NBA Playoff race heats up

NBA Playoff race heats up

With just a few games left in the regular season, every team in the playoff race has something different to play for.

Teams like the Warriors and Cavaliers are sitting at the top of their respective conferences, looking to lock up the home court advantage on the road to the finals. Other teams towards the bottom half  of the playoff picture are still just looking to lock up a spot in the bracket and are now in a position where almost every game is a must win.  Every team in between those two extremes is just fighting for seeding and possibly home court advantage in the firs round.

With 16 of the NBA’s 30 teams qualifying for the postseason, it’s not always easy to know a lot about each team that we’ll see playing for the championship. I’ll try my best to spread some knowledge about each team with this article.

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors

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This season the defending champs have been dominating the entire league.

They started off with an unprecedented 24 game winning streak to spring to the top of the conference before losing their first game in December. They’ll be trying to set a new record for regular season wins in their final four games, needing to win them all to surpass Michael Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls 72 win season.

The Warriors are led by reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who has a great shot at bringing home that honor again with another stellar performance in the regular season. This team is still loaded with most of the players that brought the franchise a championship last season and they are the clear favorites to do that again.

2. San Antonio Spurs

While the Warriors have been in first place throughout the entire season, the Spurs have been close behind the whole way. They have already notched one win against the Warriors and will have one more chance against them as the season comes to an end. Luckily for them, that game will be in San Antonio, where they have not lost all season.

They are lead by their usual, reliable core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. The off season acquisition of LaMarcus Aldridge and the emergence of a star in Kawhi Leonard have made them a popular pick to knock of Golden State and bring a sixth title back to San Antonio.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

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The Thunder have had their ups and downs this season but have still been one of the most feared teams in the NBA. How could they not be? They have the most intimidating duo in the league in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

However, as great as Durant is at putting points on the board and Westbrook stuffing the stat sheet in all kinds of ways, they’ll need some of their thunder buddies to step up to make a deep postseason run. Look for big men Serge Ibaka and the “Stache Brothers” Steven Adams and Enes Kanter to help bring OKC to the promise land.

4. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers have had their struggles this season but have been coming on strong as of late. They have already clinched their spot in the playoffs this season but there wasn’t much doubt there. The real question is how far they can go.

They’ve received a fair amount of criticism for making early exits in the playoffs and never reaching the conference finals. Will this be the year their big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan be able to get them over hump?

5. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis has always had a “grind it out” mentality to their squad. This is exactly what they’ve done this season. They suffered the loss of their top player, Marc Gasol, and still managed to stay afloat in a brutal Western Conference and that’s fantastic for them, but it’s just about playoff time.

During playoff time it’s difficult for any team to advance very far without it’s best player. They still have a solid roster with Mike Conley and Zach Randolph, I just don’t think that will be enough to take them very far.

6. Portland Trail Blazers

A team that was counted out by many after losing LaMarcus Aldridge in the off season, the Blazers’ success has been shocking to say the least. They have been one of the best teams in the league since the all star break behind a stellar second half of the season from their point guard Damian Lillard. They probably have the most impressive win of any team this season with their 32 point victory over the Warriors in February.

This is a team that could upset one of the favorites and advance past the first round.

Fighting for spots

The bottom of the conference is a little less clear than the rest. The Dallas Mavericks currently hold the seven seed while the Utah Jazz have the eight seed, leaving the Houston Rockets on the outside looking in.  However the three teams are separated by just one game so those final two spots are going to be changing daily.

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

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The Cavs have been viewed as a lock for the finals for most of the season by many people. They have lived up to that hype up to this point as they’ve spent the entire season at the top of the east standings.

Coming off of a finals loss to Golden State, the Cavs will look to get back to the finals with a healthy Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and of course LeBron James. They’ve also got a new coach this time around, making that change earlier this season. However, recent team chemistry issues have been a nuisance for them. Hopefully, they will be able to right the ship when playoff time rolls around.

2. Toronto Raptors

The only NBA team outside of the U.S. has had another solid season. They’ve made the playoffs a few years in a row now but have failed to make it past the first round.

This season, Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan have shown a ton of improvement from last year and the addition of Demarre Carrol in the off season has helped the team improve their defense.

Can a more experienced and improved Raptors squad actually compete with the Cavs though? The eye test would suggest that they certainly can seeing as how they have beaten them twice this season.

Since these two teams are locked into the top two seeds, we’ll have to wait until the conference finals…. maybe.

3-6 ???

This is where the playoff picture gets a little messy in the East. The Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Charolette Hornets all fall within this range and are all seperated by one game or less. The truth is two of these teams will make it to the second round and whichever two do make it will have a decent chance to upset one of the top two seeds.

Charlotte has been smoking hot since the all star break and the Hawks have brought back most of their team that reached the conference finals last year. And could you imagine the intensity of a LeBron James-Miami Heat reunion in the conference semis? However, my personal favorite of this group is the Celtics.

Boston has one of the deepest teams in the league and have played very well against some of the top teams. They’ve beaten each of the other teams in this group at least once as well as notching wins against the Cavs, Thunder and Warriors. They also took Golden State to double overtime in their loss against them.

I personally see the Celtics making quite a bit of noise in the postseason.

The Final Spots

The seven and eight spots in the east are all but locked up by the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons.

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Indiana is in better shape at the seven seed and could prove to be a tough match up  for the Raptors in the first round. They’ll be led by Paul George, who is very quietly having an extremely successful season after returning from his terrible ankle injury that he suffered. I think that they are a very sneaky pick to advance to the second round.

Detroit is absolutely loaded with young talent and great all around athletes. Even if they can’t  advance this year, they are looking like they have a recipe for success for years to come.

The success of those two teams leaves the Chicago Bulls on the outside looking in. They’ve had an overall disappointing season. A team with the talent that they have should without a doubt be in a better position than they are in right now. They’ll have to win the rest of their games and get some help to make it to the postseason.

I would say that we are in for a treat this postseason. The tournament is loaded with some of the most dominating top seeds that we have ever seen but they will be countered by  some very talented underdogs as well. I personally can’t wait to see how it all plays out, especially in the east.