The best month in the Basketball calendar is here!
For College Basketball fans, this is basketball heaven, as the NCAA Tournament is fast approaching and survive and advance games are all it’s about!
The time has come for the NBA to have its own version of March Madness, as we have hit panic mode for a few teams, especially with the introduction of the Play-In tournament!
Most teams have just over 20 games to play in the regular season, and it looks as if only Phoenix (leading Golden St by 6 games) have their 1 seed sewn up!
Miami currently lead the Bulls by a game out East, and only 5 games separate 1st and 6th in the Eastern Conference.
The red hot Boston Celtics will be shaking their heads at a couple of recent losses, going down to the likes of the Pistons and Pacers, wins you just have to have this late in the season!
Given how poor they were at the start of the season, the Celtics are 1.5 back of the Cavs (4th) in 6th position, and are chasing Philly for the Atlantic Division title (2.5 games back).
As hot as they’ve been, they only lead Toronto and Brooklyn by 2 and 3 games respectively for a spot in the Play-In tournament, so now isn’t the time to be complacent!
The Play-In tournament in the East currently features some very strong teams.
Toronto sit pretty currently in 7th spot, 5.5 games ahead of the 11 seeded Washington wizards, and 3.5 ahead of the 10th seeded Atlanta Hawks.
At this stage, Toronto will face off against Brooklyn (1 game back) for a guaranteed spot in the playoffs, with the loser facing the winner of Charlotte and Atlanta for an 8 seed.
It’s hard to see the likes of Washington or New York making a run at the Play-In tournament, with the Wizards playing without Beal for the remainder of the year, and the Knicks going back to being the Knicks this season!
Out of teams currently inside the top 6 in the East, you could only make the argument that Miami and Chicago are all but locked into the playoffs.
Chicago have the 3rd toughest run home, but leading the 7th place Raptors by 6 games with 20 games left has them in a good enough spot, especially with DeRozan (DeMVP) playing at an MVP Level!
Cleveland still have to face Philly 3 times, the Bulls twice and the Bucks, all teams vying for a top 4 spot in the East.
As good as the Cavs have been this season, they and the Celts appear the 2 most likely to dip into the Play-In spot if the Raps (24th toughest remaining schedule) and Brooklyn (18th toughest remaining schedule) make a strong playoff push!
The Western Conference has a clear “Big 3”, with Phoenix, Golden State and Memphis well ahead of the pack.
Utah have suddenly got healthy at the right time of the year, and they look to have rounded out the Top 4 in a very tough conference, with home court advantage huge down the stretch!
Dallas are somehow kicking along in 5th spot, as Luka Doncic in any other year would be deep in the MVP conversation, has averaged 34 points per game of late and came up huge in a big win at Golden State today!
Now for the Play-In conversation out West, and at the beginning of the season, no one saw these two teams featuring heavily here.
Both the LA Clippers and the LA Lakers sit 8th and 9th respectively, but you could forgive the Clippers for being in this spot.
The Clippers have been without their star duo Paul George and Kawhi Leonard for the vast majority of the season, so the fact they’re still in this conversation is incredible in itself.
Ty Lue should be in the conversation for coach of the year, as they sit just 1 back of a young and hungry Minnesota team in 7th position, where the Lakers now only have a 2.5 game lead on the Pels and Blazers in 10th and 11th.
The Lakers are coming off an embarrassing home defeat to a rejuvenated New Orleans Pelicans team, who since acquiring CJ McCollum at the deadline (STEAL!), have looked a far different outfit.
The Lakers have the 2nd toughest remaining schedule, having to face Phoenix twice, Golden State twice, Denver twice, as well as Utah and Philly (and you can’t forget Cleveland).
They also face off against the Pels twice, a team vying for that 9th spot (and home court) in a match up with the 10 seed going into the Play-In.
It wouldn’t be outlandish to think this Lakers team could slide on out of the Play-In tournament the way they’re playing, as well as not having the services of Anthony Davis for at least another month.
We all know how good LeBron is, but with some young teams coming up on him to finish this season, the Lakers look like a team who are a 9-10 seed at best and won’t be making the Playoffs this season!
New Orleans have a fairly cruisy home run in, and if they can somehow get Zion back on the court before the end of this season (doubtful), it’s game on for a team playing with a lot of confidence.
Portland have the easiest remaining schedule, and as long as they can take care of business against a few other teams vying for a Play-In berth (Spurs 3 times as well as the Pels twice), the ball is in their court.
Portland won’t have the services of Damian Lillard (out injured) who has no return date set for him, as well as losing Jusuf Nurkic for a month.
One thing the Blazers have going for them (apart from their home stretch) is that this team plays incredibly hard. They’re a young team playing with nothing to lose right now given no one expects them to make it without Dame, so look for Anfernee Simons to have a huge run home!
We can draw the line at the Spurs, who sit 3.5 back of 10th spot.
Putting a line through the Spurs would be a mistake though, given how well this team is coached and the run in this team has to finish the season.
They also play teams multiple times that are in the Play-In conversation, facing the Blazers 3 times as mentioned above, and the Pels twice.
Some people are critical of the Play-In tournament, giving teams 9-10 another life at making the Playoffs when they weren’t originally in the final field to begin with.
But that’s what makes “March Madness – NBA Edition” so exciting now to finish the season!
There are no more dead games at the back end of the season for these teams fighting for a spot to make it, and it’s going to be wild to see how this all plays out!