The 2021-22 NBA season has been an interesting ride, expected powerhouses have underperformed and struggled, while young and exciting teams have risen to the top.
With the NBA playoffs just around the corner, there are twenty teams ready to take their chance to win it all. Every NBA post-season there are always four types of teams heading into the playoffs. The Contenders, Pretenders, those flying under the radar, and those there to make up the numbers.
Unlike seasons gone by, there are no clear front runners. Multiple teams have the potential to walk away from this season as champions.
Reigning Champions the Milwaukee Bucks led by 2x MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo the defending champs will be confident they have what it takes to go back to back this year.
The top seeded Phoenix Suns were the first team to clinch a playoff spot, holding the best record in the league. Coming off their finals loss last season, and led by All-Stars Chris Paul and Devon Booker, the Suns may be ready to go one better this year.
The Eastern Conference leaders the Miami Heat, led by All-Star Jimmy Butler, are locked and loaded to bounce back to their 2020 heights when they reached the Finals.
The Boston Celtics had a very slow start to the season, raising questions of their star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Now, the Celtics are 2nd in the East and the most in form team in the league, the Celtics will be a very dangerous team heading into the playoffs.
Another team trying to get back to their previous heights, the Golden State Warriors are back around the top of the league after a couple of injury riddled seasons. Sitting 3rd in the Western Conference, three time Champions Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson with the assistance of young players Jonathon Kuminga and Jordan Poole are ready to play for a 4th Championship in since 2015.
A team with much less Finals experience than those previously mentioned, the Philadelphia 76ers are a dangerous team to face. Led by MVP favourite Joel Embiid and with the addition of former MVP James Harden, the 76ers may just have the best duo in the league heading into the playoffs.
Arguably the most interesting team heading into the playoffs is the Brooklyn Nets. With seven time All-Star Kyrie Irving now allowed to play home games the Nets’ chances have increased dramatically and with the newly acquired Ben Simmons and former MVP Kevin Durant, the Nets will have their eyes set on a championship.
‘Pretender’ is not what you want to be known as heading into the playoffs, although the label may not be too far from the truth for some. Teams may have a good regular season run earning themselves a high seed, but that doesn’t always translate to a good playoff run.
Currently the 2nd seed in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies have been a surprise packet this season. A young roster led by MVP candidate Ja Morant may have overachieved and therefore potentially won’t live up to the expectations their 2nd seed possesses.
Another strong regular season team that may fail to meet expectations during the post season are the Chicago Bulls, who began the year in superb form on the back of All-Stars Zach Lavine and Demar DeRozan, holding the 1st seed in the East for some time. Although now, after multiple injuries to pivotal players like Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, the Bulls have slipped down to 5th in the East struggling against opposing top teams.
The Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz are sitting 4th and 6th respectively, both with good regular season records in the Western Conference will have a hard time winning 4/7 games in a series against the three teams seeded above them.
Under the Radar
The league has been close this season, so it hasn’t been surprising that teams have flown under the radar.
The Denver Nuggets led by reigning MVP Nikola Jokic are currently sitting 5th in the West without two of their top players in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Their post season success will heavily rely on the health of their roster. If healthy, the Nuggets have the potential to do some damage in the playoffs.
At the start of the season not many predicted the Cleveland Cavaliers would be in playoff contention, let alone a lock for the playoffs. With a young roster and the emergence of first time All-Stars Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen, the Cavs should not be taken lightly this postseason.
Although a not so impressive regular season record, the Charlotte Hornets have the potential to cause an upset. Led by first time All-Star LaMelo Ball, the Hornets have five players that have averaged 15+ points per game, the most in the league.
Making Up the Numbers
In a league where only teams can make it to the postseason, there are teams that just won’t be able to compete with the contenders.
Although beating the Los Angeles Lakers to take the last spot in the Western Conference Play In, the San Antonio Spurs are just not good enough to contend and will likely miss the Playoffs.
Hit heavily by injuries and with their two stars spending majority of the season on the sideline, the Los Angeles Clippers will most likely make up the numbers this postseason. That being said if the Clippers can get both their superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back in time they may be dangerous.
Despite some strong regular season campaigns, the Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves lack the talent and so won’t be able to trouble many teams in the playoffs.
Other lower seeded teams such as the New Orleans Pelicans and Atlanta Hawks will struggle to make an impact in the playoffs.
From a non bias standpoint, hopefully we’ll see some upsets during this postseason. Everyone loves an underdog.
In a perfect world the Brooklyn Nets vs Los Angeles Lakers finals series would be the dream, although impossible due to the Lakers struggles.
A realistic finals prediction this year would be a rematch between 2021 finalists with the Milwaukee Bucks taking on the Phoenix Suns, with the Bucks winning in a winner take all 7th game.
The best part of the NBA playoffs is that anything can happen, teams can rise or fall and everything said prior to the playoffs is just speculation. All we can do as fans is sit back and enjoy the month of action approaching.