DAR Sports: The NBA East And West Playoff Picture

By @TrueGodImmortal

The playoff picture in the NBA is shaping up and the time has almost come for the playoffs. With only a month left in the season, we can start to speculate a little bit about the Conferences and the seeding as a few spots seem to be solidified, while some spots are being fought for to the max. The question now is, who will make the playoffs and who will be ranked where? Let's take a look at the two conferences and the biggest story heading into the final stretch before the playoffs.

Eastern Conference
In the 4 years since LeBron has returned to Cleveland, this is set to be the 3rd year that he didn't have the no. 1 seed in the East. While in 2015 and 2017 this didn't matter, this would be the first time that the Cavs were lower than the 2nd seed since his return. The Raptors have captured the no. 1 seed and the Celtics are still in play for the no. 1 seed, so the East is a very tight  battle at the moment. What are the stories of the East this season as the playoff picture shapes up? Let's work out way down from the first seed to the final spot.

*The No. 1 Seed Battle
-If you ask me, the first two seeds are already set. The Toronto Raptors seem focused and ready to do what they need to do and walk away with the no. 1 seed in the East, having three less losses than their closest challenger, the Boston Celtics. Since the All Star Break, the Celtics have played very well, and if not for the tough loss to Houston on Saturday, I would have to pick them as my favorite to win the East. However, being at 20 losses for the season already leads me to believe the Celtics will end up around 55-56 wins for the season and the second seed. The Raptors are playing well and I could see them finishing strong with a 58 win season. I don't expect any of these teams to reach 60 wins, but it is possible for sure. A look at the remaining schedule is somewhat in favor of the Raptors, so if the Raptors catch fire and continue winning, they will overtake the no. 1 seed and then comes the tough part of breaking the stigma of their playoff struggles. Can the Raptors pull it off? That remains to be seen. Can the Celtics steal the no. 1 seed still? Yes, they can, but with just 18 games left, it'll have to be a fight to the finish for them to do so.

*Cleveland's Finish
-LeBron James has a new team around him and honestly, it is hard to gauge exactly what type of squad this is. They don't have an offensive identity yet and their players don't exhibit much versatility in terms of their ability and talent, which limits what they are capable of. For the first time in years, a LeBron led team is not the front runner in the East completely, but the playoffs are a different animal entirely. If the Cavs can finish the season strong, they can finish around 51-31 and the third seed, but that also requires them to play their absolute best basketball to close out the regular season. It would be really interesting to see the Cavs drop to 4th or even 5th or 6th in the East and win 47 games, as it would create serious doubt about their chances making the Finals. No one knows what to expect from this Cavs team, but my guess is that they finish 3rd in the East and at worst, 4th.

*The Final Spots
-The spots of 4 through 8 in the East are going to be interesting. As it stands right now, the Victor Oladipo led Indiana Pacers are currently 4th and the John Wall less Washington Wizards are 5th. However, both of their records as so close to each other than a loss or two knock one of those teams to the 6th or 7th seed. The 76ers sit at the 6th seed, and the Bucks are 7th, while the Miami Heat hold the 8th and final spot in the East, but there is the possibility that we could see these teams switch seeds as the month progresses. I would like to see the 76ers claim the 4th seed and with their schedule being a little easier than some of their competition's, it is possible. So, the battle for 4-8 is rooted in the Pacers, Wizards, 76ers, Bucks, and the Heat. Is there any way that any other team in the East sneaks in? Well.....

*Can Charlotte And Detroit Make A Push -So we can cancel out the Knicks, the Bulls, the Nets, the Magic, and the Hawks, due to their lackluster records, but there are two teams who could go on a winning streak and possibly make a run for 8th seed. The Hornets are 28-36 and the Pistons are 29-34. While it is unlikely that either team steals a spot, you never know. Much like last season, both teams show signs of greatness, but nothing strong enough to make anyone believe that they are a playoff contender. If I had to guess, I would say Detroit finishes the year as the 9th seed while the Hornets finish in 10th, with neither team being able to steal the 8th seed.

Western Conference
There is no Conference quite like the Wild West. For the last few years, the West has gone through Golden State, but perhaps this year is different? Maybe, but I wouldn't count on it. Still, the conference is extremely competitive and as a result, their playoff race is much tighter than the East in a number of ways. Let's take a look at the Western Conference.

*Houston vs Golden State -So, there are two things about this that are telling: one, the Rockets came back to take the no. 1 seed from the Warriors. Two, the Rockets are currently on an amazing 15 game winning streak, which is the second highest of the season, and their longest win streak of the year. They are the second highest ranked offense in the league and are currently top 10 (at no. 10) in the league in defense and a half game ahead of the Warriors in the standings. With the Rockets at 49-13 and the Warriors at 49-14, the question is simply who will win the West and who will be the no. 1 seed. The Warriors are the best road team in the West and they have a slightly easier schedule to close out the season. With a week of games against the Thunder, the Bucks, and the Raptors in succession, along with games against the Thunder and Pelicans, the Rockets could see their winning streak end soon. The Warriors have some tough challenges ahead too, but the chips could fall into their favor for a few reasons. One, their toughest games against teams like the Spurs and Timberwolves will be with those teams weakened, and they've already played against the Raptors twice and seem to have figured out the Thunder. For the Rockets, their schedule is tougher and they have some tough back to backs, so it remains to be seen how the rest of the year plays out. If the Warriors stay focused, I believe they can win the rest of their games or at least only lose one or two, and if they do that, I think they'll take the no. 1 seed, but it'll be close. One has to wonder if the Rockets aren't playing TOO hard and will tire themselves out by the playoffs, but we should see both teams win at least 61-62 games each, but right now, it's too close to call. I think the Warriors finish at no. 1, but only by two games when the season finishes.

*Spots 3-8
-There are some interesting aspects to this entire situation in regards to these spots. The 3rd seed seems to be going to the Blazers and considering the fact I'm sure they'll stay healthy, they should be able to hold onto that. If they do, then you can expect to see an interesting series in the first round with the Blazers having momentum. The team to watch out for at the moment is the 4th seed New Orleans Pelicans, who lost Demarcus Cousins, but have been able to make a push due to Anthony Davis. It should be noted that those two teams have a slight cushion by only losing 26 games while the other teams have all lost 27 or 28 games and let's be real. The top 4 seeds in the West are all on solid winning streaks. Houston have won 15, Golden State has won 5 in a row, the Blazers have won 6 in a row, and the Pelicans have won 8 in a row. The other teams are on a bit of a downswing, as the Spurs fell to 6th with the Jimmy Butler less Wolves falling to 5th. The biggest shock is the Oklahoma City Thunder falling to 7th and being in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. If the Thunder can come out and play hard to beat the Rockets on Tuesday, perhaps that'll give them the momentum they need to stay in the hunt for the third or 4th seed. The 8th seed is up for grabs as well and one has to wonder what will come of that. Right now, the Denver Nuggets are the 8th seed, but the Clippers and Jazz aren't too far behind. It's really anyone's guess who will end up taking the 3rd through 8th spots, but if I had to make a bet, I would say the Pelicans shock everyone and sustain their current pace with AD as the leader and surprise the world when they finish as the third seed. The Blazers will finish at no. 4 I predict, and the Spurs will end up as no. 5 I predict. The Wolves will fall to the 6th seed and stay there, while the Thunder will sustain at the 7th seed. The 8th seed? I predict it'll go to the Nuggets, but I would like to see the Clippers get in.

*Could The Lakers Sneak In?
-This is doubtful. By a large margin. However, the Lakers have won the most games in a season since the Kobe days. They are 17-7 in their last 24 games and they are firing on all cylinders, winning 5 in a row. They are 28-34, but in the event they can continue winning, they might even steal the 8th seed. It would take a huge losing streak for every team in front of them, which makes it unlikely, but by next year, this team will end up in the playoffs. It would be insane if the Lakers could finish around 39-43 or 41-41, even if they don't make the playoffs. If anything, seeing Lonzo, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram play so well has to be a bright sign for the future and this Lakers team could be a force in the NBA for years to come.

Final Thoughts
Simply put, the playoffs will be fun this year. The idea of a Houston vs Golden State Conference Finals, or even a Golden State vs Oklahoma City Thunder Conference Finals or Houston vs OKC first round matchup would be fun in the West. We could see the Spurs against the Blazers first round, the Pelicans against the Wolves, and those are all quality series. If the Spurs can get fully healthy sooner than later, they could be something special once again. The East have intriguing matchups also, with the idea of a possible Boston vs Cleveland series, Cleveland vs Philadelphia series, or even the Pacers vs Boston being solid options for the playoffs, among others. However the playoff picture turns out, we will be treated to some amazing games and that's all we need from the NBA.



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