As the regular season comes to an end, the playoff field is not entirely set. Although the East has 8 teams firmly in position to advance, the Western Conference is moving towards an exciting finale, with five teams all within a game of each other. Even once the participants are determined, there’s drama yet to come. Teams will jockey for position so that they might avoid high-powered opponents in the opening rounds.
Although the odds-on favorites to play in the final are still the Cavaliers and Warriors, this year features more uncertainty than the last two. The Cavs have had a rocky season, and despite a flurry of trades at the break, still look vulnerable. Golden State, meanwhile, seems to be suffering from a lack of motivation, perhaps not quite as hungry as years previous.
The contenders this year are numerous, and with the depth of competition greater than ever, no victory is assured. The upstart Pacers have been firing on all cylinders recently, with offseason acquisition Victor Oladipo thriving in his expanded role. The Raptors have earned their #1 seed, and will be hoping to overcome their previous playoff woes. Philadelphia looks to be a genuine threat, with the addition of Markelle Fultz giving them as much talent as anyone (pending the return of Joel Embiid).
The wily Spurs are always looming, and could prove deadly if Kawhi Leonard recovers from his long-lingering injury. The trio of George, Westbrook, and Anthony ought to strike fear in the heart of any matchup, and if Jimmy Butler returns to form in Minnesota, the Timberwolves will feature a nucleus as strong as most any in the game. The Trail Blazers, who pair shooting from Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum with the strong post presence of Jusuf Nurkic, will look to prove their worth, as rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell will attempt to assert Utah’s presence. The Rockets have looked nearly unbeatable with their full lineup, losing only three times when James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela take the floor together, and will attempt to overcome their history of falling short in the playoffs.
The Commentator predicts that the Cleveland will ultimately emerge from the East – although they’ll face a stiff challenge from the 76ers – to face the Rockets, who will avoid playing Golden State after the Warriors are bounced by the Thunder in the opening round.