By: Chinmay Vaidya, KCOU Sports
It’s that time in the NBA.
The final few games will determine who goes into the postseason and who gets to test their luck in the lottery. It will also determine the playoff seeds and who has the best lottery odds.
Let’s start with the playoff hopefuls. In the West, the playoff picture is close to being set except for the 8th seed. The Oklahoma City Thunder are riding Russell Westbrook triple-doubles into the playoffs at the moment, but Anthony Davis’ Pelicans are only a half game behind. The Pelicans have seven games left and Oklahoma City has six. Mathematically, the Mavericks still haven’t clinched a playoff spot and the Phoenix Suns are still in play for the 8 seed.
As far as the other seeds go, nothing is truly set. Golden State will be the top seed and Portland will be in the top four seeds as it won the division. Memphis, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers will battle for home-court through at least the first round. San Antonio has clinched a playoff spot and mathematically has a shot at one of the top four seeds.
In the East, most of the mess is for the final playoff spot. Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Miami currently have seeds 6-8, but there are several teams still in contention. The Indiana Pacers have a legitimate shot now that superstar Paul George is back. Boston is only a half game out of the playoffs and Charlotte is only two games out. The Detroit Pistons have faded quickly after the brief run in February, but they are still mathematically in the playoff picture.
Atlanta is at the top of the conference and will have home court throughout the playoffs. Cleveland has stormed back after some bumps in the road and Chicago is staying afloat with the hope that Derrick Rose will be back for at least the second round of the playoffs. The Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards are back in the postseason and will likely see each other in the first round.
Now let’s look at the lottery hopefuls. The New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves own the two worst records in the league. Philadelphia is the third-worst team in the league and the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in the lottery once again. The Orlando Magic round out the five worst teams in the league.
It hasn’t been all bad for these lottery teams either. The Knicks still have Carmelo Anthony in his prime and although he is shut down for the season, Carmelo is an All-Star caliber player. The Minnesota Timberwolves have promising rookies in Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. The Lakers might have the steal of the draft in point guard Jordan Clarkson. The Magic have a solid young core that should be able to contend in the East within two years. The 76ers have a lot of picks and Nerlens Noel. One bounce of the ping-pong balls could dramatically change records for one of these teams in the following years.
The NBA is at a great point in the season. With every game meaning so much to both playoff and lottery hopefuls, here’s five games down this final stretch that you don’t want to miss.
Chicago @ Cleveland- 2:30 p.m. Sunday
This game is likely a preview for the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Bulls would like to make a statement on the road against a division rival. The Cavaliers want to wrap up the division for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Miami @ Indiana- 5 p.m. Sunday
Both teams are fighting for a playoff spot and the return of Paul George adds more intrigue to this contest. Don’t forget that these two teams do not like each other.
Philadelphia @ New York Knicks- 6:30 p.m. Sunday
You will want to laugh out loud at this atrocious display of basketball because both teams will be trying to lose this game. Philadelphia has an outside shot at getting the second-worst record, but they need to drop this game. Meanwhile, Knicks fans are already dreaming about Jahlil Okafor.
Phoenix @ Dallas- 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
One team is fighting to stay in the playoffs while the other will probably still have a mathematical chance at the playoffs. Dallas is finally starting to figure out how to use Rajon Rondo in the offense while Phoenix still has a good backcourt with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. Expect a high-scoring contest that goes down to the wire.
San Antonio @ Houston- 7 p.m. Friday
Houston has Dwight Howard back and James Harden is playing at an MVP level. The Rockets are currently set to face the defending champion Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. San Antonio finally has its guys back healthy. This game will determine some seeds in the West and could be a first round preview.