The trade deadline is over with and the NBA season is winding down. April in the NBA world is one of the biggest months on the calendar. It’s when the NBA playoffs start, where amazing happens.
With the playoffs just around the corner, we can get a feel of which teams will be playing in late April. So, I’m going to break down which teams Pretenders or Contenders teams in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference.
Pretenders: Atlanta Hawks-
The Hawks are 5th in the Eastern Conference standings with a record of 33–24. They didn’t get off to a hot start to begin the season, and at one point they were only 12–13. Atlanta also went on a rough 10-game stretch in November, losing nine of the ten. However, they managed to turn it all around after they benched Kyle Korver and then traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Even though Atlanta’s record suggests that they are a good team, they don’t have a good winning head-to-head record against higher seeded teams than them. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, and Boston Celtics the Hawks are only 4–4.
There’s no one on the Hawks roster currently averaging 20 points per game. That shows on their total points scored, of which Atlanta is 20th in points scored per game in the NBA. Another problem is that when you get to the playoffs you have to be able to knock down the easy buckets, but the Hawks are 29th in free throw percentage (72.6%). Last but not least, it’s a new era in basketball where you have to be able to shoot the long ball. Atlanta is 25th in 3 point percentage and 21st in 3 points shot made.
This Atlanta team is not anywhere near better than last year’s squad. They have a new point guard in Dennis Schröder, a new center in Dwight Howard and a totally refurbished bench. Atlanta defense is good, but what’s going to get them to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers? The Hawks do not have as much talent as the other top Eastern Conference contenders this season.
This team will not be able to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 7 game series.
Pretender: Toronto Raptors-
Yes, Toronto is in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference standing, and they have one of the best backcourts in the Association; however, Kyle Lowry suffered an injury that will most likely keep him out for most of the remainder of the season.
Before he went down, Lowry was averaging career highs in points (22.8 per game) and three-point shooting (41.7%). But after he returns from the injury, how good will he come back? The postseason is a far different atmosphere and more physically demanding than it is in the regular season. Through his career, Lowry is only averaging 14 ppg and shooting 44% in the postseason. What would make this year different if he were to come back after his hand injury?
The Raptors big problem this year for the Raptors is sharing the ball. The ISO ball isn’t going to work on a good defensive team like the Cavs. They are 30th in the NBA in assist per game.
Another problem for the Raptors is their turnovers, of which they are second in the NBA in turnovers per game. Cleveland feasts off turnovers and will make the game ugly for Toronto in the playoffs.
The Cavaliers just added Deron Williams to their bench which means more firepower, and they’ve already had the Raptors’ number this year. Toronto is 0–3 against Cleveland.
Now we are moving on to the contenders. This will be the top two team in the east who can compete with the Cavaliers in a 7 game series. This is the team who have a complete roster to take down the Champs.
Contender: Washington Wizards-
The Washington Wizards are surging to become the Eastern Conference underdogs. They are 4th in the East but have made it tough on the higher seeded opponents to get head-to-head wins. They are 2–1 against the second-seeded Boston Celtics. They also gave the Cleveland Cavaliers a tough time in their match-up on February 6th.
Washington’s only problem is their bench, but they addressed that by trading for Bojan Bogdanović and signing Brandon Jennings. Bogdanović will help the scoring, while Jennings will help spread the ball around making it easier to score for the second unit.
The Wizards also have a candidate for MVP on their team: John Wall.
Wall is having an amazing season leading the Wizards. He’s averaging 22.7 points and 10.8 assists while shooting .449 from the field (all of which are career highs). He is making his case to every other top team that he’s ready for the long playoff ride. That’s not it for the Wizards, though.
Bradley Beal also is having a career season this year, averaging 22.6 points per game and he’s doing so while also shooting a career-high .478 from the field.
The Wizards backcourt is by far the best in the eastern conference. Then there are players like Otto Porter Jr., who is playing like his life on the line. He’s shooting .529 from the field and a league-leading .460 from beyond the arc.
Washington is 5th in scoring, 3rd in field goal percentage, 5th in three-point field goal percentage and 18th in turnovers. They are one of the two teams who look like they are ready to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Contender: Boston Celtics-
The Boston Celtics are having a great season this year, that’s because of 5’9″ all-star phenom Isaiah Thomas. He’s averaging 29.6 ppg and 6.2 apg, and he’s also garnered league-wide consideration as the most clutch player in the NBA this season.
The Celtics are arguably a complete team in the NBA right now. They have the defense, scoring ability, and grit. They have an all-star coach in Brad Stevens, who’s making all the right in-game decisions on the floor. Boston has all the right keys to be successful in the playoffs. They are first in free throw percentage, third in three points shot made and third in assists.
After adding 4-time all-star Al Horford, to the roster in the offseason the Celtics have had a lethal stretch center. Horford can shoot all over the floor, especially after he further developed his three-point shot to his. He’s shooting .338 from beyond the arc.
The Celtics play the Cavaliers Wednesday night and Deron Williams will make his debut tonight for the Cavaliers.
Pretenders: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers can beat the San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game series, but they can’t manage to beat the top team in the West. LA’s kryptonite is the Golden State Warriors. Golden State has lost to the Clippers in a neither a playoff series nor regular season game since 2014.
Los Angeles didn’t add anything spectacular to the roster this year to help fight off those Warriors demons. At the beginning of the season, the Clippers looked promising, but the injuries started to pile up quite quickly. The Clippers lost Blake Griffin, then Chris Paul to injuries. Both players are now back playing on the court, after a full three months of not being on the court together.
The Clippers have the right players to execute, but they cannot beat the Warriors even if their lives were depending on it.
Pretenders: Oklahoma City Thunder-
Yes, yes, yes, yes…… Russell Westbrook is having an unbelievable season! He’s having a career season! He’s having a historical season! Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, and doing it damn near by himself!
Even though Westbrook is doing amazing things, the star help is nowhere to be found on this team. OKC just traded for a sharpshooter in Doug McDermott, as well as a solid mid-range shooter Taj Gibson. But that’s still not enough help to take down the Spurs or Warriors.
OKC will be one of the best team in the Western Conference if they can find Westbrook a star.
Contenders: Houston Rockets
Who would’ve guessed that the Rockets would be in third place at this point of the season, much less that they’d house the two best bench players in the entire Association on their roster?
The Rockets were already potent on offense, but they added more power by trading for Lou Williams. Williams was the leading scorer on the Los Angeles Lakers and he was LA’s, sixth man.
Mike D’Antoni reached James Harden full potential by starting him as the point guard and it worked. Harden is averaging 29 Ppg, 8 rebounds and 11 assists per game. His ability to pass the ball gets the whole team involved. That’s why supporting players like Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson are performing great this season.
Their season series against the Warriors is tied at 1–1, and the Rockets have enough shooters to stay with the Warriors. The only knock is that their defense is killing them.
The Rockets are second in scoring, first in three-pointers made and second in assist per game.
Contender: San Antonio Spurs-
The Spurs are probably the team with the best shot to take down the Golden State Warriors this season.
San Antonio has a one of kind team and always in the playoff picture. At least as long as Greg Popovich is coaching they do.
The Spurs play hard-nosed defense and Kawhi Leonard is the man leading the pack on both ends of the floor. Leonard is the perfect player to put up against star caliber swingmen like Kevin Durant and LeBron James. When Tim Duncan retired, Leonard became the leader of the team. Leonard is averaging 25.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game
San Antonio is currently in control of the second seed of the Western Conference standings, and they have the depth to go to war with just about any team in the NBA.