With just under a month left in the regular season and the playoffs fast approaching, a few teams have clinched their playoff spots already while the others continue to compete. As the league still awaits the return of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Donavan Mitchell, the race for the playoffs is tightening up.
While it is hard to pick a clear favorite to walk away with the title, the few teams that have clinched playoff spots seem to still remain in the best odds to be holding the trophy up by the end. For now, that team is the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix clinched their playoff spot after a key 109-101 victory against the Clippers on Wednesday night.
1.) Phoenix Suns (43-18), clinched a playoff spot
Phoenix has emerged this season into the full blistering sun after their impressive play in the bubble last season. At 43-18, the Suns earn the number one spot as they took down the third spot Clippers 109-101 Wednesday night, clinching their way into the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Phoenix is playing their best basketball this season and will need to continue their play as they come down to the final stretch of games this season despite already making it into the playoffs. With one of the top defenses and a top 10 offense, there is no reason to believe that Phoenix couldn’t make a decent push in the playoffs next month.
Up Next: @ OKC, @Cleveland, @Atlanta
2.) Brooklyn Nets (42-20), clinched a playoff spot
The Nets were the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the East to solidify their spot at number two in the power rankings. With key wins against the Suns, Celtics, and Raptors, Brooklyn looks to be the top contender in the Eastern conference despite the 76ers being only one game back in the standings. When you have a healthy Kevin Durant paired with a healthy Kyrie Irving, you should be beating any team by ten plus.
While the Nets lack defensive help which could be a problem in the playoffs, if they manage to get James Harden back by playoff time, Brooklyn will be primed and ready to be the favorite in the East to make the Finals.
Up Next: @Milwaukee, @Milwaukee, @Dallas
3.) Utah Jazz (45-17), clinched a playoff spot
The Utah Jazz is the perfect example of a team not exploding with star power but rather excellent team play. The Jazz was the first team in the NBA to clinch their playoff spot and are only a game ahead of the Suns in the Western Conference. Despite the close race, the Jazz is still winning games behind good defense and efficient team-oriented offense until star guard Donavan Mitchell returns from his ankle injury.
Going forward, the Jazz takes on much of the “middle of the pack” teams in the NBA but has a key matchup with the Nuggets on Friday, May 7th. Utah has put their name back on the map with essentially the top-ranked defense and a top-five offense. If the Jazz can close out the regular season atop the West, get Mitchell back, they will be a team worth watching come playoff time.
Up next: vs. Toronto, vs. San Antonio, vs. San Antonio
4.) LA Clippers (43-21)
The Clippers fall to the fourth spot simply because they have yet to clinch their playoff spot. The Clippers have played quite well despite the absence of Kawhi Leonard winning four of their last six games but will have a few tough games going forward. The Clippers have the number one offense in the NBA alongside a top ten defense, keeping them in games overall. When it comes to clinching their playoff spot, LA will be tested in the coming weeks as they will host a tough Denver team as well as the Lakers and streaking Knicks.
If the Clippers manage to come out of that stretch of games unscathed, they might find themselves jumping up in the rankings as well as the conference standings overall.
Up Next: vs. Denver, vs. Toronto, vs. Los Angeles
5.) Philadelphia 76ers (41-21), clinched a playoff spot
Some might say the Sixers are not as good as advertised after losing four games in a row recently but this is not the case. They happened to be missing their three top players in that four-game stretch leading to holes in the offense and defense. When the Sixers have their full starting lineup healthy, they are a scary 20-4 and easily one of, if not the best team in the East.
Fortunately for Philly, they have the easiest remaining schedule of the top three teams in the East, and only four of the remaining 12 games are against teams with winning records. For Philly to jump back into a top spot in the East, which is only one game out, they will need to take advantage of their easy remaining schedule and hope Brooklyn loses a few.
Up Next: @ San Antonio, @ Chicago, @ Houston
Next 5 Teams
The final five in a top ten list for this week is no list to throw out the window when it comes to playoff competition:
- 6.) Denver Nuggets (41-21)
- 7.) Milwaukee Bucks (38-23)
- 8.) New York Knicks (35-28)
- 9.) Tie between the Lakers (36-26) and the Mavericks (34-27)
- 10.) Memphis Grizzlies (31-30)
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Stats from espn.com and nba.com