IT’S still a little too early, but the NBA playoff positioning is fast shaping up in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference.
While the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets are locked in a tight battle in the East by winning 34 games each, the Utah Jazz are sitting pretty in the West with a 38-11 record and three and a half games advantage over the Phoenix Suns.
Defending champions Los Angeles Lakers and runner-up Miami Heat, however, remain dangerous despite their recents struggles.
Despite playing minus LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the newly-signed Andrei Drimmond due to injuries, the Lakers are 31-19 with still 22 games left.
The Heat are 26-24 following a four-game winning streak.
An interesting addition to the format in this coronavirus-marred season is the play-in tournament to be participated by teams ranked No. 7-10.
That means any of the teams currently outside the magic eight can still make it to the playoffs of the shortened season.
If the NBA playoffs started today…
No. 1 Philadelphia 76ers (34-16) vs. No. 8 Boston Celtics (25-25)
Despite MVP candidate Joel Embiid missing several games due to injury, the 76ers have lived up to high billing so far with 34-16 win-loss record.
The 76ers have also beaten their Pacific Division rivals, Boston Celtics twice already, 117-109 and 122-110, with Embiid leading the way.
The All-Star center finished with 42 points and 10 rebounds in leading the 76ers over the Celtics last Jan. 20. He repeated the trick with another monster 38-point, 11-rebound performance two days later.
Backing up Embiid were Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons,Seth Curry and two former Lakers veterans, Dwight Howard and Danny Green.
The 76ers look to complete a sweep on April 6.
Boston’s biggest hopes remain to be Jayson Tatum (25.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.3apg), Jaylen Brown (24.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.6 apg) and Kemba Walker (17.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg,v3.6 apg) and the newlt-acquired Evan Fournier (18.6 ppg, 3.4 apg),
No. 2 Brooklyn Nets (34-16) vs. No. 7 New York Knicks (25-25)
Brooklyn, the newest NBA super team built around Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin should be favored to win it all.
But the Nets and coach Steve Nash also know talents alone are not enough to win championships.They have 22 more regular-season games to tie up the loose ends and work on team chemistry before the real battle starts.
So far, the Nets have managed to win two pf three games against the Julius Randle-led Knicks, 116-109 and 117-112 with the third one coming up.
No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks (32-17) vs No. 6
(6) Charlotte Hornets (25-24)
With the Bucks and two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo winning seven of their last 10 games to move within one and a half games pf the 76ers and the Nets, the battle for supremacy in the East should be a lot more exciting.
Antetokounmpo, the “Greek Freak“, is averaging team-highs 28.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. His season-high tying 47 points on 18-for-21 shooting to go worth 12 rebounds also propelled the Bucks to a convincing 127-109 win over the Portland Trailblazers and Damian Lillard last April 2.
Two-time All-Star Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague and Brook Lopez should provide the much-needed support for the Bucks, who are chasing their first NBA title since 1971.
The Hornets, sixth in the East with 25-24, can boast of a 126-114 win over the Bucks last Jan.30 with two more games coming.
Gordon Hayward, who is expected to miss four weeks due to injury, should be back in time for the playoffs.
No. 4 Atlanta Hawks (26-24) vs. No. 5 Miami Heat (26-24)
The Hawks and Trae Young and the Heat and Jimmy Butler have identical win-loss records of 26-24.
They split their first two games with the Heat taking the first match, 109-99, and the Hawks taking the second game, 94-80. They are also both on a winning streak — three for the Hawks and four for the Heat.
If these two teams went on to meet in the first round, the match up should be a close one.
Young should play big for the Hawks, along with veteran Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela John Collins and Lou Williams.
Butler needs consistent support from Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Andre Iguodala and new recruit Victor Oladipo.
Next: The wild, wild West.
NOTES — Happy birthday to my first son, John Michael, who is celebrating another good year on Tuesday, April 6…
Birthday wishes, too, to my brother-in-law Ramon Ypil of NAPOLCOM, who will turn another year on April 8.
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