Where does your favourite NBA team rank heading into the stretch run?
By Gage Smith, Staff Writer
We’re still months away from tipping off the NBA playoffs, but with the all-star break and trade deadline in the rearview mirror, the rosters are looking almost exactly like they will when the games really start to count. Now is as good a time as ever to make our bets — what are we expecting of playoff teams? Who’s going to be sent packing and who actually has a shot to win it all?
Close but No Cigar
These are the teams that will fight for a playoff berth and make the play-in tournament but ultimately fall just short.
Despite hanging onto Kyle Lowry and being only one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals with mostly this same core only a year ago, the Raps won’t be playing beyond the guaranteed 72 games this season. At the time of writing, they’ve gone 1-9 in their last ten games. They also just unloaded one of their highest scorers, Norman Powell, in a trade that made them worse. Lowry may not have played his final game for the Raptors yet, but the sun is setting on this era for the franchise — at least they got a ring out of it!
Though they have a shiny new all-star to pair with Zach LaVine, the trade for Nikola Vucevic won’t be quite enough to push the Bulls into the East’s elite eight. They’ll be able to put points on the board, but it’s tough to even sniff the playoffs as a bottom-ten defence in the league. Getting their hands on Daniel Theis will help in that area, but it won’t quite be enough.
Golden State Warriors
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Steph Curry continues to be easily the greatest shooter of all time and arguably the greatest point guard of all time, but basketball is a team sport. Even with Curry, it’s been a struggle for Golden State to stay above .500 this year, and they made no changes at the trade deadline. They’re one Curry injury away from being back at the very bottom.
These are the teams that’ll make the playoffs, but don’t have much hope to even see the second round.
Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs
Aside from the theatrics of Ja Morant and DeMar DeRozan —which will be enough to earn them a seat in the playoffs — the Grizzlies and Spurs simply don’t have the talent to make the well-oiled machines in Utah, Phoenix, and L.A. sweat, and they won’t win more than one playoff game this year.
Indiana is a regular-season team that lacks the star power to push them over the edge in more than one or two playoff games.
One of the most unfortunate turns of events this year has been a wrist injury to LaMelo Ball. He was playing at a shockingly high level for his age, and his ability to elevate his team put him head and shoulders above the field in the Rookie of the Year race. If he is indeed out for an extended period, the pleasantly surprising Hornets will probably face a losing streak that’ll cost them their current high seeding, and will be slaughtered by one of the east’s powerhouses. Keep your chin up if you’re a Hornets fan though — the future is bright.
Slept-on teams that could actually pull off a very deep playoff run and take down some giants, but aren’t the favourites to do so.
New York Knicks
I never thought I’d be saying this about what has been one of the worst franchises in recent sports history, but the Knicks finally seem to have a decent culture. Julius Randle and Immanuel Quickley are leading an exciting, scrappy young core into the great unknown, and they could absolutely put a scare into a contender.
Trae Young can score at will, John Collins is as efficient as it gets down low and the Hawks have righted the ship after their slow start. Sleep on them at your own risk.
Don’t let the fact that Miami is currently on the outside looking into the playoff picture distract you from the fact that they’re fresh off a finals run and just added a lethal scorer in Victor Oladipo. If they’re healthy, they can hang with anyone.
After entering this season with high expectations, Boston has been one of the league’s biggest underachievers. With superstars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the roster, as well as the fresh face of Evan Fournier, Boston is still a nightmare early matchup for a top seed in the east.
Injuries have held them back all year, but with Porzingis back in the lineup and a bit of Luka magic, don’t be shocked to see Dallas pull off an upset this year.
Great teams that just can’t quite hang with the favourites.
No team has more to prove than the Clippers after last year’s historic playoff meltdown. Unless the veteran leadership of Rajon Rondo pays off in a bigger-than-expected way, this team’s ceiling is the Western Conference Finals.
Speaking of a contender having a playoff meltdown, Milwaukee has their work cut out for them this year as well, but is still too one-dimensional in its game planning. I can’t see them surviving a matchup with Philly or Brooklyn, but they could very well make it to the conference finals.
Teams with a very good chance of playing in the Finals or winning a title.
Utah Jazz/Philadelphia 76ers
The best defences in the league are led by offensive superstars and feature defensive player of the year candidates. Both of these well-rounded squads have a chance to make the finals for the first time in over a decade.
Wherever Chris Paul goes, winning follows. His playoff performances never fail to be amazing — even more so now that he’s flanked by Devin Booker, one of the most gifted scorers in the world. Look out for the Suns come playoff time.
Last year’s second-place finisher in the west just got even more stacked with the addition of Aaron Gordon’s inhuman athleticism and much-needed perimeter defence. They also have Nikola “The Joker” Jokic, an MVP frontrunner. Denver has some mile-high expectations.
With a healthy Anthony Davis and LeBron James, the Lakers will be my pick to make it out of the west once again. Davis has struggled all year, but betting against LeBron is a fool’s game, especially when he has a better supporting cast than the one he just won a title with.
My pick to win it all, and it’s not very close. This team has three separate players that no man who has ever walked this earth could guard one-on-one. They’re absolutely stacked and they just picked up Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. When the whole team is on the court, expect them to steamroll the opposition with style. Scary hours indeed.