The NBA trade deadline is over, NBA All-Star Weekend is a wrap, and now the most grueling part of the season is underway: the playoff push.
Both conferences have shown that multiple teams can be represented in the NBA Finals. Out in the Western Conference the Golden State Warriors (GS), Denver Nuggets (DEN), Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC), and the Houston Rockets (HOU) are the powerhouse clubs that can all pull together a title run right now.
Each of these teams have one notable factor in common, which is they each have at least one player who is in the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) conversation. Kevin Durant/ Stephen Curry of the Warriors, Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets, Russell Westbrook/ Paul George of the Thunder and James Harden of the Rockets all have gravitated towards the league’s coveted award.
Warriors: 1st seed
Thunder: 2nd seed
Rockets: 3rd seed
Nuggets: 4th seed
Usually, in the NBA the narrative of having a MVP level player means more success.
However, teams like the Portland Trailblazers (POR), Utah Jazz (UTH), San Antonio Spurs (SAS), and the Sacramento Kings (SAC) all are candidates to upset in the Western Conference without having a player in the MVP conversation. These list of teams rely heavily on their role players, their momentum in games, home-court, defensive break downs, and overall will to win.
Notable teams to win the championship without a defined prime star and more so a team effort are the 2004 Detroit Pistons (DET), and the 2011 Dallas Mavericks (DAL). The Pistons were filled with playmakers but no one that could do it all as it was always a team effort during their playoff run. The Mavericks had Dirk Nowitzki but the basis of that team’s success was it’s all around efficiency.
So, it’s to say that these four teams can be just as successful if they play to their strengths and don’t fold to the strategy of the team they’re facing during their 48 minutes of regulation as well as possible overtime.
Trailblazers: 5th seed
Jazz: MISS THE PLAYOFFS
Spurs: MISS THE PLAYOFFS
Kings: 8th seed
Honorable mentions of teams looking to capitalize in the second-half of the season are the Los Angeles Lakers (LAL), Los Angeles Clippers (LAC), Minnesota Timberwolves (MIN), and the Mavericks.
All of these teams have been very inconsistent and unfavorable to really make an impact during the playoffs, although in sports anything can happen and these are reasons why you can see the honorable mentions have success:
Lakers: They finally get a consistency out of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. They run a clear set rotation, that allows for LeBron James to rest up more and save his energy for the playoffs. Lastly, they follow through with their defensive schemes rather than rely on help off the pick-and-roll as well as control the pace of the game.
PREDICTION: 6th Seed
Clippers: The Clippers are looking to rebuild and make a splash this summer, which is shown by the number of first round picks they’ve gained after the first-half of the season. As a team thus far, they’ve played through their coach Doc Rivers rather than rely on their overall talent. The playoffs aren’t their goal this season as they traded away their star player in Tobias Harris and other heavy contributors. Although, being in the playoffs might gauge the interest of star free agents this off-season.
PREDICTION: MISS THE PLAYOFFS
Mavericks: The Mavericks are going to be one of the hottest teams as they’ve acquired Kristaps Porzingis and if healthy will play alongside teammate Luka Doncic extremely well. Depending on how the other players acquired transition, the team will either rise quickly or fall dramatically.
PREDICTION: MISS THE PLAYOFFS
Timberwolves: This team has went through the whole renovation process and it’s really up to their stars playing at high levels that will push them to the playoffs. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are the top two options for this franchise. Towns was selected to be an all-star this year while, Wiggins failed to stay relevant. If the Timberwolves get back on track it will depend on the their top players performing to expectations. Including Derrick Rose as he has hit the resurgence on his basketball career.
PREDICTION: 7th seed