There are 2 games left this season. Unlike seasons in the past, these 2 games are going to matter to 7 teams in the West who have identical records walking into the home stretch. Here’s a take for you. It’s not going to matter which of these 7 teams eventually make the playoffs. The only teams I would consider being a threat to the top seeded teams are the Thunder and the Spurs, two teams with great coaching and players. However, I don’t see how the Thunder could amount to beating the Warriors or Rockets come playoff time. The Spurs are great, but without Leonard, Popovich loses a leader and one of the best two-way guards the League has ever seen. It’ll come down to the Golden State Warriors facing off against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
In the East, the stage is set. The top 8 teams are ready to go to war to challenge the winners of the Western Conference. With the absence of Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics lost a huge piece in their quest of capturing the franchise’s 18th title. The last time the Celtics won a championship? 2008. Against the Lakers in one of the most iconic championships of their illustrious past. The East is going to come down to the Cavaliers and the Raptors. Now that the Celtics are out of the picture, the Cavaliers’ crazy acquisitions and trades somehow seemed to set them up for a chance at another title appearance.
My predictions, along with other analysts, leave 5 of 16 playoff teams with the only ones to have a chance at the title. The Warriors, Rockets, Cavaliers, Raptors, and the Trail Blazers are the only teams really being considered in the betting world and sports analytics.
So, here’s a question. What are the other teams in it for?
While I believe that every team’s goal in one fashion or another is to capture a title, I do not believe that every team’s GM and head coach truly believe this. And I’m with them. The Philadelphia 76ers are the perfect example that offers insight as to what other teams are thinking during the postseason, whether they qualify or not. It is all about trusting the process to some respect. You must rely on the NBA Draft to receive help. You also must be a desirable destination for free agents to build another super team to challenge the other super teams.
The other teams are building their team’s stock to be more favorable for high caliber free agents to consider blessing the city with their presence. Besides the Cavaliers, no NBA playoff team has a top-10 pick in this year’s upcoming draft. The upcoming draft I would say has a lot of potential to help teams break the threshold of becoming a top-tier team. But it takes a lot of time for these players to develop. The 76ers spent years ‘tanking’ to get the top lottery picks. Ben Simmons waited a year to show his potential. So is Fultz after an injury.
It’ll take years to shift the power dynamic in the West. The Warriors aren’t going anywhere. They added KD to an all-star cast after having won a championship in recent years. The Rockets look great after adding Paul and who knows who they might add to challenge the Warriors in the coming years. The Celtics are going to be scary when Hayward and Irving return. They’re this good without two top-tier players.
In the case of teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets, I don’t know many players coming out of college that want to live in Milwaukee or Denver, despite their scenic nature. It’s tough to cater these prospects if the city is undesirable. But, it’s getting better. The Nuggets snagged Millsap and adding that to a list of already good young players seemed like the best move. The Bucks? They have the future in their hands with Giannis. But he needs help. Look at LeBron James. He’s the best player to ever surface and without his teammates, such as Kyrie Irving, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, JR Smith, and countless others he carried to the Finals, he would have not been victorious against the Warriors without their help.
The NBA is undergoing a rather interesting transition. Waiting to be great has been an attractive incentive for front offices and I’m looking to see other teams replicate the process the 76ers have. I’m also looking for other teams to do what the Warriors, Rockets, and Celtics have. Attract the free agents, solidify a playoff spot, beat everyone. The Thunder tried it and while I have no idea how they’ll do in the playoffs, I do know that the combination of Curry, Green, Durant, and Thompson is superior to the Melo-Russ-George trio. That goes without saying.
The G-League is slowly emerging as an opportunity for players to play well and be noticed. The minor league for the NBA is one of the scariest places to be. Once you’re in the G-League, you might never leave. If this shifts, and we see the G-League serving an importance like the MLB farm system, we’ll see a better chance for lower ranked teams to propel themselves. One prospect to look at for proof is Darius Bazley. Bazley was supposed to be Syracuse’s top recruit for the next school year, but in a surprising turn of events, turned straight to the G-League. There has to be something looming in the G-League for a highly recruited prospect to turn away from playing in the NCAA. Maybe it’s just Syracuse not being a great place to spend a year to play basketball. Maybe Bazley will be the start of a trend of players waiving their option to play in college. We’ve seen some international superstars thrive in the League, so let’s open this up.
For fun, here’s my prediction of the NBA Finals to conclude.
Golden State Warriors vs. Toronto Raptors
Warriors win in 5 games and capture their second straight title.