Who is best in the West? Previewing the NBA playoffs


Source: NBA.com

With the NBA playoffs rapidly approaching on April 16, teams are making one last playoff push. While the seeding in the Eastern Conference is mostly set, the Western Conference features an intense race for the final three playoff spots. Here is what to look for in the final stretch of the regular season.

Teams that have disappointed toward the end of the season are the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans. As the tight records in the Western Conference cause constant seeding changes, teams from the sixth to twelfth seed need to win as many games as possible to make the playoffs or the play-in tournament. 

The play-in, a single-game elimination tournament between the seventh to tenth-seeded teams, was introduced during the 2020 season to give competitive teams a higher chance to make the playoffs. Teams in the ninth and tenth seeds would have to win two consecutive games to secure a playoff spot. This is especially relevant this season in the Western Conference as there are eight teams vying for three playoff spots. 

While being in the seventh or eighth seed used to guarantee a spot in the playoffs, teams in those spots will now have to play additional games against teams with similar records. 

“I think the play-in tournament is good for the NBA’s competitiveness,” Eddie Chu (11), avid NBA fan, said. “It gives a chance to teams that are close to making the playoffs to get in.”

The Warriors, even after the return of Stephen Curry from injury, have lost their last three games. They currently stand at the seventh seed, qualifying them in the play-in tournament. This is especially disappointing as they won the championship last season. 

“Although [the Warriors] had a major downfall from last year, they are still in the playoffs,” Eddie said. “I think this shows the huge impact that players like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have on the team and how their injuries had an effect.” 

Despite a strong start from the Pelicans this season, injuries to their players, including young star Zion Williamson, derailed their season and placed them two spots from the play-in. However, they still have 11 more games to get back into the playoffs. 

On the flip side, there have been numerous teams making a successful playoff push to end the season. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder have both elevated their play in the last games of the season. 

The Lakers have won six out of their last 10 games. Despite an injury to Lebron James putting him out of commission for three weeks, the team’s role players have shown their chemistry and shooting proficiency. In fact, players acquired at this year’s trade deadline—Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley—have been instrumental to the team’s recent success. The Lakers will need to continue winning crucial games to close out the season as they currently sit at the tenth seed. 

“I think the Lakers’ trade was extremely solid because they got rid of Russell Westbrook who got in the way of the team’s spacing. Now they added some three-point-shooters and some defenders to the team and I think they got more energy,” Jeffrey You (11), a follower of the NBA, said. “I think they have a bright future for the playoffs and they can create a duststorm in the playoffs.”  

Oklahoma City’s success comes this season as a pleasant surprise as many expected the team to fall into obscurity after a pre-season injury to rookie and second-overall draft pick Chet Holmgren. However, the Thunder have seen 24-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander blossom into a bona fide star and propel them to a near playoff berth. Having won seven of their last 10 games, the Thunder have seen notable contributions from their youth Josh Giddey and Luguentz Dort. 

None of the play-in contestants are set in stone and there are numerous key games that will shape the final standings for the season in the coming weeks. However, the prospects in the play-in tournament have increased the competitiveness and entertainment value of the late-season NBA and the race for the playoffs.