With just a handful of games left in the NBA season, many teams are primed to make a late push up the standings, while others are just trying to coast into the playoffs as healthy and rested as possible.
Additionally, with the award races wrapping up, many players are trying to make a case for an all-NBA appearance, DPOY award, or even an MVP.
Here are my three predictions for the final 10 games of the season:
Boston Wins the One Seed Over Cleveland
At this point in the race for the one seed, Cleveland and Boston are nearly tied at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Celtics, who only have eight games remaining, are playing their best basketball of the season. Cleveland on the other hand, has continuously been on a downward trend for what feels like the whole second half of the season.
The Celtics have finally had a healthy Avery Bradley for a long stretch of games, and you can see how this team is clicking at just the right time. As I wrote in my previous post, Bradley and Isaiah Thomas have played well together. The Celtics are winning a lot of games as a result, going 8-2 in their last ten games. Al Horford has also improved his offensive efficiency, which he has credited to taking less three point shots.
Cleveland on the other hand, has struggled with consistency all season, and has found themselves on somewhat of a downward spiral for the last month. Since Feb. 28, the Cavs have gone 7-9, only winning back-to-back games once during that 16 game stretch.
With only nine games left for the Cavs, expect them to rest players and experiment with lineups as they head into the playoffs. Cleveland knows that they should focus on how they’ll be playing in late May, and likely won’t push too hard in order to maintain home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Boston, is ready to make it’s first late playoff run since the Big 3 era, and they know that having the home-court edge over Cleveland could possibly be the difference. So far in the season series between these two teams, the home team has gone 3-0, so perhaps having a game 7 in Boston will be the difference.
Miami Earns the 5/6 Seed
The Miami Heat have been the hottest team (no pun intended) in basketball since the start of 2017. Miami has gone 25-13… yes 25 and freakin’ 13, since Jan 1. After starting off the season 10-25, Miami went on a 13-game win streak in January, and then followed it with an 8-4 run over the next 12 games.
They’ve cooled down slightly over the last few weeks, winning six of their last 10 games, losing their most recent two games to Boston and Toronto. Despite this, they’re only two-and-a-half games out of the five seed in the east, where Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Indiana are in a three-way tie for that spot.
Atlanta has lost three of its last 10, and appear to be on the downturn heading into the playoffs. Milwaukee has been on a decent hot streak as of late, and they do have a favorable schedule coming in, only playing three games against teams currently in the playoffs. Indiana has lacked an identity all season, and don’t appear prepared at all to make a late playoff run.
All these factors considered, there is no reason why Miami can’t jump at least two of these three teams and get a first round matchup against either Washington or Toronto. As a fan of the Celtics, the last thing I would want is play against Miami in round one.
Kawhi Leonard Becomes the MVP Frontrunner; Spurs Get the One Seed
The Spurs have lingered behind the Warriors in the standings; being far enough behind to give Golden State some breathing room, but close enough to keep them competitive. Kawhi Leonard has been doing the same but with MVP race. With only a handful of games remaining in the season, this is the perfect time for the Kawhi and the Spurs to make a late run to the promised land.
I am writing this late Thursday night, right after the Cavs v. Spurs game in which San Antonio dominated all four quarters and went on to win by 29 points. The Spurs are only two games behind Golden State for the top spot in the Western Conference, and have consistnely kept the Warriors honest by breathing down their throat in the standings.
With nine games left, Golden State also has some very tough matchups coming in. They play Houston twice, San Antonio (which could ultimately put them at a tie in the standings if they lose to the Rockets Tuesday night), Washington and Utah.
Although it appears James Harden is only moving closer and closer towards his first MVP trophy, do not overlook Kawhi in these final nine games. If San Antonio manages to steal the one seed, than Kawhi stealing the MVP trophy is just as likely.
To this point, Kawhi has already gained a decent amount of MVP buzz, so if the Spurs can finish the season winning 14 of their final 15 games, it would certainly elevate him to at least the second favorite behind Harden, if not make him the co-favorite.