By Ron Leyba
Cheer up NBA fans, the playoffs are almost here. It’s the time we all have been waiting for. It’s the time where the best teams in the league will battle against each other for a ticket to the NBA Finals and the chance to win the Larry O’Brien trophy. Although we know which the top teams will be in each conference, we still don’t know which teams will get the playoff ticket. Let’s break down the updated playoff picture and see how things look in each conference.
The Indiana Pacers drove all the difficult way till the fountain and they might just fail to drink water out of it. Frank Vogel’s group stayed at the top of the East almost throughout the season up to now. However, due to their recent slump, mainly on the offensive end, they now lost the top seed from the Miami Heat. The Pacers now have one more game in the loss column and they will have to try hard to re – gain that top spot. The game between the Heat and the pacers in about a week from now could be the decisive factor about which team will finish first in the East.
A little lower, the Chicago Bulls, who have been red hot as of lately, continue to battle with the Toronto Raptors for seeds three and four. The two teams now are tied at 42 – 32 and as far as we can tell, they will continue to fight for that third seed till the last game of the 2013 – 2014 season. Chicago has been led by Joakim Noah, who has placed his name in the MVP discussion. The Bulls currently rank second in the entire NBA in points allowed. The Raptors, on the other hand, continue to impress with their outputs this season. However, the Bulls are emerging and their third spot could be in jeopardy.
Neither of the above mentioned teams would like to finish at the fourth seed, because whichever does, it will matchup against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. The Nets, who rank fifth and are projected to retain that spot, are considered as one of the strongest and most dangerous championship sleeper teams.
Both the Washington Wizards and the Charlotte Bobcats have secured their playoff tickets while the big battle in the east comes between the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks. Both teams currently lie 20 games behind the conference – leaders Miami Heat and both of them are expected to fight till the end for that last playoff ticket. If the Knicks make it to the postseason, that would be a miracle for them. New York struggled badly in the first half of the season. However, the Knicks have won 12 of their last 15 games and they have the momentum on their side at the moment. The Hawks on the other hand are continuing to go south. If they miss the playoffs, that would be a big failure for them, since they had several chances to clinch that postseason ticket.
There is no doubt about which team is the hottest not just in the Western Conference but in the entire NBA at the moment. The San Antonio Spurs are on a franchise – best 19 – game winning streak and they just don’t seem to be slowing down. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and their company have been surging and they have made a statement, despite their age, they still got it.
It now remains to be seen if the Spurs can carry on with their success during the postseason or if they will run out of fuel. The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers are following right behind. Both of those two powerhouses stand big chances to make it to the NBA Finals and they will certainly battle hard against each other but also against the San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers are enjoying a breakaway season from Blake Griffin and they seem to be more complete than they have ever been in their franchise history. On the other hand, Kevin Durant is recording a monster season with the OKC. However, the Thunder do have some issues with their other superstar, point guard Russell Westbrook. If Westbrook manages to stay healthy and at his 100 percent, the Thunder stand good odds to make it to the finals. If not, then things could get tricky for them.
The Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors are two sleeping monsters in the West. The Rockets could make it all the way, if their core manages to stay healthy. Of course, there are some holes in the Rockets team but they could seriously threaten the best teams in the West and top them. As for the Warriors, they could either do extremely well during the postseason or get swept from the first round. Really, the Dubs have been a team which experienced lots of ups and downs up to now in the season and they are really unpredictable.
The Portland Trail Blazers have almost locked the fifth seed but they are not nowhere near as dangerous as they appeared to be earlier in the season.
The seeds 7 to 9 are still floating in the air in the West. The Memphis Grizzlies, the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns are all tied at 15 games behind the Spurs at the moment. We are monitoring a highly competitive three – team battle in the West which will only have two winners. The team that will fail to stay at its best will get eliminated from the playoffs. We can’t really say which one will stay out, as the difference between the three teams is really tiny. What is certain, though, is that we should expect a very tight and fascinating battle between the three all the way till the end of the season.