2019 NBA playoffs

February 18, 2019

OF course, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers won't be there if the NBA 2019 started today.

At 28-29,  the Lakers are living dangerously in 10th place in the wild, wild West.

If  you’re a  Laker fan, the good news is that they are only 2.5 games behind   the LA Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot with 25 games to play.

Can you imagine the NBA playoffs without LBJ?

But that’s another story.

For now,  we take a look at how the playoff picture looks like before  the  All-Star break.

East

1. Milwaukee (43-14)  vs. 8. Detroit.(26-30).

Led by three-time All-Star Giannis  Antetokounmpo, the Bucks own the league's best record at 43-14 win-loss.

That included a sweep of all four games against the Pistons, two of them by 23-point routs at home.

Antetokounmpo,  nicknamed  the  “Greek Freak”, is  averaging career-highs of 27.2 ppg, 12.7 and 6.0 apg in his sixth season in the league.

But the Blake Griffin-led Pistons can't worry about a potential first-round matchup against the Bucks yet.

They have to worry more on the Miami Heat, who hold the same 26-30 record,  and even the Orlando Magic (27-32), who remain within striking distance.

Prediction:  Bucks

2. Toronto (43-16) vs. 7. Charlotte (27-30)

At 43-16, the Raptors  know this is their best chance to finally rule the East, especially with James moving to LA. Toronto is ready. The Raptors have assembled enough weapons -- Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry,  Serge Ibaka and new addition Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin -- to go all the way to the finals.

Leonard, who won an NBA championship with the  San Antonio Spurs in 2014, leads Toronto with 27.0 ppg and 7.7 rpg in 43 games.

But it was the entry of Gasol,  a one-time defense player of the year, and Lin,  a reliable playmaker,  that makes Toronto an even dangerous team come playoff time.

Charlotte’s biggest star,  Kemba Walker, will have work cut out for him to give the Hornets a fighting chance against the Raptors.

Prediction:  Raptors.

3. Indiana (38-20) vs. Brooklyn (30-29).

Victor Oladipo maybe out for the season due to injury, but the Pacers are loaded in almost all positions.

Bojan Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison and Tyreke Evans average in double figures for the Pacers to make up for Oladipo's loss.

The six Pacers may not be enough for a deep run in the playoffs,  but they should have no problem in the first round.

Brooklyn’s main weapon is first-time All Star D’ Angelo Russell,  who is playing his best basketball since being shipped from LA.

Russell is averaging team-best 20.3 ppg and 6.6 apg in a breakout season  that earned  him  All-Star  selection as  a replacement for Oladipo.

Newly-crowned NBA All Star Three-Point King Joe Harris will provide able support with  his 13.9 ppg for the Nets.

Prediction:  Pacers

4. Boston (37-21)  vs. Philadelphia (37-21).

Although the Celtics have already beaten their Atlantic Division  rivals  76ers in three of four meetings this season, longtime NBA fans  know the playoff matchup  would be a lot different once these two teams meet in the first round.

Kyrie Irving and his green-clad  friends would surely find life a lot harder if they get to play against Joel Embiid and his pals in the playoffs.

Both the Celtics and the 76ers hold identical 37-21 records with a fourth and last meeting scheduled on March 30 in Philly.

Expect Irving (23.6 ppg, 6.9 apg), Jayson Tatum (16.5 ppg,  6.3 rpg), Marcus Morris (14.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg),  Al Horford ( 12.1 ppg) and Jaylen Brown (12.7 ppg) to take the  game to another level in the playoffs.

For the 76ers, Embiid (27.3 ppg, 13.5 rpg), Jimmy Butler (18.8 ppg),  JJ Reddick (18.6 ppg),  Tobias Harris (17.8), Ben Simmons (16.8 ppg), Robert Covington ( 11.3 ppg) and Dario Saric (11. 1 ppg) are the men to watch.

This could be the most exciting matchup in the East.

Prediction:  76ers

Next:  The West

NOTES --  Congratulations to the Tabloid Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS), which celebrated its first year anniversary last Feb. 10.  The new media sports group is composed of sports editors,  sportswriters, columnists  and photographers from the country's leading tabloids.