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(The following was made before the games on Saturday!)
As the 2016-17 NBA season winds to a close, the playoff races remain just as competitive as ever. Out West, Portland and Denver teams are filled with young, explosive talent and will battle over the few remaining days to claim the eighth seed in the conference. The East, meanwhile, is an absolute cluster of seven teams vying for the four remaining playoff spots. All in all, five playoff spots have yet to be clinched, and nine teams are looking for a chance to extend their seasons.
Certain to Clinch
With a three game cushion over Miami, who currently holds the ninth spot in the East, Atlanta would have to lose every remaining game while Miami wins out. Barring one of the greatest collapses in sports history, Atlanta should almost certainly clinch a spot soon, perhaps even before the end of the weekend. Despite their inability to clinch up to this point, the Hawks have the potential to make some noise this postseason. Dwight Howard still puts up double-doubles nightly, Paul Millsap has solidified himself as one of the best two-way players in the league, and Dennis Schroder has proven he can handle the responsibility of running the offense at a high level. As a potential 5 seed, Atlanta has the ability to upset an unproven Washington team and make a run.
Like Atlanta, Milwaukee holds a significant advantage over teams looking to break into playoff position, and a manageable schedule of Philly, Charlotte, and Boston (who may rest players heading into the postseason) makes it unlikely the Bucks choke away their spot. Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as the type of star capable of carrying a team, as he currently leads his entire team in points, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals. The loss of Jabari Parker earlier in the season obviously hurts the Bucks, but solid contributions from Matthew Dellavedova, Greg Monroe, and rookies Malcolm Brogden and Thon Maker would allow Milwaukee to perhaps squeak out an upset over possibly Toronto or Boston in Round 1.
Almost No Chance
Impressive early in the season, Charlotte has slowly fallen away from playoff contention, and now sits three games back of the eighth seed. Cardiac Kemba running this offense may not be enough, as a daunting schedule of Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta closes out the season, all of which are must-win games. While the Hornets are all but eliminated, this season has not been a complete loss. Young players Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller have finally emerged as key contributors to this squad. Look for Charlotte to go into free agency looking to add another starter or depth, as every major contributor is locked up to long-term deals.
Throughout the season, Stan Van Gundy’s squad looked primed for another playoff appearance this season. However, a recent record of 2-10 over 12 games has doomed any playoff chances Detroit had. Like Charlotte, the Pistons sit three games out of the 8 seed, and games against Memphis and DC mean Detroit will be sitting on the couch for the postseason. Also like Charlotte, every major player on Detroit (except Josh Smith) is locked up through next year.
Still in the Hunt
Earlier in the season, Miami seemed destined for a top three pick, as injuries and awful play had them at the bottom of the league. In a credit to head coach Erik Spoelstra, Miami turned their season around, and now sit just a game back of the playoffs. Stars Goran Dragic (20.3 ppg) and Hassan Whiteside (16.6 ppg, 14.1 rpg) have come alive in the later stages of the season, with one of them leading the team in every category. Tyler Johnson has emerged as the type of player worthy of the massive contract he signed this off-season, and Dion Waiters proved he can make a real contribution on a playoff-caliber team. With games against DC (twice) and Cleveland left on the schedule, Miami’s run to the postseason will be daunting, but manageable.
Denver was, likewise, unable to separate themselves from the pack of playoff contenders for most of the season, but the emergence of Nikola Jokic has pushed the Nuggets into serious playoff consideration. With a passing ability almost unseen in a center, Jokic has opened up Denver’s offense, and the trading away of Jusuf Nurkic cemented Jokic as the star of this team. Danilo Gallinari continues to score efficiently, and Kenneth Faried maintains his grit on defense and on the boards. While miles behind the Warriors, who they would likely face if the Nuggets squeeze in the playoffs, the postseason experience Denver would acquire for such a young core would be incredibly beneficial.
Favorites to Make Postseason
The Bulls have battled through their fair share of controversies this season, with Rajon Rondo almost quitting on the team, Wade’s injury problems, and reports of team management spying on its own players. However, Chicago has largely swept aside these problems, and a one game lead over Miami with the season winding down puts the Bulls in the driver’s seat to make the postseason. Jimmy Butler has had to put the team on his back nearly every night, averaging 23.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 5.6 apg. The Bulls lack a consistent bench and scoring, but an easy schedule of Brooklyn (twice) and Orlando down the stretch makes Chicago heavy favorites to solidify a playoff spot in the coming days.
Nate McMillan’s Pacers likewise sport a 1 game lead over Miami, and also hold an easy remaining schedule (at Orlando, at Philadelphia, and Atlanta), meaning Indiana has the inside track to a playoff spot. The growth of Miles Turner makes him a contender for Most Improved, as his ability to defend as well as score makes him a great two-way player. Paul George was not traded at the deadline, and his presence has kept the Pacers in the playoff hunt. With Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, and Monta Ellis all carving out key roles in the rotation, this team honestly looks better than the one that earned the one seed in 2014.
Portland Trail Blazers
Terry Stotts’ Blazers remain the only Western team currently in the playoffs yet to clinch, and their next two games against Utah and San Antonio make the Blazers unlikely to do so soon. It will be a dogfight to hold off Denver, but the high scoring duo of Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum leave the team in capable hands. The deadline acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic gives the team a scoring option inside, and the bench has proven it can contribute in key stretches. A team that has had recent postseason appearances, Portland should come into the final week of action experienced enough in this type of pressure to hold onto their spot.
That’ll do it for this take on the upcoming playoffs and the teams that are or aren’t potentially involved. What do you think of the 2017 NBA Playoffs? Be sure to tell us all about it and more in the comment section below. Finally, be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter: @PowerRank_More, and follow us on our Instagram page for all of the latest information from Power Rankings and More.
Published on 4/8/17 at 11:15 PM EDT.Share this post on:
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