Teams Fight for Their Lives as Playoffs Near
As we're just over a week away from seeing the new play-in format the NBA has decided to go with this season, it means that teams are vying to be in the top 10 in their respective conferences to keep their postseason dreams alive.
We have seen LeBron James make public statements opposing the new format even though it was unanimously approved by the NBA Board of Governors last year. It's understandable that James would have negative feelings about the new format as his Lakers have struggled throughout the season as both him and superstar teammate, Anthony Davis, have dealt with injuries which have caused them to miss significant time.
The Lakers are currently in the seventh spot in the west which puts them in line to host the Golden State Warriors in one of the Western Conference play-in games. This is an exciting matchup for fans, but it would put LeBron and the Lakers directly in the sights of MVP frontrunner Steph Curry.
Steph who missed most of last season with an injury is epitomizing what it means to have a comeback season and has overtaken Bradley Beal for the league lead in points per game, now averaging 31.9 on the year. He also leads the NBA in three pointers made by a wide margin. Curry has 324 made threes which is 55 more than Buddy Hield who comes in at second place currently with 269.
Klay Thompson every time Kerr pulls Steph Curry before he breaks his record 😂😂😂 https://t.co/3Vt7NJyV8R— ᕼᗝᗝᗪᎥᗴ 𝙇𝘽𝙅 ➐ (@ᕼᗝᗝᗪᎥᗴ 𝙇𝘽𝙅 ➐) 1620534236.0
It's not that the Warriors are a more difficult matchup than what would've been the Lakers' first round opponent in a traditional format where they would have just faced the two seed in the first round, that's not the case.
That would put the Lakers right up against the Phoenix Suns who have shocked the basketball world all season behind the play of Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
Yahoo Source: Lakers star LeBron James (ankle) has had two “really good days of workouts at a high level” and feels… https://t.co/BjAlbmo41E— Chris Haynes (@Chris Haynes) 1620656452.0
It's that now, there is a very real chance that we may see a team that has the likes of LeBron James, AD, and a handful of all-stars not making it into the postseason. This is a very bad look for the King if it were to happen. So it's possible that his recent negative comments about the new format is in a way, him doing some preemptive PR in the event that Los Angeles does have to participate in the play-in games and they don't make it past that round.
If the standings remain the same at the end of the regular season and we get a Lakers and Warriors play-in game, it makes for an interesting matchup as the Lakers boast the league's best defensive rating (tied with the 76'ers) but have struggled to get any of their scorers in sustained stretches of success. The Warriors on the other hand lead the league in assists which has always been a staple of the Steve Kerr led team. It would make for an excellent example of what wins between isolation offense and team ball.
Looking over to the Eastern Conference there is another team lurking to steal a playoff spot and disrupt some plans in the early rounds of the playoffs. The Washington Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the league since early April. That's when Bradley Beal returned from a nine game absence. With a full compliment of Beal, Russell Westbrook, and Daniel Gafford available the Wizards are a dangerous team, especially in a play-in game format.
Russell Westbrook tonight: 33 points 19 rebounds 15 assists 181 career triple-doubles And the game winning b… https://t.co/EY8HacJseY— NBA Central (@NBA Central) 1620524700.0
The only problem for the Wizards is that news has come out that Beal may miss the rest of the regular season with a hamstring injury. MRI's came back negative for any significant damage, but it's enough that he's being held out for the next few games until there's a chance to have further analysis done. That's not to say he wouldn't be back in time for a potential play-in game or the playoffs, but the team will monitor his situation with caution as he is the catalyst for the team's long term success.
Did Steph Curry know Bradley Beal scored 50 points earlier today before the Warriors tipped off tonight? Steph: "Of course I did." 🤣— Drew Shiller (@Drew Shiller) 1620536014.0
If Beal is ready to go however we recently saw Washington go on a 15-4 run since April 7 and there may not be two players in the league that play with a bigger chip on their shoulder than Bradley Beal and Russ. By adding an athletic big man that can get to the rim in Gafford, the Wizards have just enough ammunition to make the top contenders in the east very nervous.
Daniel Gafford (7-7 FG) scored 15 points and blocked three shots in 15 minutes tonight! #WizPacers | @Dan_G33 https://t.co/7hkZMxOYmF— Washington Wizards (@Washington Wizards) 1620097359.0