Can the Knicks overthrow the Hawks? Who will prevail in the race in the West?
With the regular season coming to a conclusion, we look at five questions that still need answering as the NBA playoffs are fast approaching.
Looking through the standings there is still plenty to play for with the race for making the playoffs heating up in both Conferences. NBA experts Sumeet Paul and Scott Hazlewood discuss.
Who will finish as the top seed in the Eastern Conference?
Sumeet Paul: After the Pacers established a three-game advantage over the Heat with their win on Wednesday night, there is a possibility that Erik Spoelstra could give up on top seeding and rest his key players in order to get them right for the playoffs.
However, considering that Miami have two more games to play than Indiana to round off the regular season, coupled with the fact that the two still have another meeting left, it might be too early to call it a wrap on the race at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Both teams have struggled for consistency in recent weeks, and I don’t think the race is over just yet.
Prediction – Miami.
Scott Hazlewood: Home court advantage still has a big part to play this season in the Eastern playoffs, so I agree with you it might be a fraction early to call the race all over for the number one seed. Miami over the next few games have Detroit (away), Milwaukee twice (home and away), Toronto (home), Minnesota (home), New York (home), Brooklyn (home), Memphis (away), Indiana (home), Atlanta (away), Washington (away), Philadelphia (home)
While for the Pacers they have Washington (away), Cleveland (away), San Antonio (home), Detroit (home), Toronto (away), Atlanta (home), Milwaukee, Miami (away), Oklahoma City (home), Orlando (away).
So Miami will probably sneak home to get number one by a game or so because they have the easier run home in playing the Bucks twice, while the Pacers have the Spurs and Thunder in their run to the end of the season and they only play the Bucks once. But it could all come down to their trip to South Beach.
Prediction – Miami.
Who will finish as the top seed in the Western Conference?
SP: What’s not to love about the San Antonio Spurs? Their current 15-game winning streak has seen them surpass the Thunder and open up a three-game gap as they look to have all the variables in their favour in order to bounce back from last year’s disappointment.
There are a few tricky games on the horizon with trips to Indiana and Oklahoma City, but Gregg Popovich has his men well drilled, his system fine-tuned and his key players well rested as various individuals on the roster continue to step up when required.
Prediction: San Antonio.
SH: I’ll admit the Thunder are my team right off the bat, so I have to tip them to finish on top, but it’s not without some backing. Coach Scott Brooks needs to have Russell Westbrook on unrestricted minutes otherwise close games like their overtime thriller against Dallas recently will escape their grasp, with losses like that crucial if they are to overhaul the Spurs.
The game between the sides on April 3 looms as a big one, and it helps that it is in OKC. But Kevin Durant and his side still need to beat Houston, Clippers and the Pacers which are all tough games.
In addition, the Thunder have the soon-to-be announced MVP of the league in Durant, who is just playing out of his mind this season and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
Prediction: Oklahoma City.
With 5th-8th arguably still up for grabs in the Western Conference, who makes the playoffs?
SH: At the start of the season the West always loomed as the more exciting playoff race and it’s been good to see it live up to the hype.
For places 5-8 in the West are still up for grabs and realistically I can see five teams in the running for those spots with Portland, Golden State, Memphis, Phoenix and Dallas all in the mix.
Portland will finish 5th because of what they have to offer in terms of talent, while sixth is the most interesting of places to be decide, and might go out on a limb here a bit and say the Suns will finish with a flourish and get this spot.
From there it will be the, in my opinion, under-performing Warriors in seventh and the Grizzlies in eighth but only if the Mavs trip up against Golden State on April 1.
Who will secure the third seed in the East?
SP: Toronto have held on to that spot for so long this season, and it would be unjust for them to lose it down the stretch. However, the Chicago Bulls have overcome so many obstacles this season, bouncing back from losing Derrick Rose for the season again before Luol Deng was traded.
I still don’t rule out the Brooklyn Nets who have been one of the most in-form teams since the turn of the year, but given the intensity and energy that the Bulls will continue to bring each and every night, I expect them to make the third seed their own given their relatively friendly remaining schedule.
It could well be vital in the post-season, as over a series I think they will cause the Pacers problems and they are arguably the best equipped team to break up the expected Heat-Pacers East Finals.
Prediction – Chicago.
Can the New York Knicks secure the eighth playoff spot in the East?
SH: I think the Knicks will just sneak into the 8th seed only because Atlanta seems incapable of keeping them out rather than New York earning the right to be in the post-season.
As much as this season has been a joke for Carmelo and Co. they still have plenty to play for because I think Manhattan will implode if the Knicks are not a part of the playoffs as many Knicks fans would deem it to be their birthright.
But signs like their woeful defence against the Lakers on March 25 point to a side that has all but given up on doing anything worthwhile this season, eighth seed or not.
SP: There is no getting away from how bad the Knicks’ defense looks at times, but I think it would be a real shame for the league as a whole if we don’t see Anthony in the playoffs.
They have put together winning runs at just the right time to save their season despite disappointment in Cleveland and Los Angeles, but with Atlanta seemingly incapable of getting their job done, the Knicks should snatch it before it’s all said and done.
Prediction – Knicks to make the playoffs.