The NBA playoffs are fast approaching, and speculation over which teams will make the postseason is amping up. The regular NBA season concludes on May 16, with the playoffs set to kick off on May 22.
There will be games in between those two dates, though. This year, those teams ranked 7-10 in each Conference will enter a play-in tournament. Two teams from the East and two from the West will use that to capture the final four berths in the first round of the playoffs.
As things stand, five teams in total have secured their place in the playoffs. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets have clinched their berth while in the West it’s the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.
Conversely, some teams have already been eliminated from contention for the playoffs; the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons in the East and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets in the West.
In the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks have all but clinched the No. 3 seed for the playoffs, but there’s an interesting tussle between the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics for the last few guaranteed playoff spots.
The Hawks and Heat sit at fifth and sixth respectively, with identical scores, though the Celtics are only one point behind in seventh, meaning they’ll enter the play-in tournament as things stand. Meanwhile, the New York Knicks look set to maintain their No. 4 spot and make the playoffs.
Whoever finds themselves in the play-in tournament out of Atlanta, Miami and Boston will likely be joined by the Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards. Whatever the case, expect the Pacers and Celtics to make the Eastern playoffs.
In the West, there’s an even tighter race to the guaranteed playoff spots. The Dallas Mavericks, LA Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers all have the same points at fifth, sixth and seventh respectively. One of them will have to earn their playoff berth through the play-in tournament. The Denver Nuggets will also make the playoffs.
The Lakers have struggled in the latter stages of this regular season due to long-term injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who both remain sidelined. The franchise hopes both will be healthy in time for the postseason, but by that point they may already find themselves in a play-in tournament battle.
Should they both return to the fold, or even just one of them, the Lakers’ playoff hopes are boosted exponentially. Anyone interested in NBA playoff betting should note that they remain one of the favorites to win the championship, but only if they can get their two leading stars back on the court. In fact, how the Lakers perform in the playoffs will have a huge impact on the Western Conference.
In the playoffs, they’ll be looking at a first round draw with either Phoenix, Utah or Denver – and maybe even a blockbuster meeting with the Clippers. They’ll then need to pick off another of these leading teams in the Conference Final, before moving into the NBA Finals against the East Conference victors, which looks set to be the Nets.
The Clippers have also emerged as strong contenders for the crown, though that really will depend on who clinches the No. 5 and 6 spots by the end of the regular season. If they make it through that first round of the playoffs, they’ll have a strong chance of making it to the Finals, depending on how the Lakers do.
Phoenix have done very well to earn themselves the No. 1 seed, meaning they’ll have home-court advantage over the No. 8 seed in the first round. Who that is will be determined in the play-in tournament, though there’s a good chance that’ll be either the Portland Trailblazers or Golden State Warriors.
In the East, the 76ers will enter the playoffs as the top seed and are looking at a first round clash with either the Celtics or the Pacers. The second seed Nets face similar prospects, though with James Harden in full flow look far more likely to see off the likes of the Heat, Knicks or the 76ers themselves.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see how the Knicks fare in the middle of the pack alongside the likes of the Bucks, who have also looked impressive during the regular season.
Should Miami manage to hold onto their guaranteed playoff berth and avoid the play-in tournament, they’re looking at an initial meeting with Milwaukee, which would make for an exciting first round.
Likewise, the Knicks and Hawks would square off in Round 1 of the playoffs if things remain pretty much as they are. The winner of that would then face the No. 1 v No. 8 winner which, at this stage, looks like it’ll be the 76ers.
In total, there are countless permutations for how the playoffs will unfold. A lot of that depends on how the play-in tournaments from each Conference play out, though in the West there is particular focus on the Lakers and whether they can bring back LeBron and Davis in time to make a successful playoff run and defend their title.