by Zach Seyko
As the NBA season begins to wind down, teams are looking to solidify their playoff positions as April approaches. Roughly, teams have about 15 games remaining to clinch a playoff berth, but two teams have already dominated.. Both representing the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors, led by guard Stephen Curry, and the San Antonio Spurs, led by forward Kawhi Leonard, hold the top two records overall and have their spots in the playoffs clinched.
The Warriors and Spurs have been nothing short of fantastic as they have set themselves apart from the other teams in the league. Each franchise is undefeated when playing on their home court, but the Spurs and Warriors differ in team strengths. The Warriors are a very good shooting team and average a league-leading 115.6 points per game. San Antonio, on the other hand, own a stout defense and hold opposing teams to a league-best 92.3 points per game. The Warriors and Spurs are both undefeated when playing on their home courts. The most recent matchup resulted in a Spurs victory. San Antonio held Curry to 14 points on the evening and earned a decisive victory with a final score of 87-79. Although the two teams are picked by many to meet each other in the Western Conference Championship, there are the remaining opponents that may challenge them when April arrives.
Following the Warriors and Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trailblazers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are currently projected to join them in the playoffs, presumably ranked in that order. As of right now, no team has been able to stand up to Golden State or San Antonio, but one team that does stand out is the Thunder. Oklahoma City is led by two talented all-stars: forward Kevin Durant and guard Russell Westbrook. After hiring former University of Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan, the Thunder has seen their offensive statistics soar under his leadership and direction. This is mostly in part to key players like Durant staying healthy for a majority of the year. The Thunder’s fail to make the playoffs last year was due to Durant’s absence from the line up. Last season played a role in the development and experience of Westbrook, which is why the dynamic duo is better than ever, and is seen as one of the few threats to a Golden State and San Antonio playoff run.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers, and Detroit Pistons hold the top eight spots in that order. Like the Warriors and Spurs, the Cavs have one of the easiest paths to the NBA Finals. All-star LeBron James is looking to finally bring a trophy back to his home state of Ohio. Last season ended in heart break for Cleveland when they were defeated by Golden State in the finals, which happened in part because they lost their all-star guard and former number one overall pick, Kyrie Irving, to a season ending injury the series before the championship. The Cavaliers are using their disappointment as motivation to make it back to the finals, and reclaim what they felt was theirs.
One of the surprising teams locked to make an appearance in the Eastern Conference field, barring a late season meltdown, is the Charlotte Hornets. Formally known as the Charlotte Bobcats, the Hornets have shown waves of improvement to their team and franchise. Owner and former basketball legend Michael Jordan has put together a young and talented team that is gaining momentum as of late. Guard, Kemba Walker has risen to the occasion by leading this team as he averages 21.2 points per game, and is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball with 1.66 steals per game.
Another team that has taken the NBA by storm is the Boston Celtics. Boston has made a surprising run so far, but definitely has had the players to compete with the stronger teams. Led by head coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics are set up to improve even after this season. A couple years ago, Boston made a historic trade that sent legendary players Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for draft picks and other players to fill the roster. Currently, the Nets are positioned to have a top five pick which they are required to send to the Celtics as part of their trade agreement. Boston could pull off some upsets in this year’s playoffs with the help of guard Isaiah Thomas and breakout forward Jae Crowder.
As the season continues to wind down, the MVP race continues to heat up. Curry looks to win back-to-back MVP awards for the first time in his career. He has an impressive resume as he leads the league in scoring with 30.5 points per game and averages 6.5 assists a game, as well. Curry also broke the single season record for three pointers made in a season, a record that he set last season when he was named the MVP. His player efficiency rating is topping the league at 31.05, too. Some of the other players he is competing with are Westbrook, Durant, James and Rockets guard James Harden.
After reviewing some of the top teams and players, it is important to discuss the teams that are not going to be contending for a spot in the playoffs. Most notably, the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns have been eliminated from contending for a top eight seed in their conference. These teams are in contention for the number one overall pick. Unlike the NFL and NBA, the top picks of the NBA are decided by chance through the lottery, rather than lowest winning percentage. As of right now, we do not know who will be selecting the first rookie in June 2016, but the 76ers have the highest odds, as they own the league-worst record. Whoever has the first pick, it is most likely that they will take forward Ben Simmons, a dynamic freshman out of Louisiana State University.
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 8 Sports