THE NBA regular season will end on April 10 with the playoffs starting three days later. With less than a month and about 12 games remaining on the calendar, post-season contenders are making their final push to secure and improve on their positions.
If the playoffs were to start today, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, Indiana, Boston, Detroit, Brooklyn, and Miami complete the cast for the Eastern Conference.
Over at the Western Conference, Golden State leads the pack followed by Denver, Houston, Portland, Oklahoma, San Antonio, Utah and the LA Clippers.
Here’s my take on who’s going to make it to the next round in the Eastern Conference:
MILWAUKEE (1) vs MIAMI (8)
The Bucks frontline of Giannis, Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, Chris Middleton and Pau Gasol is forbidding and the Heat will exhaust their most serviceable big men like Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside to halt the rampage led by the Greek Freak. Miami needs to win at least half of their remaining regular season games as Orlando and Charlotte are within striking distance of the eighth spot. Whichever of the three teams qualify, it will be the Bucks who will advance to the next round.
TORONTO (2) vs BROOKLYN (7)
This will be a good matchup. A souped-up Raptors do battle with a determined Nets squad hungry for recognition. Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet got an able back-up in Jeremy Lin who had adjusted well. The Nets is led by their one and only true superstar in the wiser and highly improved D’Angelo Russell. The rest of the team may not have familiar names but DeMarre Carroll, Rodions Kurucs, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen get things done. Raptors advance.
PHILADELPHIA (3) vs DETROIT (6)
The Sixer Big Three of Jimmy Butler, Joel Imbiid and Ben Simmons have an advantage over the tandem of Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. But it will be the support crew that would matter the most at crunch time and Philadelphia has the advantage with JJ Redick, Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic over Reggie Jackson, Khyri Thomas, Zaza Pachulia and to some extent Thom Maker. Sixers advance.
INDIANA (4) vs BOSTON (5)
The Pacers may have the higher seed but I’ll be favoring the Celtics mainly because Victor Oladipo is out. But Indiana can spring some surprises with Domantas Sabonis, Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison and Wesley Matthews who all average in double figures. The very sensitive Kyrie Irving has to yet become the team leader that Boston needs. Aaron Bynes need to step up on his scoring to back Al Horford likewise Daniel Theis. The young crew of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart can be depended on but Gordon Hayward must get his groove back. Their series could go the seven game distance. Yup, Celtics advance.
Next issue, the Western Conference playoff picture./PN