seed would be useless. Miami is currently without Dion Waiters and that has crippled them a bit but they could very well grab that 8th seed. The Pistons are in prime position, as are the Milwaukee Bucks, but it will probably come down to the last game of the season to determine both of these seeds.

Who will win the NBA Championship? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure we will all be tuned in to the NBA playoffs.



Popular Posts