As the final games of the season wind down Wednesday night, the only real deciding-factor is seeding, with Indiana, Miami, and Chicago fighting for the last two spots in the East as the play-in games. So now it is time to figure out what we have in these teams, and they form into four categories.
Group One – We’re Happy to Be Here
These teams include the Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls (depending on who makes it), Portland Trail Blazers, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks.
All these teams have one thing that makes them scary… for about one or two games. Each team has a ‘stud, take the game over, go crazy for 40 points in two nights and carry the team’ guy. Damian Lillard for the Trail Blazers can hit from everywhere on the court and push the pace of the game. Jimmy Butler can lock down anyone up against the Bulls and has proven to make clutch shots to win games all season.
Paul George is the versatile three who can space the floor. Memphis boasts one of the top defensive point guards in the game with Mike Conley, who also averaged 20.6 points a game. Then there’s the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, also known as the ‘Greek Freak’, who is dominate in the paint on both ends.
While these players are impressive, the teams around them have problems staying consistent at both ends, along with lacking a deep bench. One stud teams have an expiration date, and that is the first round.
Group Two – We Are for Real, We Promise!
These teams include the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, and Toronto Raptors.
This group has a lot of the trappings of a really great team, more than one player to lean on, deep bench, and solid at more than one aspect. But against the top-tier teams, they cannot play a full series of playoff-level basketball. The Raptors had some shaky off-the-court action along with Cleveland’s LeBron James killing them in the paint. The Hawks stopped rebuild mode when they got hot, only to later realize that rebuilding was a better plan and now leave Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore up against the playoffs. The Jazz have Gordon Hayward and a bunch of real players who cut it through the regular season but will not make it through playoff basketball.
The Clippers’ nucleus of Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin have been impressive, but never enough. Now they have their shallowest bench they may have ever experienced together. Washington is the most intriguing prospect to cause trouble with the level John Wall is playing at. He has helped elevate teammates Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter, but they still give up 107.3 points a game on the other side of the floor.
Group Three – The Troublemakers
These teams include only the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio has Kawhi Leonard and a really great system, but the Rockets and Warriors are so very deep when it comes to three-point shooters that the defense cannot hold up for seven games. The Thunder are not very deep but Russell Westbrook is insane, literally a machine sent from the future to conquer the court, so trouble could happen.
It hurts me to list the Celtics as mere trouble makers, but the Celtics should cause some stir, but cannot beat the top-ceiling teams like the Cavaliers. The Celtics can beat most of the teams in the East because of their depth, long defenders, and scoring; not to mention Isaiah Thomas in the final quarter of games. But the Cavaliers ripped the Celtics a new one when they went small with LeBron at the five. They will not make the Finals.
Group Four – The Contenders
There are only three actual title contenders this season heading into the postseason: The Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, and Houston Rockets.
These three teams can certainly win it all, with the Warriors as the team to beat. With a healthy Kevin Durant reunited with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, this team has the best shot despite their problems in the paint. The Rockets and Cavs are neck-and-neck, with Cleveland’s struggles late in the season a cause for concern and Houston’s shaky defense their Achilles heel. However, the Rockets make 14 threes a game, a record, and the Cavs still have the best player in the world in LeBron James. If someone wins, it is one of these teams.