With over half of the 82 scheduled games already played, the second half of the season is time for playoff contenders to get mentally and physically ready for the postseason. Looking at the current NBA season and how it has unfolded, there have been a couple of surprises, disappointments and meltdowns. With crunch time fast approaching here are the teams that still have a shot in the playoff hunt.
If the playoffs were to start right now, the eight teams in the playoff picture would be: 1. Boston Celtics, 2. Toronto Raptors, 3. Cleveland Cavaliers, 4. Miami Heat, 5. Washington Wizards, 6. Indiana Pacers, 7. Milwaukee Bucks, 8. Detroit Pistons, according to nba.com.
When Kyrie Irving was traded in the offseason to the Boston Celtics for the then-injured Kyrie Irving, Jae Crowder and the rights to a Brooklyn Nets first round pick, the Boston Celtics now had a chance to challenge the Cavs in the Eastern Conference.
With an All-star backcourt of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, and of course the four-time All-Star, Al Horford, it was now possible for the Celtics to put up good fight against Lebron James. The play of the Celtics has awarded them the top seed in the East, while the Cavs have looked the worst they have ever looked.
Cleveland is the oldest team in the NBA, according to herosports.com, and as a result has been unable to contain penetration.
Even though Cleveland has its problems to fix it’s unlikely Lebron James will allow the Cavs to continue to struggle, and he and Isiah Thomas will bring enough production to the table to snag the second seed.
The other big shock in the East is the Miami Heat, but Miami's head coach, Erik Spoelstra, is a well-respected figure in the NBA, and for good reason.
He has proven that he can manage personalities during his stint in the “Big 3 Era.” Following the departure of Chris Bosh, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, he has kept Miami afloat.
Spoelstra has proven his worth again this season after dealing with Hassan Whiteside’s knee injury this season. Even with Whiteside missing 18 games this year after Spoelstra keep everything going smoothly, and propelled the Heat to a 25-18 record, good for the fourth seed in the East.
Miami will fall back down to earth, and their lack of offensive firepower will be exposed in the second half of the season. The same can also be said about the young and tough Indiana Pacers.
Currently sitting in the fifth seed the Wizards have jumped to a 25-18 record. At the mid-season mark Washington has missed John Wall, and if the best point guard in the Eastern Conference can stay healthy, the Wizards will move up the standings.
My prediction: 1. Boston Celtics, 2. Cleveland Cavaliers, 3. Toronto Raptors, 4. Washington Wizards, 5. Milwaukee Bucks, 6. Miami Heat, 7. Indiana Pacers, 8. Detroit Pistons.
Moving on to the Western Conference, the eight teams currently holding a playoff spot are: 1. Golden State Warriors, 2. Houston Rockets, 3. Minnesota Timberwolves, 4. San Antonio Spurs, 5. Oklahoma City Thunder, 6. New Orleans Pelicans, 7. Los Angeles Clippers, 8. Denver Nuggets, according to nba.com.
The Western Conference has not taken as many people by surprise like the Eastern Conference has. The only team out of this group that could have fallen out of the playoff hunt is the Los Angeles Clippers.
After the departure of a potential future hall of famer, Chris Paul, it seemed unlikely they could stay in the thick of a playoff race.
Despite losing such a productive player in Paul they have made up for his departure. In Paul’s absence the worth of the undersized shooting guard and former Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams has risen. This Philadelphia product is currently averaging 23.3 points, five assists which are both career best numbers, according to basketball-reference.com.
He has also stepped up to the plate in the absence of both guards Patrick Beverly and Austin Rivers. The play of Williams should earn him some All-star recognition and it already has earned his team a shot at the playoffs. However, I do not expect he will continue to score 23 points a night.
The biggest disappointment in all of the NBA, not just the Western Conference, must be the Memphis Grizzlies. The injury to Michael Conley has crippled this franchise.
Over the past decade it just has seem like a given that Memphis would be in the playoffs and would be a worthy adversary for any team. Their rough style is not easy to deal with. They grind out games, and they have a way of bullying teams into close, competitive games. Despite their track record this has not been the case in the 2017-2018 season. Without the penetration on offense and steals on defense from Michael Conley, Memphis has looked like a doormat and they currently are 14th in the West.
Thus far, the Oklahoma City Thunder have underperformed, but have the star power to to pick it up in the second half. With more time to build chemistry, they will win more games down the stretch than they did at the start of the season.
The Spurs have been playing well to this point, but their age could catch up to them late in the season. Eventually, they will either play their younger, less experienced players or rely on vets who will by then have tired legs. In either case, the Spurs drop in the standings.
The Pelicans have the two best big men in the NBA and they will only grow as a team as the season continues.
Portland is currently in ninth place, and have enough skill to capture a playoff spot. The Trail Blazer have been in the playoffs four straight season, and shouldn’t be expected to miss the playoffs this time around.
My prediction: 1. Golden State Warriors, 2. Houston Rockets, 3. Oklahoma City Thunder, 4. Minnesota Timberwolves, 5. New Orleans Pelicans, 6. San Antonio Spurs, 7. Portland Trail Blazers, 8. Denver Nuggets.