Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

5 Things to Watch in The NBA’s Final Two Weeks

While we all enjoyed the first two weekends of March Madness, the best part of the basketball year is right around the corner with only two weeks remaining in the NBA’s regular season. The next two weeks are a time of great optimism for some and a great relief for others. For those who are fans of a handful of teams around the association, now is the time to watch your team prepare for what will hopefully be a deep playoff run. For fans of teams in the lottery, what has been a long five months will soon be over, and the hope of nabbing a high pick in this year’s draft becomes top priority.

The last day of the NBA regular season is Wednesday April 15th, and while there have been many surprising stories so far this season, the playoff and offseason pictures are far from being clear. Here are five things to keep an eye on as the 2014-15 NBA regular season comes to a close:

5 Things to Watch in The NBA’s Final Two Weeks

1) West Playoff Picture – 2/3/4 seeds

We all know about the strength of the Western Conference this year and that playoff picture is full of teams with championship aspirations. The West is loaded with talented teams and has featured heavyweights battling it out all season long. What will be the most interesting development in the West will be which team is able to land the second seed. The Golden State Warriors have clinched the top seed, but who finishes behind them will be in a much better position entering the playoffs. While theoretically five or six teams are in play for any of seeds 2 through 7, the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Los Angeles Clippers probably have the most realistic chance of finishing behind Golden State. Why is finishing second so important? Aside from home court advantage in a second round series, the second seed in the West would likely get to face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round while avoiding San Antonio. As it sits today, whoever finishes third would have a match-up against the sixth seeded Spurs. As much as they have struggled this season, no team wants to face the Spurs, especially in the first round. They will likely be looking at as healthy a roster as they have had all season and be out to prove that they are still the same team from a season ago. Another one to watch will be who finishes with the 4/5 seeds as well, as they would likely avoid San Antonio. The 4/5 match-up will likely feature Portland, a team that, despite winning a playoff series last season, would not be as daunting to face as the defending champions. Keep a watch on how the seeds unfold out West.

2) East Playoff Picture – 8 Seed

The Eastern Conference playoff picture is not without its own drama, as at least four teams have a shot at getting into the playoffs as the eighth seed. Granted, sneaking into the playoffs as the final seed in a horrifically weak East isn’t the greatest accomplishment, but the teams playing have a lot of pride and want that playoff spot. Brooklyn has been playing well as of late and are probably the favorites to take the spot, but Boston has come on strong since the trade deadline and Indiana could possibly make a run if Paul George is cleared to come back this season. The team who gets into the playoffs will likely end up losing in the first round to Atlanta, bringing up the old question of whether it is better to bottom out or to field a team that is a fringe playoff contender? However the bottom half of the East playoff picture turns out it will have implications for the lottery and for teams’ draft picks, many of which are protected on various levels. The outcome of this year’s regular season could impact the futures of some of the teams involved in the playoff race, which makes watching it unfold all the more interesting.

3) Rookie of the Year Race

While the clear favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award this year is Andrew Wiggins of Minnesota, who I fully expect to win, there race hasn’t been as much of a runaway as it might seem. Wiggins has been fantastic and had stretches where it looks like he will be an all-star player in the future. If the voters of the award were to focus on defensive play and defensive metrics, Nerlens Noel of Philadelphia would take home the award. If the award were to go to a rookie who has made an impact for a team that is in the playoff picture, Nikola Mirotic would be the favorite. Noel has been a defensive force this season after missing last season due to injury. He leads all rookies in rebounding, blocks, and steals. He is also sixth in the NBA in defensive win shares and fifth in defensive plus/minus. He is not only the best defensive rookie, but one of the better defensive players in the NBA. Mirotic has come on strong late in the season after struggling early. There were times earlier in the season when he struggled to find the court, but Tom Thibodeau has given him important minutes and he has been productive. Mirotic has led the NBA is fourth quarter points per game in March for a Bulls team that is fighting for playoff positioning. While Wiggins has become the likely winner of the award after the season ending injury to Jabari Parker, Noel and Mirotic have made it an interesting race after what looked like a runaway vote. These rookies are some players to celebrate as their seasons come to an end.

4) Russell Westbrook’s Stats

After locking up the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs and the NBA’s best record, Golden State’s Steph Curry will likely win the NBA’s MVP award over other contenders James Harden, LeBron James, and Russell Westbrook. I wrote recently why the MVP Award does not really matter, and that we should appreciate the greatness of the players that are playing today. With that in mind, what Westbrook has been able to do this season in the absence of reigning MVP Kevin Durant is something that we may never see again. The historic run of Westbrook has been covered in detail by lots of writers this season. His statistics and his usage are at historic levels this season. What he has accomplished in terms of production, far and away leading the league in triple doubles, has not been done since Michael Jordan. Some may not like the way he plays or his attitude at times, but he is the most exciting player in the NBA right now athletically and arguably on any level. What he is able to do at his size as a player is unprecedented. We have witnessed one of the most impressive and unique seasons ever by a guard. While the Durant injury may have doomed OKC’s hopes at a long playoff run, we will still get to witness one of the best NBA players today in his athletic prime during an historic season for anther two weeks and a likely playoff collision with the likely MVP Curry in the first round.

5) Race for the Top Lottery Pick

The NBA draft looks to have some high calibre players in the lottery this year and this NBA offseason should be full of intrigue, as three of the NBA’s biggest markets will likely be among the teams with the worst five records in the league. The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Philadelphia 76ers are all lottery teams. The Lakers have a top-five protected pick that they would obviously love to keep for their rebuilding efforts and to add a young player to join Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Philadelphia has been a perennial lottery team for awhile now, but they have a good young tandem of Noel and Joel Embiid. If they land a high pick they could use it as trade bait or to acquire another young star in the making. The Knicks obviously have been struggling and are in need of a major makeover. Phil Jackson needs some young talent to build a team around. Minnesota is also in the running for a high draft choice. If they get a top pick they could construct a talented young group around Wiggins, Rubio, and a top player from this year’s draft. All of the questions will be asked once we see the final standings and each team knows its odds of getting a top choice. Where teams finish will have big implications for the lottery and the teams’ futures. This will some something to keep your eye on these final two weeks.
Whether you’re rooting for your team to win and get a good playoff seed or to lose to get a good draft pick, the final two weeks of the NBA season has something for everyone. As we look forward to the playoffs, these are just some of the storylines to watch out for until April 15th.


More Posts

Send Us A Message