Top of the West
1). Golden State Warriors- They have won 10 straight games without Kevin Durant. Steph Curry is starting to show us why he was the unanimous MVP last season.
2). San Antonio Spurs- The Spurs rolled out to a huge early lead on the Warriors then got crushed by 13 points. We all feel San Antonio is the biggest threat to the Warriors but does it matter who the Warriors biggest threat is?
3). Houston Rockets- I have heard a lot about how D’Antoni teams don’t win in the Playoffs. I think James Harden and these Houston Rockets will have something to say about that.
Top of the East
4). Boston Celtics- in this group here, the Celtics have the easiest strength of schedule going forward. I fully expect them to clinch the #1 seed in the East. It’s crazy.
5). Toronto Raptors- Toronto might have a chance to gain some ground on the Cavaliers, but I highly doubt it. It will be interesting to see what the Wizards and Raptors do down the stretch as they are unsure of who they could potentially match up with in the 2nd round.
6). Washington Wizards- The Wizards have played the top teams in the East very well this year, but Cleveland is their biggest threat. However, I would not want to play Milwaukee first round. The Wizards have a legitimate shot as anyone to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
7). Cleveland Cavaliers- this team continues to struggle down the stretch. A team full of veterans and three All-Stars should be the clear frontrunners for the East, but right now there are major concerns.
Middle of the West
8). Los Angeles Clippers- LA went 3-1 against the Jazz and 2-2 against the Thunder. This team seems to be the most battle tested of the 3, and they could cause a scare to the Warriors in round 2 if they were to advance as the 4th seed to the second round. I do however think they could benefit from being the 6th seed and avoid Golden State till the WCF, but I don’t think OKC moves up either spot. Now it is all about out battling Utah for home court advantage.
9). Utah Jazz- The Jazz have struggled against the Clippers, and it seems apparent that that is who they will face come Playoff time. With a one game lead, the Jazz have six games left compared to LA’s 4 left. The Jazz faces Portland and San Antonio twice, the Warriors and the Timberwolves. This will be a very tough schedule.
10). Oklahoma City Thunder- Oklahoma City, would be better off playing the higher paced offense of the Rockets than the tenacious Spurs defense. As they try to fend off the veteran filled Grizzlies roster, the task at hand will be in their hands. The Thunder face Minnesota, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Denver twice and a head to head matchup with Memphis. If Russell Westbrook continues to ball out and take this team to the Playoffs as the 6th seed, it will only strengthen his case as the MVP/
11). Memphis Grizzlies- The Grizzlies have a pretty soft schedule to close out the season with only two tough teams in San Antonio and a head to head with OKC. I know that the Grizzlies may want to move up into the 6th seed, but I do believe the Spurs style of play is a better matchup for them. It is still a tough road ahead, as these young teams who have nothing to play for enjoy playing spoiler down the stretch. My initial thought was that Memphis would remain the 7th seed, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that they will grab the 6th seed after it is all said and done.
Middle of the East
12). Milwaukee Bucks- the Bucks have done a complete 180 the last few weeks and now sit alone in the 5th seed. I highly doubt anyone in the East will remove them from the 5th seed, and a 2nd round matchup right now in the East Playoffs would be against the Celtics, a team they just beat on their home court Wednesday night.
Battling for 8th in the West
13). Portland Trailblazers- The Blazers have leapfrogged the Nuggets by 2.5 games, but with the recent injury to Jusuf Nurkic, they are a little more vulnerable than they were a few days ago. The Nuggets could make this race interesting down the stretch for Portland.
14). Denver Nuggets- as they try to make a push down the stretch they have to play OKC twice who is trying to fend off Memphis, they face a very talented frontcourt from New Orleans twice, and they also have to fend off the Houston Rockets. It is a very tough schedule for them, but if they can win out, they have a lot to be proud about.
Battling for the Last 3 Spots in the East
15). Chicago Bulls- Chicago is ranked number 1 with the easiest strength of schedule remaining. As we wind down the season, the Bulls have the best shot of making the Playoffs. Especially since they have the tiebreakers over Indiana and Miami.
16). Atlanta Hawks- the Hawks could easily lose their last five games. They face Cleveland twice and the Celtics once. Those two are battling for the number one seed in the East. Along with that, the they will be facing a desperate Indiana team on the final night of the season in Indiana, and they play Charlotte after a home and home with Cleveland. The task is tall for the Hawks, but they do have a 2-game cushion.
17). Miami Heat- with the tiebreaker over Indiana, the Heat have the position of the 8th seed in the East. All 6 of the Heats remaining games are very key. It starts tonight with a must win over the Nuggets. Denver is in desperation mode, so Miami will probably get Denver’s best punch. They end the season with two games against the Wizards, one game against the Cavaliers and one against the Raptors. The Raptors and Wizards are still fighting for the 3rd and 4th seeds so that could be a very competitive handful of games as we enter the last week of basketball.
18). Indiana Pacers- Indiana had a horrible month in March going 6-10. Key losses at home to Minnesota and Denver last week have made this a hard hill to climb. Looking to add some motivation to their roster, they have resigned Lance Stephenson to their roster. The Pacers have been hit with key injuries to Glenn Robinson III, Al Jefferson and recently waived, Rodney Stuckey. Indiana should not rely on other teams to lay down for them, but they must get out there and defend their homecourt. They have Toronto, Milwaukee and Atlanta at home, with Philly and Orlando on the road. While Indiana has struggled on the road, those are must win games against two bad teams. They close out the season against Atlanta, and I would not be shocked one bit if the winner of that game is the team that makes the 8th seed.
Fighters Chance, but Unlikely
19). Charlotte Hornets- the Hornets have an extremely tough schedule ahead of them. Depending on the results of their game currently going on right now with the Thunder, the Hornets will still have to face Washington, Miami, Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta to end the season. All teams playing competitive basketball and looking for wins desperately, this should be some fun basketball to watch. I think the schedule is just too difficult for the Hornets to overcome.
20). Detroit Pistons- speaking of a tough team to watch, the Pistons have been underwhelming this season. Still with a shot but it is very unlikely, the Pistons face Toronto, Houston, Memphis, Washington and Orlando. Unfortunately, by the time they get to Orlando, they will most likely be eliminated from Playoff contention. The future of this team is uncertain, and I have no idea what kind of Pistons team we will see in October next season.
21). New Orleans Pelicans- They clearly have zero chance of catching the Blazers, but since they’re still alive we can’t count them out yet (technically). The Pelicans are going to be looking for success next season, but I don’t think Gentry is the man for the job. I think a coaching change is a must for the success of this team.
Eliminated but Improving
22). Minnesota Timberwolves- as they continue to play Kris Dunn with this starting unit, I like what I am seeing. I won’t be shocked if we see both Ricky Rubio and Zach Lavine traded this off-season. The Timberwolves have a few studs in KAT and Wiggins, plus the potential of Kris Dunn. Let This get another summer with this group, and I could see them pushing for a playoff spot.
23). Dallas Mavericks- with the Mavericks, you have to applaud their efforts this season, although it has been a tough one. I am a fan of how Mark Cuban assembled this team through trades and rookie contracts. They found some true talent in doing that. As this team moves forward, though, I wonder how they go about finding Dirk’s successor.
24). Philadelphia 76ers- with this team you have to be excited about their future. Saric has been making a case for Rookie of the Year, and we still have yet to see Ben Simmons. I know that this team continues to be a bottom feeder, but in a year or two, they will be a Playoff team.
25). Orlando Magic- Orlando has done better since the All-Star break, but that is only because they have nothing to play for and the opportunity for Vogel to play with his lineups has helped them see where exactly Aaron Gordon needs to be at and how talented Payton is at the point.
Bad Teams with a Stud
26). Phoenix Suns- Devin Booker is a stud. He is the best guard from last year’s NBA Draft, and pairing him with the highly skilled Marquis Chriss this season was a great move from the Suns front office. They still have a lot of work to do, but the building blocks are there.
27). Sacramento Kings- the Kings have been very pleased with their trade of Cousins for Hield, and I can see why. They now have someone who isn’t a threat to explode any second. With Sam Hinkie likely to be the new man running the Kings, the future is brighter than it was with Cousins.
Teams with No Clear Direction
28). Brooklyn Nets- there is a lot of cap space here next season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nets take on bad contracts to obtain Draft Picks. For instance, the Pacers may want to unload Al Jefferson or Monta Ellis in the off-season. They will probably have to part with this years, or next years first round pick for them to free up cap space. The Nets have made better business decisions lately, but their roster is still straight trash.
29). Los Angeles Lakers- In recent rumors the reports say that Kobe Bryant will be taking on some role with the franchise. With Magic Johnson calling the shots, I think adding Kobe was his idea. This could help develop players or recruit free agents. I don’t believe there is a star on this team to build around, but maybe I am just unaware of the potential of Brandon Ingram.
30). New York Knicks- While the Knicks have played better lately, they still have zero direction going forward. Noah is suspended for the remainder of the season. Derrick Rose has suffered an injury that will take him out of action the rest of the season, and they tried everything they could to trade Carmelo. Melo has been recently taking a backseat and letting Porzinigis run the show, as the front office wants to see what can it build around the Unicorn going forward. We have no idea what the future holds for New York, but hopefully, they can build something for Kristaps to play in and not waste his career with the Marshall Plumlee’s/