NBA Midseason Playoffs Predictions/State of the Divisions
As we are in the month of February, that means we are halfway through the 2019 NBA season. With the Warriors at the top spot in the Western Conference once again and a Lebron James-less East, this April’s Playoffs could get really interesting considering the wide number of new contenders. With that being said, I’m going to review each division’s season so far in terms of which teams will make the playoffs and who can be early contenders for the NBA Finals in June. To start things off, let’s begin in the division where Lebron once dominated all the teams early and often in his career.
State of the Central:
Now that Lebron’s out of the Central division and Eastern Conference entirely, there is a new beast that rules the central division and his name is Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo. Giannis and the Bucks are not only this year’s kings of the East, but also the kings of the NBA with a league best 41-13 record thanks to winning 12 of their last 13 games. As for remaining division play this season, the Bucks wrapped up their season series with the Pistons and have two games left with the Bulls, Cavaliers, and Pacers. In terms of playoff positioning, I expect them to have not only the best record in the East after the season, but for them to host the NBA Finals. Now here’s my proof this will happen. Even if Milwaukee gets the two seed and would have to visit Toronto, the Bucks are 3-1 against the Raptors this season including a road win at the end of January after losing at home at the beginning of the month. Milwaukee aside, the Pacers continue to be one of the teams in the middle pack of the East and cannot seem to get past the first round of the Playoffs. And despite Indiana losing their star player in Victor Oladipo for the year to injury, they will keep pace in the East but not win the division and settle for just the #5 seed. However, I do not see the Pistons sneaking into the final playoff spot in the East. I do however see the Bucks playing the Pacers in the second round.
MIL Projected Record: 58-24
Playoffs?: Yes (1)
IND Projected Record: 48-34
Playoffs?: Yes (5)
DET Projected Record: 41-41
State of the Atlantic:
When NBA fans think of the Atlantic division as a whole, the main contenders that come to mind are the Raptors, Celtics, and Sixers, all of which were in the top three seeds of the Eastern Conference Playoffs last year. And with the Celtics and Sixers five and 5.5 games behind Toronto for the division crown, there is still about under 30 games left in the season. And even if Philly or Boston don’t win the division, at the very least I see them claiming the number three seed (Sixers) and the four seed (Celtics) given that the Sixers are 1.5 games behind Indiana for the third seed. Speaking of seeding, with my projections if the season were to end today, Philadelphia would play another Atlantic rival in the first round but one that is not named the Raptors or Celtics. They would play the Nets; a team that is just a game above .500 and (I’ll say this right now) will get beat by the Sixers in 5 games. Milwaukee will beat Boston in six in the Eastern Semis for revenge after the first round exit in seven games last year, setting up a matchup with the Raptors for the Eastern Conference Finals. In terms of depth among divisions, the Atlantic in my opinion, is the most complete out of all the divisions in the NBA. The next on the list? Let’s just say it’s The Association’s equivalent of the AFC South in the NFL.
TOR Projected Record: 57-25 (2)
PHI Projected Record: 50-32 (3)
BOS Projected Record 48-34 (4)
BKN Projected Record 46-36 (6)
State of the Southeast:
Let’s see, just two teams in the sucky Southeast (Hornets, Heat) who claim as of now the seven and eight spots in East standings. I understand that both teams have All-Star talent with the Hornets in Kemba Walker, Tony Parker, and Nicolas Batum and the heat in Dwayne Wade, Goran Dragic, and Dion Waiters, but with these veterans and new players such as Rodney McGruder, that will not get you anywhere except a ticket to the first round and back again for the 2019-20 season. Clearly, this is the weakest out of all NBA divisions with just two contenders in an overly competitive Eastern Conference. Both these teams will also face the Raptors and Bucks in series of games. Sorry Southeastern division. welcome to the Eastern Conference playoff basement.
CHA Projected Record 43-39 (7)
MIA Projected Record 42-40 (8)
State of the Pacific:
What do you get when you make it to the Finals four straight years and lose three out of the four in the series? Thy punishment is a move to L.A. where you get to play your enemy in the division four times a year. This is the Pacific division in a nutshell. With steady streaks and declines in both their seasons early on, the Warriors and Lakers have had uphill battles to get where they’re at including the Warriors taking a somewhat commanding 2 game lead over early season Western Conference contender Denver Nuggets, and the Lakers losing three of their last four to drop to tenth in the West at a 28-29 record, the worst start at the All-Star break for a Lebron James team since his rookie year with Cleveland in 03-04. And while LABron may sneak in the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference Playoffs, it is highly likely he will have to play the first round at Oracle (mostly) against the Patriots of basketball; except you know, without the “cheating”.
GSW Projected Record: 65-17 (1)
LAL Projected Record: 44-38 (8)
State of the Northwest:
What two better duos to rule not just this division, but the whole Western Conference than Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum of the Blazers and Russell Westbrook and Paul George of the Thunder. Mr. Triple-Double and Dame Time have seen their teams make major turnarounds at the halfway point of the season. One being the Thunder jumping from last in the West to third and just two games behind the division leading Nuggets. As for the Blazers, they first started their season at the top of the conference and since then have steadily held their spot as an end top-tier team in the Western Conference. My one concern heading into the All-Star Break is if Lillard & Co. can have a burst of second half energy and shake up the Conference and league standings to snag the third seed and carry that fire into the playoffs (but we all know how that went with “The Brow” and his Pelicans squad shutting the Blazers out in the first round). And let’s not forget the team at the top of the Northwest in the Nuggets who play two of their last four games of the season against the Blazers (1 home, 1 away) which could determine seeding for the third and fourth spots in the playoffs depending on how close the race for second place is with Portland and Oklahoma City. And despite recent failure to get to the postseason, the Nuggets do have a strong young team in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray along with veteran Paul Milsap which will serve them well to finally get over the hump and get a good seed in the Playoffs at that.
DEN Projected Record: 54-28 (2)
OKC Projected Record: 52-30 (3)
POR Projected Record: 50-32 (4)
UTA Projected Record: 48-34 (6)
State of the Southwest:
What the San Antonio Spurs once were in the 2000’s with their dynasty in Tony Parker and Tim Duncan including three out of five NBA championships in 2003, 2005, and 2007 now looks like a rebuilding year for Gregg Popovich ad Co. This is all thanks to one man, one Rocket, and one beard. Yes, James Harden has taken the NBA by storm this season in possibly one of the best campaigns in his career including an astronomical number (31) of 30 point games in his streak that is the second-longest in NBA history passing the great Wilt Chamberlain. Did I also mention he is the favorite to win league MVP behind Giannis Antetokunmpo and Paul George. Despite no relevant supporting cast, those stats and Harden alone are the reasons why they (Rockets) are and staying at the top of this division for the rest of the season given two words to describe this division; dramatic and rebuilding. Spurs get beat in 5 by the Nuggets and the Rockets force Game 7 in Portland which might present itself with a similar situation to the Lillard 0.9 second buzzer beater five years ago. We shall wait and see what happens with The Beard’s team.
HOU Projected Record: 49-33 (5)
SAS Projected Record: 45-37
The All-Star break will give our contenders a rest to prepare for an eventful second half of the season which should shape up to be a great NBA Playoffs without Lebron James in the East. It will also be interesting to see if Golden State can make it 4 out of 5 championships against a different Eastern Conference squad (Bucks, Raptors, etc.). But one thing is for sure. These playoffs will get their fair share of upsets which puts the NBA Finals most likely up in the air. No one. is. safe.