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NBA Playoff Challengers in 2016-17

As the NBA regular season winds down, many teams are already lottery bound and ready for the 2016-17 NBA season to start next fall. There are already 11 teams mathematically eliminated from winning this year’s championship. Washington will soon likely add to this number if they lose another game. There have been disappointments this season (cough, New Orleans, cough) and big surprises (Portland) that make the NBA season so much fun. Let’s take a look at teams that are already going to miss the playoffs this year that will be NBA playoff challengers for a spot next season.

Orlando Magic

I wrote about Orlando’s hot start earlier this season and correctly predicted their eventual downfall. The team is 13-31 in 2016 and is not playing good basketball. Losing Tobias Harris was a blow to the team’s young core, but there is still hope for the future. Nikola Vucevic is already a very good NBA player. The loss of Harris has freed up more time for second-year player Aaron Gordon to develop. Elfrid Payton has also been racking up assists in the second half and looks like a capable NBA point guard. Another summer playing together should help Orlando tremendously. Orlando could sneak into the playoffs next year if progress is made in the off-season and the team makes a few additions to the bench and drafts another good player.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota has arguably the best core put together for future success. Back-to-back number one picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are progressing very nicely. Wiggins is up to 20.8 points per game while Towns is averaging a double-double at 18.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Add in the emergence of Zach LaVine and this team is built for the future. Even Shabazz Muhammad is showing signs of life off the bench. The talent was on display in their overtime victory over Golden State two nights ago. Minnesota currently has the fifth worst record in the NBA, so a high draft pick will follow the conclusion of the season. Add in another young star (Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray?) and this team could fight for a playoff berth as early as next season.

New Orleans Pelicans

A team predicted by many to finish in the middle of the Western Conference playoff seeding, New Orleans has been ravaged by injuries and disappointing play. This was supposed to be the year Anthony Davis took the MVP and put New Orleans on his back. Instead, he has not been able to do that as New Orleans is currently 29-48 and lottery bound. While Davis is averaging 24.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, he has a non-existent supporting cast due to injuries. Eric Gordon has only played in 45 games, Tyreke Evans in 25 and Norris Cole in 45. New Orleans also is not playing much defense this year and opponents are scoring at will. However, if New Orleans can get healthy and add a few new players to the rotation, expect a playoff run from AD and crew.

Which team could surprise in the NBA playoffs? in LastWordOnSports’s Hangs on LockerDome


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