The NBA playoffs are less than a fortnight away. The first round starts on 13th April, but there’s plenty to be decided before then.
The Western Conference has all eight teams locked in, though that’s not to say competition is dead for the final days of the campaign. Only 5 games separate eighth-placed Oklahoma City Thunder from Portland Trail Blazers, who currently occupy the fourth seed.
The Eastern Conference is far from settled. Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets are currently ninth and 10th-placed respectively, but both still harbour playoff ambitions. Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets are the occupants of the bottom three seeds, though that could all change in the final few games of the campaign.
For all the potential late drama in the East, the three teams that make the postseason will be up against it to progress past the first round.
This is huge for the respective teams, however.
Detroit want to return to the postseason after the blockbuster Blake Griffin trade. Orlando are desperate to have playoff basketball at their arena again, as are the exciting Nets. Charlotte know making the playoffs could help them convince Kemba Walker to stay. The Heat, meanwhile, are trying to make the best of a difficult situation.
Whoever finishes in eighth will face the unenviable task of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee, despite dominating the regular season, are an unknown quantity in the postseason, as is reflected in the NBA finals betting odds.
It doesn’t get much easier for the seventh and sixth seeds either. Toronto, led by Kawhi Leonard, have been a force at both ends of the floor. Marc Gasol has slotted into the offence nicely, running the pick and roll effectively with Kyle Lowry.
Philadelphia, who would meet Detroit in the first round if the playoffs started today, are well-fancied to make the NBA Finals. Joel Embiid’s health could well be the decisive factor for Brett Brown’s team, and the Sixers are being careful with their All-Star centre, resting him for several games in the lead up to the Playoffs.
Out in the West, the contest for homecourt advantage is fierce. At the bottom of the standings, though, it’s about avoiding the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. Oklahoma City Thunder are on course to meet Golden State in the first round as it stands, which few envisaged when the Thunder were eyeing up the second seed.
The Warriors have looked like their best selves more often of late. They are clear favourites to threepeat – few will be predicting anything other than another title for Steve Kerr’s team.