NBA Playoffs Approaching: Who Will Rise and Fall? Analyzing the Contenders and Pretenders Going into the Playoffs

The+NBA+has+been+dominated+by+the+Cleveland+Cavaliers+and+the+Golden+State+Warriors+for+the+past+three+seasons.+But+this+year%2C+James+Harden+and+the+Houston+Rockets+have+flipped+the+script.+Houston+clinched+first+place+in+the+Western+Conference+and+will+have+home+court+advantage+throughout+the+NBA+playoffs.

The NBA has been dominated by the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors for the past three seasons. But this year, James Harden and the Houston Rockets have flipped the script. Houston clinched first place in the Western Conference and will have home court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs.

Andy Fite, Maroon-News Staff

Contenders:

Houston Rockets

It is by no means a bold prediction to say the Rockets are in great position to compete for a championship. In fact, four of the last five seasons, the team with the best regular season record went on to win the NBA Finals. Despite Houston’s regular season dominance, the Rockets are still not widely considered favorites. Houston will likely meet the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, who remain the championship favorites despite injuries to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Unlike previous seasons, the Rockets are well equipped to make a serious run in the playoffs. The backcourt tandem of James Harden and Chris Paul is almost unbeatable, as the Rockets are 41-5 when they play together. The Rockets will rely on its high-powered offense, which ranks in the top-5 in nearly all statistical categories, in its quest to win the franchise’s third championship.

Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia suffered through years of tanking all in the name of “The Process,” but it has finally paid off in the form of two generational talents in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. While the Raptors, Celtics and Cavaliers continue to garner headlines in a weak Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers are silently in a great position to make a deep run as a sleeper pick. The Sixers head into the playoffs red-hot, with a league-best ten game win streak. Featuring a young and talented starting five, a solid supporting cast and an efficient bench, the 76ers are worth keeping an eye on this postseason.  

Pretenders:

Minnesota Timberwolves

With the curtain closing on the regular season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are poised to make the playoffs in the fiercely competitive Western Conference for the first time in 14 years. The trio of Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins provides the offensive firepower the Timberwolves need to make a deep run in the playoffs, but Minnesota’s poor defense and bench prevent them from being a serious contender. Minnesota ranks in the bottom-third of most defensive categories, allowing opponents to shoot a league-high 48 percent from the field. The T-Wolves also have the worst bench in the NBA, meaning Minnesota will rely on its starters for nearly all of its offensive production. Before Minnesota starts worrying about the playoffs, it needs to take care of business in the regular season and clinch a postseason berth.   

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors seemed invincible during the team’s 11-game winning streak after the All-Star Break. But, since the end of Toronto’s streak, the Raptors are just 4-4 and rank amongst the worst in the NBA in team defense. The Raptors will probably top the Eastern Conference in the regular season, but their dominance is deceiving. The Raptors are great at beating bad teams, but struggle against contenders. The Raptors have a combined losing record against the Celtics and Cavaliers, who will also be gunning for the Eastern Conference title. Both the Raptors and Dwane Casey deserve credit for the team’s regular season success, but the lack of playoff experience and a shaky end to the season are both worrying signs for a franchise chasing its first title.

Contact Andy Fite at [email protected]