By the time this comes out, the NBA play-ins for the 7th- to 10th-ranked teams have already begun, which means a complete picture of the play-offs can only come out once the play-ins are finished.
Just to have a clearer picture, in the Eastern Conference, the top 4 teams are the 76ers, the Nets, the Bucks and the surprise team of the season, the Knicks. I got the first three in my earlier fearless forecast, but then that was a no-brainer and does not reflect my analytical skills, if there were any.
The next 6 teams are the Hawks, last year’s losing finalists the Heat, the Celtics, the Wizards, Pacers, and the Hornets, with the Celtics squaring off against the Wizards for 7th place and the loser meeting, in turn, the winner of the Pacers-Hornets game for the remaining slot in the regular playoffs.
In the Western Conference, as expected and predicted, the Jazz took first place, with the Suns, led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker, finishing second, followed by the Nuggets and the Clippers in the top 4. Then it was a wild wooly race among several teams but in the end, the order was the Mavericks, then the Trailblazers, the Lakers (whose 7th place finish was not due to player talents, but to injuries to franchise players LeBron James and Anthony Davis earlier), the Warriors, the Grizzlies (another surprise team) and the Spurs in 10th place.
Sure match-ups here are the Bucks against the Heat, and the Knicks vs the Hawks.
As it is, the Lakers will play the Warriors for the 7th slot, with the loser getting another chance to join the playoffs when they play the winner of the Grizzlies-Spurs faceoff, while the Nuggets will face the dangerous Trailblazers and the Clippers take on Luka Doncic’s Mavericks.
So let me start with the Lakers-Warriors’ game. My son told me the odds will favor the Lakers as they are parading a complete team, while the Warriors will still miss Kelly Oubre Jr. and rookie James Wiseman, both to injuries. As I said before, the results in the NBA will feature a lot of ifs and buts in an earlier piece, with player injuries as the main factor. By the way, me and my son will bet a little money on the underdog and undermanned Warriors, but even if they lose, they still have that other chance to play the Grizzlies-Spurs play-in game. I will pick the Spurs of Greg Popovich, who might be in his final year with San Antonio, giving his players a bigger motivation to send him off nicely.
If this happens, since I am a Warriors’ fan, I will certainly go for a Golden State victory over San Antonio. Sad news for the Warriors though as they will end up playing the mighty Jazz and am sure Donovan Mitchell will already be well by then. My heart will still be for the Warriors, but against Utah, it’s an uphill climb for the Warriors.
The Lakers will end up playing the Suns, assuming they take 7th place. Here, my money will go the Lakers even as I like the way Paul has made the Suns a contender, playing with a young team that idolizes him. As for Denver and Portland, I want to see Dame Lillard and CJ McColum advance beyond the quarterfinals, but against the Jokic-led Denver, the edge will be with the Nuggets.
As for the Clippers against Mavericks, I will go with the former of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George against Doncic.
In the Western Eastern Conference play-ins, I pick the Wizards over the Celtics and the Hornets over the Pacers. The Bucks-Heat game will favor Milwaukee, but then I like the blue-collar playing style of Jimmy Butler and the way he works with his team. I will not be surprised at all if the Heat upend the Bucks.
Another evenly matched game will be the Knicks, led by Julius Randle and back-stopped by Derrick Rose and young player RJ Barrett, while Trae Young will definitely give it his best in the playoffs. But sorry, I will take the surprising Knicks as the team oozes with confidence now and the fans coming back in droves to support their home team.
Of course offense and not defense will play the bigger role in the play-ins and the playoffs, but that is why I like the Heat, the Warriors, the Hornets, missing Gordon Hayward though, and the Nuggets, whom I feel still put a lot of weight on defense and plays honest defense at that.
I like the playoffs because it gives me a chance to enjoy more watching the likes of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, Kawhi and Paul, Julius and Derrick, the duo of Russel Westbrook and Bradley Beal, Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson, a shoo-in for the 6th man award, the exciting Mitchell, the genius of Chris Paul, the shooting of Lillard and McCollum, Ja Morant, and Luca. Sorry, but I am not a fan of LeBron and Davis, however good they maybe, same with Jayson Tatum and big men Giannis, Jokic, and Joel Embiid. I also look forward to the combined offense of the league’s only super team in Brooklyn, featuring Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
Sorry, too, no prediction yet beyond this, but I certainly like the chances of Brooklyn and Utah, throw in Philadelphia, but then the good thing is, any of the remaining 20 teams now are capable of beating any team for that matter.