We’ve come to the point in the NBA season where teams have decided whether they have what it takes to make a final playoff push, or do they instead want to take to draft RJ Hampton or Anthony Edwards. As we are edging closer and closer to see which team will hoist the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, I think it’s time for the The Load Management team to give it’s official playoff prediction. With injuries to western conference stars like Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson. The west is for the taking this year, and teams like the Lakers and the Clippers tried to pounce on it by bringing in Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Anthony Davis. The season still has 30 games left, and every playoff spot is still in jeopardy.
Due to the star power of rookie Ja Morant, and sophomore Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies have had a fantastic start of the season after trading franchise cornerpieces Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol the year before. Right now the Grizzlies are 28-27 and 3.5 games in front of the 9th seed Portland Trailblazers. The Grizzlies do have one of the hardest schedules in the league but because of the Trailblazers injury problems that they’ve had this entire season, I find it impossible for the Blazers to make a run with Damian Lillard out a couple more weeks, and Jusuf Nurkic still being out for the foreseeable future.
Oklahoma City Thunder
After trading superstars Russell Westbrook, and Paul George during the previous off-season, OKC have become a sure fire playoff team after coach Billy Donovan has used these misfit pieces who everybody thought would be traded this year, in order to make a dangerous playoff team. Chris Paul, a man who was thought to have had potentially the worst contract in NBA history, has had a bounceback year in which he became an all-star, averaged 17, 5, and 6, and is leads the NBA in clutch time field goal percentage. Moreover, number 2 and 3 on that same list, are no other than OKC star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and potential Sixth Man of the Year Dennis Schroder. This team has used it’s three guard lineup to lead them to a 37-23 record. Although they have had a fantastic season, I don’t see them getting higher than the 7th seed.
The Mavericks have had a surprising season as sophomore Luka Doncic has blossomed into a legitimate superstar. They had an explosive start to the year until Luka was diagnosed with an ankle sprain leaving him out for 7 games in which the team took a massive skid. With role player Dwight Powell having a season ending injury, it forced them to trade for Willy Cauley-Stein, and use him in significant time. I love Luka and Porzingis as a duo, but the rest of the team isn’t built for playoff success due to the young players who don’t know how to play in a playoff atmosphere. I mean, we don’t even know if Luka Or Porzingis can play in a playoff atmosphere. We all know Mark Cuban loves JJ Barea but the 6th seed looks like their best bet considering their lack of experience.
Houston has been plagued with a case of the “Why can’t our superstars ever play well when they are in the same game?” disease. Symptoms of this disease are “Not playing to their full potential,” “Losing against literally every good team in the West,” and finally “Being forced to change their offense due to this slump.” Doctor Daryl Morey will tell you that small ball is the new way to win in the NBA, and everybody will be doing it in a couple years, but I’m going to give you an authorized prescription. The Houston Rockets will get clobbered by teams with big men. Every Time they play a team with great scoring bigs, they will get thrashed, and then be forced to double which leads to other players getting open. They have played 5 games since trading Capela and completely going all in. They went 3-2 in that time but they only played one potent big man on the offensive end. Against the Lakers, Anthony Davis went off for 32 and 13 while the rest of the team struggled and in the end that’s the reason they lost. Everybody knows you need a lot of luck to win in the NBA, but it seems like the Rockets are going to have to be on point every night in the playoffs to make a far run, and this is why they are my 5th seed.
The 37 and 22 Utah Jazz team have lost 4 games in a row and are 4-6 in their last 10 games. The Jazz made many summer signings which had the general public assuming Utah to be taking a big step and shoot for a chip but this is clearly not the case. Utah has been such a strange team to watch as they have had three different teams throughout the year. They were a mediocre .500 team for the 1st 20 games, and then decided to turn into the greatest team of all time winning 15 straight games before losing to Brooklyn, and finally they have become a below average team only in playoff position because of their previously talked about 15 game streak. This as well as major inconsistencies from two ball handlers Mike Conley, and “Jingling,” Joe Ingles have led to a lot of questioning inside and outside of the organization. Even considering all their troubles throughout the season, I still have faith that they can push for a home court advantage because of their stars. Rudy Gobert is a literal monster. If you want to drive in the paint on this man, you will fail (Unless you’re Russell Westbrook apparently). This team has a chance to show everybody why they had those expectations going into the year, and considering they have the 18th easiest remaining schedule, I have faith in them.
Los Angeles Clippers
Yes I know you’re thinking, How are you going to put a team with Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George behind the P.J Dozier, and Noah Vonleh led the Nuggets team. I'll tell you, the Clippers do not care about regular season basketball in any way, shape, or form. Kawhi needs rest, and he always has. Throughout his career, he has averaged a meek 58 games per year and has only played 45 games this year. They are also a team “built,” for the playoffs. As long as they have the third seed, they won’t need to worry about playoff position because they are so good. They have three bonafide closets (Lou Will, PG13, and Kawhi), and three defensive monsters (Marcus Morris, PG, and Kawhi). Furthermore, they have the best playoff coaches in the league, and they have a great bench. What more could you ask for? A Chip. Kawhi and PG only have two more guaranteed years. The front office will have no interest wasting it on pushing for a 60 win season. As long as they are the third seed at the end of the year, that'll be good enough for them.
The Denver Nuggets have had a strange season as in the first 20 games or so, All-star Niklola Jokic was looking like the former 300 pound, 1 liter of Coke drinker, and fat boy that he is instead of an MVP candidate. Now Jokic averages 20, 10, and 7 on 53 % from the field, and 33% from three. In the first 20 games he averaged 16, 10, and 6 while shooting an astonishing 22 percent from three. It’s fair to say that Jokic and the Nuggets have picked it up as they are currently 41-19 and have control of the 2nd seed at the moment. The Nuggets have always been a team to try and get good position in the regular season and I think this season is no different. The Nuggets are 1-2 against the Lakers this year so they will want to wait to play them until the conference finals if possible and this is their sure way for Lakers safety. There is little to no chance that the Lakers will be dethroned as top of the west, but with the 11th hardest schedule in the league, Denver definitely still has some work to do.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have definitely been a sight to watch this year. Their 46-13 record is good enough for second in the NBA only behind the Milwaukee Bucks, and they have been unstoppable. Yes they haven’t been great against teams above .500 but that doesn’t matter. The Clippers haven’t looked great in a while so I think the Lakers are a sure fire guess to make it out of the west. One problem that they MUST sort out in the last 20 games is how to play basketball without LeBron James on the court. Rondo hasn’t been himself this year, and you never know with Caruso so the only solution is GIVE ANTHONY DAVIS THE BALL. LeBron and AD are both top 10 on 2pt FGA per game but sometimes you just need to drive to the basket. Anthony listen to me right now, you are a seven footer so STOP SETTLING FOR MIDRANGES. I know you’re good at them but if you’re playing Montrezl Harrell, just post up and dunk the ever living crap out of this man. Ruin his life by dunking on his friends and family (My bad Trezz). The Lakers key is going to transition defense and absolutely force feeding Anthony Davis in the post when LeBron is out. Let's see what happens.