The playoffs will be upon us shortly, and it’s looking like these are going to be some of the most competitive, talent-filled playoffs in NBA history. While some teams are in a position to win it all this year, there are lots of young teams that aren’t going to the Finals, but could still cause trouble in the early rounds. Today, we’re looking at 10 big questions surrounding NBA teams, the playoffs, and the play-in.
Will Kawhi Leonard Return?
Paul George recently made his return to the Los Angeles Clippers against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, dropping 34 points and leading the Clippers back from a 25-point deficit. PG-13 looked like himself again, nailing threes and showing his athletic prowess. The Clippers have been holding themselves over as an 8th seed during his absence, with guys like Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Nicholas Batum, Terrance Mann, and Norman Powell stepping up in the meantime. Without the two superstars, the Clippers are an 8th seed. With George back, their ceiling gets raised even higher, but what if Kawhi Leonard comes back?
If Leonard comes back during the playoffs, then the Clippers are once again a championship contender. The team might need some time to gel as a whole, but no team with George and Leonard healthy can’t be called a championship caliber team. Plus, Leonard will become the GOAT of Load Management, if he can miss all 82 regular season games and play in the postseason.
Update since I first wrote this: there’s video footage of Leonard working out for the Clippers. He quickly told everyone in the practice facility to turn off their cameras, but here’s the link to what we did see. Also, some tweets have been tweeted by reporters who watched Leonard workout, and they were all positive. None reported seeing much hindrance related Leonard’s injured leg.
How Far Will the Grizzlies Go?
The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the more interesting teams in this year’s playoffs. They currently hold the 2nd seed in the Western Conference, with a record of 55-24. They’ve proved they’re one of the best teams in the Western Conference this year, with and without Ja Morant. The question really is, how far can they go?
The Grizzlies are a great, young team, with guys like Jaren Jackson, Jr, Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, and Steven Adams, but with the exception of Adams, they have no playoff experience. Playoff basketball is also a lot slower than the tempo in the regular season, although not as slow as Kyle Anderson‘s jump shot. It’s going to take a lot of adjustment on the Grizzlies’ part, and the play-in teams are really good this year. There’s a legitimate case for them to be upset in the first round, as well as for them to nearly make it to the Conference Finals. So many question marks!
Can Utah’s Stars Coexist?
There have been some reports that recently came out regarding Utah’s two All-Stars, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Apparently, they aren’t on the best of terms, and this shows on the court, as Mitchell passes to Gobert an average of two times per game! Twice! Gobert averages the most screens of any NBA player, which means he has to be open more than two times per game. At this point, it seems personal.
Head coach Quinn Snyder heard these remarks, and spent most of a 19-minute press conference pointing to why their relationship is fine. He’s also pointed to the fact that Mike Conley handles the ball more often as to why Mitchell’s pass numbers are so low. That makes sense, but still, two passes to Gobert per game?
In addition to the relationship between the stars, Utah’s defense has been exposed when other teams go small, leaving Gobert with a helpless mismatch on the wing. This has been their downfall for the past two years, and it’s worth wondering if Gobert (or Mitchell) will leave Utah sometime soon, or at least request a trade.
Oh, and here’s Mitchell’s response to the two passes per game stat:
What NBA Players are Vaccinated (Toronto Raptors Series)
Vaccine mandates have been lifted in (I think) every playoff team’s home arena. That means that players like Kyrie Irving can play in all games, both home and away, with one exception. Toronto still has a vaccine mandate at their stadium, and because Canada’s rules are different, it doesn’t matter if you’re a home or away player; if you’re not vaccinated, you’re not playing.
The Boston Celtics played the Raptors on March 28th, and lost 115-112. Marcus Smart led the way for the Celtics with 28 points and 10 rebounds, but there was something very interesting about that game; Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford did not play. Were the Celtics resting their players, or are all three unvaccinated? While it’s likely the first option, this game raised some eyebrows. ESPN recently asked the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference (Miami, Milwaukee, Boston, and Philadelphia) if their teams are fully vaccinated. Miami and Milwaukee responded in the affirmative, and Boston and Philadelphia declined to comment; however, 76ers’ defensive stud Matisse Thybulle has been ruled by the team as ineligible to play in Toronto. Whoever plays the Raptors in the playoffs will likely be missing a player or two (and if the 76ers are missing Thybulle, that’s not good). Could this swing a series? We’ll have to wait and see.
What’s Dallas’ Ceiling?
The Dallas Mavericks have been playing great basketball since the trade deadline, when they acquired Davis Bertans and Spencer Dinwiddie in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis. Bertans hasn’t changed much, but Dinwiddie has thrived and looks like his old self, playing alongside Luka Doncic. Dinwiddie’s points per game jumped from 12.6 in Washington to 16.4 in Dallas. His field goal percentage jumped from 37.6% to 49.3%, and his three-point percentage spiked from 31% to 38.9%; that’s the difference between subpar and nearing elite.
The question is, how far can the Mavericks go? Every year they’ve made the playoffs with Doncic has ended in a first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. But, if we look at the current playoff seeding, it appears as though Dallas will face the Utah Jazz in the first round. I do think the Mavericks are capable of winning that series, especially if Doncic plays his best basketball. The Mavericks also have Dwight Powell, a solid rim-runner who can match up decently with Gobert. Or, just play small ball and run them out of the building.
If they can beat the Jazz, it looks like they’ll be playing the Phoenix Suns, because chances are the Suns will win their first round matchup. Can Doncic and Dinwiddie beat Devin Booker and Chris Paul? I highly doubt it, unless there’s an injury to a key Suns player and/or Doncic goes supernova and averages a 40-point triple-double. It looks right now as if Dallas’ ceiling is a second-round exit, but you never know what can happen when Luka Magic is in the air.
Can James Harden and Joel Embiid Coexist in the Playoffs?
When both are giving their full effort and are healthy, the Embiid-Harden duo is my favorite in the entire NBA. Harden’s never played with a center as gifted as Embiid; Embiid’s never played with a guard who’s as talented at putting the ball in the hoop; however, we have to wonder just how far this team can go in the playoffs. Harden can be very inconsistent in the playoffs, and his nickname is “Small Game James” for a reason (and that reason isn’t because James Worthy is known as “Big Game James”). I know Embiid will do whatever it takes to win; he’s serious about that.
I think a lot of how this team does in the playoffs will depend upon how consistent Harden is. At his best, he took the Houston Rockets to the Eastern Conference Finals with CP3. At his worst, he scored four points against De’Aaron Fox and the Sacramento Kings. Harden also has to do things like move off ball and set screens for his teammates, as well as hustle on defense if he wants to succeed. And Embiid is difficult to contain; they have to be constantly looking for one another.
Is Zion Williamson Coming Back?
Previously, we all thought Zion was done for the entire season, and that his future with New Orleans was up in the air. While that last part may still be true, we may actually see Zion team up with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram for the Pelicans to go on a mini playoff run. The reason we know this is based on these comments made by Lee Anderson, Zion’s stepdad, on The Jordy Culotta Show:
“I expect him to play. If you were to ask Zion, I’m sure he would probably say the same thing. But with just a couple of games left, with the magnitude of what’s going on in New Orleans and the opportunity to qualify for the play-in game and possibly get into a seven-game series, that would be off the charts in the city of New Orleans. That would be a plus in New Orleans. That would be a plus for Zion with the way things are right now.
“Do I expect him to play? Certainly I do. That’s on me, though. That’s purely me. I don’t think there’s anything else that would hinder him from doing that right now.”Lee Anderson
I really hope these comments are true. I can’t wait to see Williamson on a basketball court again (we’ve already seen him dunking), and this would at least give the city of New Orleans something to hope for.
Will the Warriors Be Healthy?
This is one of the biggest questions regarding the playoffs. With a healthy squad, the Warriors are loaded; MVP Stephen Curry, All-Stars Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins, and young big man James Wiseman coming back. This team is easily a championship contender if they’re all playing together and playing good basketball, but injuries have derailed the season. It took Thompson half of this year to get back, and when he did, Green was injured. Green was also injured more recently, but has come back.
On March 16th against the Celtics, Curry sprained a ligament in his foot, which is going to keep him out for the remainder of the regular season. However, Head Coach Steve Kerr has recently said Curry’s progressing, stating, “He is on the court getting shots up. He’s been able to ramp things up a bit.”
If Chef Curry can’t swing a playoff series, then nothing can. Curry’s ability to play can make the Warriors championship contenders, or a first-round exit. We’ll have to wait and see how he progresses. Get better Steph!
Will Time Lord be Back?
Robert Williams was the key to the Celtics’ number one rated defense, so it’s not difficult to see why it was such a big deal when he tore the meniscus in his left knee. Nearly all of Williams’ game comes from his athletic ability, and how he’s able to elevate and move quickly. This is also the first injury that Williams has ever had.
Coach Ime Udoka recently gave Celtics fans some good news, saying about Williams, “We left him back in Boston to kind of expedite the process, although he could have done it here. He’s a guy who’s locked in with the guys, so it’s better to leave him (in Boston) and get the process rolling as fast as possible. He’s in really good spirits. His first surgery — so he’s attacking it with the right mindset. Looking forward to having him back sooner than later.”
A torn meniscus generally takes 4-6 weeks to recover from, meaning Williams will be out for the remainder of the season and the first round. However, if his rehab progresses quickly, there’s a chance he could be back by the second round. I don’t doubt the Celtics will win their first round matchup, but they’ll likely be facing the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second round. The Celtics need Williams to even stand a chance against the championship-proven Bucks.
Can the Nets actually make it to the Finals?
The last 8th seed to ever make the NBA Finals was the New York Knicks in 1999, led by Latrell Sprewell. The last 8th seed to ever upset a number one seed in the first round was the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors in 2007, who were pitted against MVP Dirk Nowitzki. Since then, neither of these feats has occurred.
History isn’t on the side of the Nets.
While they’ll likely get the seventh seed in the playoffs, there’s a chance they could lose to a young Cavaliers team with Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, and Caris LeVert. If that’s the case, then the Nets are an 8th seed team, giving them a first-round matchup against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. Ben Simmons isn’t coming back during the playoffs, and while I want to believe in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they’ve got a long road to reach even the Eastern Conference Finals. The east is the deepest it’s been in years, but if they can make it to the Finals, I feel like there will be a fair amount of people who aren’t that surprised. Either way, the Nets are one of the big question marks in this year’s playoffs.
Those are my thoughts; what about yours? Don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!