The NBA postseason is among us, as the top 16 NBA rosters from the 2017-18 season will battle it out in hopes of hoisting the trophy by the end. Here is where the franchises stand heading into the first round:
1. Golden State Warriors
Regardless of the Houston Rockets containing a stronger regular season record, the Golden State Warriors are deemed the favorites to win it all this year. As Stephen Curry continues to rehab his ankle, the Warriors should manage to get through the first round or two with relative ease. Ranked #1 in points per game this season, the only aspect that could hurt Golden State in the later stages is their tendency to give up easy points.
2. Houston Rockets
With arguably the most valuable player in the league in James Harden, the Houston Rockets are a dark horse to represent the Western Conference this year. With 15+ three-pointers per game this season, Houston is capable of creating damage in any seven-game set they are involved in. In terms of weakness, look for the rebounding to be a weak spot, as eight other playoff teams rank above them in terms of rebounds per game.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland is being written off as a particularly weak team, but their walk into the NBA Finals through an injury prone Eastern Conference should be viewed as a casual stroll. Even in his fifteenth season, LeBron James is still regarded as one of the most elite players in the league. I’m not saying the Cavaliers contain the third-best roster, but by the end, it shouldn’t come as a shock when Cleveland at least reaches the Eastern Conference Finals.
4. Toronto Raptors
Toronto has made each of the last four postseasons, yet have not made an entrance into the NBA Finals. While the Eastern Conference has been run by the LeBron James era, the Raptors have been an efficient regular season team. Ranked within the top ten in points scored and points allowed per game, the right match-up’s could set Toronto up for an upset in the later stages of the postseason. If there was anytime to make it to the Finals, 2018 would be the year to do it.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
In a sense, the Portland Trail Blazers are like the Toronto Raptors of the Western Conference. Having made it into the last four postseasons as well, Portland hasn’t been capable of executing when it counts. Ranked as the #3 seed currently in the West, this is a defense that only allows opponents to shoot 50.3% from the floor, fourth in the NBA. The Trail Blazers are against the odds when it comes to powerhouses in Golden State and Houston, but never say never.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
If Joel Embiid were healthy, a case could be made where the 76ers represent the Eastern Conference. Sure, Ben Simmons is emerging into a star, and Philadelphia may be better than some of the opponents listed above them. With uncertainty about Embiid’s return though, Philadelphia may seem lost on the court at times. Ranked #1 in rebounds per game, that number will certainly drop in the next few weeks.
7. Boston Celtics
While Kyrie Irving is absent for the remainder of the year, the young roster that Boston contains should fulfill as a suitable Eastern conference threat. This Boston team is one that went 2-3 this past season against Toronto and Cleveland, but that statistic alone shows that the Celtics can give any team within the East a difficult time.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder
Heading into the 2017-18 season, many were claiming the combination of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony would be enough to overcome any postseason barrier. At this stage, all three players have not gelled as much as supporters had hoped, and the fact that all three are shooting less than 50% this season justifies that argument. Pending any turnarounds, many of us are writing off this failed Thunder experiment, and rightfully so.
9. San Antonio Spurs
While the San Antonio Spurs may be one of the best coached teams in the NBA, it doesn’t hide the fact that rifts within the organization will hinder any chance at postseason success. Ranked 27th in scoring per game, this Spurs defense will be the anchor of the roster. The team has allowed the least amount of points per game, and allow the second-least amount of free throws (Charlotte is #1). With offensive teams coming to their direction, I’m not sure the San Antonio roster is deep enough to get back into the Finals.
10. Washington Wizards
Regardless of the fact that Washington has made the postseason in four of the last five years, there is very little optimism that this team has a serious chance at reaching the NBA Finals, let alone the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, by peering at the stats of John Wall, you’ll see that the 2016 version of Wall was more efficient than the one this year. I would say that Washington needs to add more pieces, but the front office is projected to have the fifth-highest salary cap demand next year.
11. Utah Jazz
After making the postseason last year, it looks as though the Utah Jazz are back in the mix within the Western Conference. Led by rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell and big man Rudy Gobert, the Jazz shouldn’t be completely overlooked. This will be a fun team to root for in years to come, but with the West containing so many super teams at this stage, Utah will be sent packing within the first round.
12. Indiana Pacers
After dealing away Paul George prior to the NBA Draft, no one really expected Indiana to remain competitive. On the contrary, Victor Oladipo is playing the best basketball of his career, as he was eventually elected to his first All-Star appearance. While Indiana won’t remain as a serious contender, it should be noted that the Pacers future is bright, as the roster is currently the third-youngest in the NBA.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
While the Minnesota Timberwolves are an above-average roster, they don’t truly stand out in any fashion. In a league nowadays where the three-point game is essential to postseason success, Minnesota ranks just 29th in that category, only ahead of the New York Knicks. With the direction the Timberwolves are taking, an NBA Finals case could be made for them in a few years. As for 2018, it seems as though their chances are bleak at best.
14. New Orleans Pelicans
While many are writing off the Pelicans, watch out for this team to go down swinging. Ranking fourth in points per game, their offensive mindset proves for New Orleans to be reckless at some points. In fact, New Orleans lets up over 110 points per game, which is only less than the Phoenix Suns. A championship caliber franchise needs to be balanced on both sides of the court, and the Pelicans are missing half of their equation.
15. Milwaukee Bucks
I believe Giannis Antetokounmpo alone will be enough to give any franchise within the Eastern Conference a difficult time, but outside of the young star, the next top scorers are Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, both of whom are not postseason stars. This is a team that’s somewhat average on both ends of the floor, so a first round exit wouldn’t come as a surprise this year.
16. Miami Heat
While in-house problems continue to emerge between Hassan Whiteside and the coaching staff, this could be a team that doesn’t enter the postseason in 2019. In terms of scoring, the San Antonio Spurs are the only other postseason team that scores less than Miami does. With the defense among the best in the NBA, it will be interesting to see whether that test stands true against efficient offensive units in the East.
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