Well, I had planned on publishing this article on Monday, which would have been exactly 1 month before the NBA regular season ended. In light of the NBA announcing last night that the season has been suspended until further notice…I am not sure when there will be 1 month remaining!
So, I guess the time is now? The looming questions remain – When will the season resume, and even bigger question, will it resume?
Let’s be positive and assume the games will eventually go on…
With roughly 1 month left in the NBA season, the Playoff picture is starting to take shape…sort of. Half the Divisions are close to being wrapped up, but the other half are wide open. Here is what we have to look forward to the next month of basketball.
What We Know - Divisions
3 teams have all but wrapped up their Divisions.
Milwaukee is coasting to the best record in the NBA, holding a 14 game lead over 2nd Place Indiana in the Central. Giannis could miss the rest of the regular season, and the Bucks are still winning the Division.
In the Southeast, Miami is holding a 11 game lead over Orlando. Note – the 2nd Place Magic have a 30-35 record. What an awful Division.
Out west, the Lakers currently hold a 5.5 game lead over the crosstown-rival Clippers. Not an insurmountable lead, but with only 19 games to play, it would take an epic collapse by LeBron & Co to lose that lead. I don’t see that happening.
What We Don’t Know - Divisions
3 of the Divisions are wide open, with the leader holding on by 3 or less games.
In the Atlantic, the Raptors hold just a 3 game lead over the Celtics. These 2 teams have 1 head-to-head matchup remaining (in Toronto), but the Celtics have a slight advantage in their remaining schedule. The Raptors have 8 games remaining against teams over .500, where the Celtics have just 6. Despite the 3 game Toronto lead, this could come down to the final week.
In the Southwest, the Rockets hold just a 1.5 game lead over the upstart Mavericks. Their remaining schedules are very similar, with both teams having 8 games against probable Playoff teams. This Division may come down to 2 games…2 head-to-head matchups, both in Dallas.
In the Northwest, the Nuggets are clinging to a 1.5 game lead over the revamped Jazz. They have 2 remaining head-to-head matchups (1 in each location), but the schedules may decide this Division. Although Utah’s remaining schedule is no cupcake (8 games against probable Playoff teams), Denver’s is absolutely brutal. 10 of the remaining 17 against Playoff probables. Should be a fight to the finish.
What We Know – Playoff Seeding
In the Eastern Conference, all 8 teams are close to being locked in. The Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, Heat, Pacers, and 76ers are definitely in, and the Nets and Magic are damn close. Note - The #8 seed Magic are currently 5.5 games ahead of the #9 seed Wizards…who are ironically only 5.5 games ahead of the dead last Knicks. Wow. As far as seeds go, Milwaukee would need to completely fall apart to lose the #1 seed, and Toronto looks like it has the #2 wrapped up (lead Celtics by 3 games). That’s about all we know right now in the East.
In the Western Conference, we really only know 2 things - the Lakers will be the #1 seed, and that the Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder, Rockets, and Dallas will be somewhere between the #2 and #7 seeds. A hell of a lot we don’t know about the West.
What We Don’t Know – Playoff Seeding
In the Eastern Conference, outside of Milwaukee and Toronto, the seeding will be changing on an almost daily basis the next month. Currently Boston, Miami, Indiana, and Philadelphia are within 4.5 games of each other. How the #3 through #6 seeds play out is anyone’s guess. The #7 and #8 seeds are undetermined as well, with Brooklyn and Orlando (both 4+ games under .500) within a half game of each other. Very exciting. I guess.
In the Western Conference, the Clippers are currently sitting at #2, with the Nuggets just 1.5 games behind. Then you have the Jazz, Thunder, Rockets, and Mavericks all within 2.5 games of each other. Like the East, these seeds could change daily. The #8 seed on the other hand, that will be a battle. The Grizzlies are sitting in the #8 seed, with 5 teams within 6 games. 5!!! The Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns. Like I said, a hell of a lot we don’t know about the West.
What We Know – Awards
What We Don’t Know – Awards
Several players are having MVP-caliber seasons (James Harden, Luka Doncic, & Trae Young to name a few), but this race will be between LeBron James and Giannis Antetokoumpo. LeBron has been making a strong push lately, but will it be enough to overtake Giannis? Giannis has had the better season, but that’s not always how it works. Ask LeBron that…he’s lost the MVP other years where he was the superior player (basically every year between 2007 and 2018 where he didn’t win it). Is this the year he steals one back?
One month ago, Ja Morant was an absolute lock to win the Rookie of the Year Award. But what Zion Williamson has done these past 4 weeks have been nothing short of spectacular. But can 2 months of playing time be enough to win the award? Zion has been the better player, but Morant has had the better season. Curious how this one plays out. Have to assume it will be Morant though.
Defensive Player of the Year is a crapshoot between Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond, and Hassan Whiteside. Let’s just look at the stats. Gobert – 13.7 rebounds (3rd in NBA), 2.0 blocks (6th in NBA). Drummond – 15.2 rebounds (1st in NBA), 1.6 blocks (8th in NBA), 1.9 steals (3rd in NBA). Whiteside – 14.2 rebounds (2nd in NBA), 3.1 blocks (1st in NBA). Gobert has won the Award the last 2 seasons, will the voters give it to someone else this year? Bad joke – Rudy Gobert is so good on defense, he shut down the entire League. Not funny, I know.
When I wrote my NBA Midseason Review and Predictions article a couple months ago, I said this was the closest race of all the awards. Well, nothing has changed. Here is what I said in January – “There are 4 players who are worthy of the award. Goran Dragic (15, 5, 3) and Dennis Schroder (18, 4, 4) would both be in contention most years. But the Sixth Man of the Year at this point of the season plays for the Clippers…but which one is the question? Defending Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams (20, 6, 3) or Montrezl Harrell (19, 7, 2)? The depth of that team is astounding! But who wins the award? Williams has won it enough (3 times). Montrezl Harrell”. Aside from the stats slightly changing (and I mean slightly), everything still holds up!
Luka Doncic and Brandon Ingram have both made significant improvements in their games, but both were very good players before this season, so I will leave them out. Bam Adebayo has made huge strides, averaging 9, 7, 2 last year, to 16, 11, 5 this year. But a bigger improvement than Devonte’ Graham? Last season he averaged just 5, 3, 1. This year, he is averaging 18, 8, 4. Has to be one of these guys, right?
As noted in my NBA Preview, I am not a huge fan of the Coach of the Year Award. Not that it shouldn’t be given out, but because it rarely goes to the most deserving Coach. It usually neither goes to the best Coach, nor to the Coach with the best team. It ends up going to the Coach whose team is “better” than expected (something the media typically predicted). Anyways. In terms of improvement, Erik Spoelstra has done a great job in Miami this season. Missing the Playoffs as a 10 seed last season, and currently 41-24 sitting in the #4 seed right now. He should get some consideration. In terms of what the “experts” said, I would say Memphis has exceeded expectations more than any other team has. Last season they finished 12th in the West, 16 games under .500. This season, although they are only 32-33, they are currently sitting in the 8th spot in the tough West. But has anyone done a better coaching job than Billy Donovan? Remember when the Thunder traded away Russell Westbrook (for Chris Paul)? It was assumed that Paul would never play a game in Oklahoma City, and the rebuilding process was about to begin. Well, Paul is playing (very well I might add), and the Thunder are currently sitting in the #5 seed with a 40-24 record. Not sure if Donovan will win the Award, but he should.
I think that about covers it. As you can see, we have a few knowns, and a hell of a lot of unknowns. Biggest unknown being, will we see any more NBA this season?!
Now, tell me what you think!!!