A lot of ifs and buts

I have been out of the hospital for over a month since my quadruple bypass done early March and even as I am recovering, I am still confined to the house for all my wounds to completely heal.

But so far this week, I have been doing around close to a total of 5,000 steps every day, walking in our small village in Taguig. Other than that, I remain inside the house with what to do as the biggest challenge.

One good thing though is the amount of time I can spend watching TV, including following the NBA games. Even as the PBA is still unsure of its second bubble conference with the surge of COVID-19 cases, NBA teams are already girding up for the playoffs with several trades consummated before the deadline. Nothing super special, unless you look at Andre Drummond, now with the Lakers and Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldrige, who signed up with the Nets from Detroit and San Antonio, respectively.

So who do I think will be the playoff-bound teams, dividing them into certain, probable and possible, but with a lot of ifs and buts?

Looking at the current standings as of this writing, allow me to make my normal fearful predictions starting in the Eastern Conference.

Shoo-ins in the Top 4 in the conference are the 76ers and the Nets, more so if a healthy Kevin Durant returns to Brooklyn, same with James Harden. Without them, the ream is still tied at the top with the 76ers at 37-17. The premise, of course, is the core group of Philadelphia, led by Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, stay healthy all the way.

At third are the Bucks (33-20), who are sure for the Top 4, but the fight begins for the 4th slot with the Hawks (29-25), the Heat (28-25), the surprising Hornets (27-25), the resurging Celtics (28-26) and the more surprising team, the Knicks (28 -27) at number 8. 

I like Trae Young and the Hawks, but I believe Jimmy Butler and the Heat will take the 4th slot, while the Hawks, the Hornets, with Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward (Hayward is sidelined for at least four weeks with a right foot sprain – Ed) at the helm, the Celtics of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and the Knicks with Julius Randle, will slug it out for the ranking. 

In the end though, I look at the 76ers, the Nets, the Bucks and the Heat remaining, no matter who they play.

The Jazz, reliving the days of Karl Malone and John Stockton in the 1990s, this time with a balanced team and a deep bench, will remain no. 1 in the Western Conference. I will not be surprised at all if they go all the way to the finals, with Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson playing a key role as the 6th man.

On the other hand, Chris Paul has proven time and again that he can make any team he joins into a contender. His leadership resonates well with the young Suns, now at 2nd with a 38-15 record to Utah’s 40-14.

But with Kawhi Keonard and Paul George emerging as one of the league’s top duos, I think the Clippers, will end up in second place .

The Nuggets (34-20) of Nikola Jokic (Jamal Murray is out for the season with an ACL injury – Ed) will have to contend with a slew of teams including the Lakers (33-21), especially if Anthony Davis, long missing in action, and LeBron James, out for several games already, see action together. If they do, the 4th slot is still possible for them.

But do not count out the TrailBlazers (31-22) of Damian Lillard, more so with the return of his backcourt partner CJ McCollum. This team, at its best, can beat any team.

Luka Doncic, the cornerstone of the Mavericks, are in 7th with their 29-24 record, while Ja Morant has led his team to eighth place at 27-25.

Still in the running, though, are the Spurs (26-26), the Warriors (26-28) of Steph Curry and the Pelicans (25-29) of Zion Williamson.

I give the Jazz, the Clippers, and the Suns, the top 3 slots, the rest can fight it out for the remaining playoff slots, all the way to the Warriors, but only if rookie James Wiseman recovers in time.

Of course, my prediction is based on several ifs and buts, particularly on the health of the teams’ key players.

Now, let us wait and see.

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