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The Rambler

The Rambler

The Rambler

Awards & Recognition

Edinboro University & Northwestern Pennsylvania High School Journalism Competition: First Place (Daniel Anthony, Opinion Category); Fifth Place (Brendan Jubulis, Sports)

Edinboro University & Northwestern Pennsylvania High School Journalism Competition: Third Place (Website)
Student Keystone Press Awards Honorable Mention (Website)

Edinboro University & Northwestern Pennsylvania High School Journalism Competition: Third Place (Website)

NBA season enters final month


It’s been a while since the last NBA article, and that was around the start of the season. A lot has changed in the basketball landscape since then. Blockbuster trades, young stars, and crazy plays have highlighted the past four months of basketball. Injures have hampered certain teams’ momentum, while new paths of success have opened for others. The question still begs: how have the 30 NBA teams shaped the current landscape of the race to the playoffs as of April 22?

Eastern Conference

Detroit Pistons
Current Record: 18-41; 15th in East, 5th in Central Division

Let’s start with the team with the worst record in the NBA, the Detroit Pistons. The team was already a mess even before they let go of Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, and it’s probably gotten worse since then. The team is average defensively but most of the team’s struggles are on the offensive side of the ball. They just don’t have the star power that most teams have to compete, even in the weak Eastern Conference. The highlight of their season has been the emergence of Jerami Grant, who is averaging 22.6 points during an All-Star caliber season. Saddiq Bey, a rookie from Villanova, has also been one of the more underrated rookies this year. He’s averaging 11.3 points in 25 minutes per game. Nineteen-year-old center Isaiah Stewart has had some flashes of potential as well.

Orlando Magic
Current Record: 18-40; 14th in East; 5th in Southeast Division

What a trade deadline it was for the Magic. They dealt their three best players in Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, and Aaron Gordon to Chicago, Boston, and Denver, respectively. That’s three-fifths of their starting lineup traded away. The notable players they got in return: Gary Harris and Wendell Carter Jr. Yikes. Both are good ballplayers, but the team is already gutted and is more than likely out of the playoff hunt. It doesn’t help considering the team has been ravaged by injuries with Cole Anthony missing time and Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac out for the season. The team just snapped a six-game losing streak against the Bulls, but Orlando should still be looking to the lottery and next year’s draft.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Current record: 21-37; 13th in East; 4th in Central Division

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the worst offensive team in NBA basketball. That’s not opinion, either, because the numbers back it up. They rank dead last in points per game and second-to-last in offensive rating this season. The Cavs botched the Andre Drummond situation and got tons of backlash over it, and they still have not traded Kevin Love. Their future confuses me, but what does not confuse is the future of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. The two have quietly made their names as one of the more underrated guard duos in the league. Sexton is averaging 24.2 points per game on a 48 percent field goal percentage. Garland is coming into his own, as well, averaging 17 points per game and leading the team with 5.9 assists. Although rookie Isaac Okoro is still finding his strides offensively, he has shown he can be one of the top defenders in the league.

Chicago Bulls
Current Record: 24-34; 12th in East; 3rd in Central Division

The Bulls have been struggling in terms of records, and are in desperate need of a jolt for the play-in tournament. The star of the show is still Zach LaVine, who has been carrying the team to relevance these past few years. Chicago eventually got him a star teammate by acquiring Orlando’s All-Star center Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline. LaVine has been stellar, averaging 27.5 points per game on 50.6 percent from the field and shooting 41.6 percent from three. However, the former Dunk Contest winner will be out due to health and safety protocols. The Bulls live and die by Zach LaVine, so it will be up to the rest of the roster, led by Vucevic, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, and rookie Patrick Williams to continue the team’s momentum up until LaVine’s return.

Toronto Raptors
Current record: 25-34, 11th in East, 5th in Atlantic Division

The Raptors are in a bad spot as of late. After back-to-back years of being at the top of the Eastern Conference and even winning an NBA Championship two years back, the team has been involved in a freefall in the Eastern Conference. The losses of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol have really hurt the team’s defense, going from top three in the league to around the middle of the pack. There were rumors of Kyle Lowry being traded, but instead it was Norman Powell who was traded. Toronto ended up getting back guard Gary Trent Jr. from the Trail Blazers for the aforementioned Powell, and Trent has been putting on a show. In 11 games, the third-year guard from Duke has been averaging 17.4 points on 44.3 percent shooting in 34 minutes played. Alongside two 20-points-per-game scorers in Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, solid three-and-defense player OG Anunoby, and the big man tandem of Chris Boucher and Aron Baynes, Nick Nurse’s Raptors could make a push for the play-in tournament at best.

Washington Wizards
Current record: 25-33; 10th in East; 4th in Southeast Division

The Washington Wizards made a bold preseason move to trade longtime point guard John Wall to the Rockets in exchange for former MVP Russell Westbrook. Pairing him with one of the best shooting guards in the league in Bradley Beal, the Wizards had some expectations to compete for the playoffs in East. That has not been the case, even with a late season surge after a terrible start to begin the year. The Wizards are second-to-last in points allowed per game. However, Beal and Westbrook have been performing well, with Beal second in the league in points per game. Because of the duo’s performance, the Wizards have won eight of their past nine games and are inching closer to a possible spot in the playoff play-in tournament. 

Indiana Pacers
Current Record: 27-31; 9th in East; 2nd in Central Division

The Pacers have always felt like one of those teams that are always one step away from achieving top status in the NBA. They have a well-rounded roster with the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Doug McDermott, and the recent return of Caris LeVert, who they acquired from Brooklyn in the James Harden trade. The same problem in their team is like with the Raptors; team defense worsened. Following the departure of head coach Nate McMillan, the team went from the third and sixth in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons to 22nd this year. It didn’t help that valuable forward T.J. Warren will be out for the remainder of the season, but despite that, Indiana should still be in a pretty good position to compete for the postseason via the play-in tournament.

Charlotte Hornets
Current record: 28-29; 8th in East, 3rd in Southeast.

The recent resurgence of Charlotte basketball has got to be in part to the offseason the team had. Bringing in Gordon Hayward as a free agent and drafting LaMelo Ball has done wonders for James Borrego’s squad. They aren’t flashy in terms of offensive or defensive ratings, but they have been playing to a point where they are well in reach of a playoff spot. The biggest problem irking the team as of late has been the dreaded injury bug. Although two important pieces in Devonte’ Graham and P.J. Washington are listed as day-to-day, Gordon Hayward will miss some time after injuring his foot. Fortunately for Hornets fans, Rookie of the Year candidate LaMelo Ball could return to action as soon as in a week following a wrist injury. Once Graham, Washington, Ball, and Hayward return, the Hornets will be as close to fully-loaded as they can be for a potential postseason berth.

Miami Heat
Current record: 31-28; 7th in East, 2nd in Southeast Division

Another team hit by the injury bug, the defending Eastern Conference Champions got off to a rough start before catching some fire here and there. The defensive unit is one of the best in the NBA, but the offense has been struggling throughout the season. However, when fully healthy, the Heat are a team with incredible depth both offensively and defensively. Miami is still led by the ever-ferocious Jimmy Butler, who is averaging 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. Alongside him is the emerging Bam Adebayo, who puts up 19 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. Adebayo even hit a game-winning shot against one of the top teams in the NBA in the Brooklyn Nets recently. The team retains most of their NBA Finals core with Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Goran Dragić, and Andre Iguodala. They also recently acquired former Pacers and Rockets star Victor Oladipo, but he is dealing with injuries. When at full strength, expect the Heat to be a team to watch out for in the playoffs; most of their core still has that Finals experience.

Boston Celtics
Current record: 31-27; 6th in East, 3rd in Atlantic Division

The Celtics had a very rough start to the season; most were already putting head coach Brad Stevens on the hot seat. Fortunately for Celtics fans, the team has started to click at just the right time. They went on a six-game win streak and, at one point, won eight of nine games, including wins against New York, Portland, Denver, Golden State, and the Lakers, all playoff-quality teams. They are led by the young one-two punch of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, both of whom are 25-points-per-game scorers. Kemba Walker has struggled, but he remains a valuable asset as the veteran leader of the team. Marcus Smart remains a top-notch defender in the NBA. Evan Fournier, recently acquired from Orlando, is starting to come into his own. Tristan Thompson makes for a solid big man. The bench is strong, featuring the likes of Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, and Semi Ojeleye. The uncertainty surrounding the Celtics has been eased for the time being; the team is starting to come together at, again, just the right time.

Atlanta Hawks
Current record: 32-27; Fifth in East, First in Southeast Division

When people talk about teams finding the right coach, this is what they meant by those teams. After a 14-20 start under Lloyd Pierce, the Hawks replaced him with former Pacers head coach Nate McMillan, and that move has worked wonders. Under McMillan, Atlanta has gone 18-7, and the team is improving defensively and is still loaded with scorers. At the top of that list is 3-point specialist Trae Young, who is averaging 25.4 points and 9.5 assists per game. John Collins is still there as one of the top scoring power forwards in the league, but his lack of defense is made up for with Clint Capela at center. Kevin Huerter is still a solid shooting guard, and the bench is highlighted by Bogdan Bogdanović, Danilo Gallinari, and the former L.A. Clippers guard Lou Williams. Once De’Andre Hunter and Cameron Reddish return from their injuries, which should be very soon, the team will be locked in to make a postseason run.

New York Knicks
Current record: 33-27; 4th in East; 4th in Atlantic Division

Yes, you heard that right; the New York Knicks are back to relevance. Following a disastrous string of underperformance, draft lottery heartbreaks, and general mediocrity, the Knicks have finally broken the barrier and are back into the playoff picture. Led by former Bulls and Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks are currently the top-ranked defensive unit in the NBA. Their lackluster offense is made up for by virtue of the team’s stifling presence on defense and aggressive play style that so many Thibodeau teams are known for. Leading the pack is All-Star Julius Randle, who has been tearing it up with 23.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. Just last week, Randle put up a monster 44-point, 10-rebound, 7-assist performance on the road at Dallas. Backing him up is a solid supporting cast led by young star R.J. Barrett, solid starters Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock, and solid bench pieces in Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley. Starting center Mitchell Robinson is out indefinitely with a fractured foot, but Nerlens Noel has played well in his absence. Coach Thibs has the Knicks rolling, and optimism for Knicks fans has not been this high since the days of Carmelo Anthony or maybe even the days of Ewing, Starks, and Oakley.

Milwaukee Bucks
Current record: 35-22; 3rd in East, 1st in Central Division

Now comes the top of the food chain in the Eastern Conference. Last year’s top team, the Bucks, are still as dangerous as ever. The reigning back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has been stricken with injuries this season, but he is still as lethal an NBA superstar as ever, putting up 28.4, 11.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.3 blocks a game this season. Backing him up are former All-Stars Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, both solid scoring options and great defenders. Rounding out the starting lineup is Donte DiVincenzo and Brook Lopez. The bench is solid, as well, boasting Pat Connaughton, Bobby Portis, D.J. Augustin, Bryn Forbes, and Jeff Teague to round out the squad. While the two teams ahead of them in the East are really good, don’t sleep on the league’s top-scoring team and the reigning MVP.

Brooklyn Nets
Current record: 39-20; 2nd in East; 2nd in Atlantic Division

All things considered, especially their roster, the Brooklyn Nets should be the best team in the entire NBA. There are two reasons that could be at fault for this: injuries and defense. The Nets have had to deal with their fair share of injuries, with a lot of involving stars Kevin Durant or James Harden. LaMarcus Aldridge, who the team recently acquired after he was released by the Spurs, retired due to health conditions. The defense has also been a massive issue, with the team ranking towards the bottom of the league in points allowed per game. However, these issues are matched by two important things in the NBA: offense and star power. The Nets rank second in points per game and offensive rating. The offensive success can obviously be attributed to the Nets’ big three: Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. All three average over 25 points per game, and even when one or two of the three are off their game, expect the other two or one to pick up the slack for them. Brooklyn also has some solid role players, such as Joe Harris, Jeff Green, Bruce Brown, DeAndre Jordan, and Landry Shamet. Unfortunately, it looks as if the big three will be held off a little bit longer, as Durant rests up and Harden suffered a “setback” while rehabbing a hamstring injury. If the team is fully healthy come playoff time, it might just end in a championship for these Nets.

Philadelphia 76ers
Current record: 39-19; 1st in East, 1st in Atlantic Division

As the East’s top team, this might be the closest that the Sixers can get to an NBA Championship. Led by former Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Philadelphia has finally emerged as contenders. Leading the way is MVP candidate Joel Embiid, who is having a career year with 30 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks a game. Behind him is the versatile Ben Simmons and emerging second-option scorer in Tobias Harris. Seth Curry and Danny Green are also two great three-point shooting options that Embiid has so desperately required. The bench is also phenomenal, featuring Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott, Dwight Howard, and Tyrese Maxey. The team has all the pieces of the puzzle; now all that’s left is for Embiid and company to lead the Sixers to their first NBA Finals appearance since 2001.

Western Conference

Houston Rockets
Current record: 15-44; 15th in West, 5th in Southwest Division

It has been just an overall disastrous season for the Rockets. Even the Texans falling apart at the seams couldn’t keep the eyes of the inner management war between the Rockets and James Harden. The Rockets eventually traded Harden to the Nets and acquired some nice pieces, such as Victor Oladipo…only to go on to trade Victor Oladipo. Makes sense, I guess. John Wall has had a nice rejuvenation season since his devastating injury a couple of years ago, putting up 20.4 points and 6.7 assists a game. Christian Wood has played well with 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 block per game. Since being let go from the Cavaliers over a locker room dispute, Kevin Porter Jr. has been playing well for Houston, averaging 16 points and 6 assists. Rookie Jae’Sean Tate has also been making a name for himself as an All-Rookie type player; the former Ohio State Buckeye has been playing almost 30 minutes per game while playing in all of the Rockets’ 58 games. Tate is averaging 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds while playing some solid defense on top of it all.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Current record: 16-44; 14th in West, 5th in Northwest Division

Once again for the Timberwolves, it’s injuries that continue to hold them back. Karl-Anthony Towns has missed quite a few games this year, and D’Angelo Russell can’t seem to stay healthy. Even when dealing with injured players, the Wolves’ roster right now just isn’t at best capacity to compete for the playoffs. The team is bottom ten in the league in both points scored and points allowed per game. The one bright spot has been rookie sensation and 2020 #1 overall pick Anthony Edwards. Although struggling from the field, shooting just 39.7 percent from the floor, Edwards has turned in some dazzling performances. His 42-point performance against the Phoenix Suns comes to mind. This Minnesota roster is still young and developing, and with the right coach, you could expect to possibly see the Wolves to compete in a few years.

Oklahoma City Thunder
Current record: 20-39; 13th in West, 4th in Northwest Division

This team is the epitome of playing around in MyLeague on NBA 2K and trading everyone on your team for draft picks. The goal of general manager Sam Presti and the Thunder is purely rebuild and building around young stars. They started off strong, but since losing young star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, they have lost 11 games in a row. The Thunder traded Chris Paul and Steven Adams in the offseason, two vital pieces to their playoff run, and that lack of a pick-and-roll presence has really hurt them. Outside of SGA, the team is fairly flaccid on offense besides the emergence of a solid scorer in Luguentz Dort. But that’s besides the team’s worries. Oklahoma City will have a whopping 18 first-round picks in the next seven years. The goal is to rebuild, and the Thunder have done a good job of leading towards that.

Sacramento Kings
Current record: 24-35; 12th in West, 5th in Pacific Division 

Like most Luke Walton-coached NBA teams, the Kings suffer from playing solid offense with terrible defense. Sacramento is top ten in points per game and twelfth in offensive rating, but the Kings are dead last in points allowed per game and defensive rating. Point guard De’Aaron Fox has emerged as an underrated star, putting up 25 points and 7.2 assists a game. Veterans Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield have been solid scoring options, and rookie Tyrese Haliburton has been a solid presence off the bench. They need to figure out Marvin Bagley, though. Yes, he’s currently out with an injury, but even before that, he wasn’t putting numbers expected of a number two pick.

New Orleans Pelicans
Current record: 25-33; 11th in West, 4th in Southwest Division

The Pelicans are another case of great offense and bad defense for another NBA team. They are sixth in the NBA in points per game and bottom five in points allowed. If anyone has ever seen Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy’s postgame rants about the team defense, it’s not hard to understand why. The team is absolutely loaded with offensive talent with the forefront consisting of young stars Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Ingram was already a force offensively with his long frame and ability to score from everywhere on the court, but Zion has evolved into an unstoppable force. The former number one pick and Duke Blue Devil has been putting up almost 27 points per game on 61.7 percent shooting and is a dominating presence on the court with his insane strength and athleticism. New acquisitions Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams have let the younger guys play their game and played more for the team with their pick-and-roll ability. The bench is probably the biggest issue with two key components in Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart out with injuries.

San Antonio Spurs
Current record: 28-29; 10th in West, 3rd in Southwest Division

Like any San Antonio team Gregg Popovich ever coached, the Spurs will always be in contention for the playoffs. The team is most well-rounded defensively, with a good rotation that is solid enough for a spot in the play-in tournament. DeMar DeRozan still leads the charge with 21 points and 7 assists a game. Point guard Dejounte Murray has been playing exceptionally well, boasting great defense along with 15.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. Young players such as Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson have emerged as solid scoring options. If Coach Pop’s team can hold out the last stretch of the regular season, they can be eligible for the playoffs in the play-in tournament

Golden State Warriors
Current record; 29-30; 9th in West, Fourth in Pacific Division

Without the presence of Klay Thompson, it’s up to Stephen Curry to lead the Warriors back to the playoffs after a disappointing season last year. However, that’s no small task for the former back-to-back MVP, who has been having one of the best seasons of his career. Curry has been putting up an insane 31 points per game on 62 percent field goal efficiency percentage. Although the future Hall of Famer has been dominating and keeping the Warriors in the playoff hunt, the rest of the team will have to follow his lead in order to go far in the postseason. Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green have been playing fairly well, but Kelly Oubre Jr. will also have to follow his lead to help out Golden State. Unfortunately, top rookie James Wiseman will be out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. The Warriors also have a solid bench featuring Damion Lee, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, Kent Bazemore, and Kevon Looney. If injuries are nullified, the Warriors could be a threat in the play-in tournament and maybe the playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies
Current record: 29-28; 8th in West, 2nd in Southwest Division

One of the more underrated offensive teams in the NBA, Memphis is a team that is well-coached and unselfish. They are obviously led by number two pick Ja Morant, who is one of the premier young point guards in the league averaging 19 points and 7.4 assists a game. The rest of the starting lineup includes Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Grayson Allen, and Jonas Valančiūnas. They also have a solid bench Brandon Clarke, Desmond Band, Tyus Jones, Xavier Tillman, and De’Anthony Melton. The one knock on the Grizzlies’ play this season has been the lack of another quality second option alongside Morant. It would be Jaren Jackson Jr., but he’s been out for the entire season following a torn meniscus. Fortunately, word is that Jackson Jr. will soon return to action after being listed day-to-day on Tuesday. Getting him back before playoff time will be a huge development for the Grizzlies.

Dallas Mavericks
Current record: 31-26; 7th in West, 1st in Southwest Division

The Mavericks have lived and died by one man: Luka Dončić. It’s practically obvious to everyone that the team relies on Luka’s continuing development, and he has already established himself as one of the pure best players in the NBA, averaging 28.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 8.7 assists. The problem with Dallas has been the constant question marks about the health of Kristaps Porzingis. But when in the floor, KP has played well with around 20 points and 9 rebounds per game. The rest of the lineup is comprised of Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Maxi Kleber. The bench is also solid with Tim Hardaway Jr., Jalen Brunson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dwight Powell, and Trey Burke. If the Mavericks hope to go deep into the playoffs, then Luka and a healthy Porzingis will have to take them there.

Portland Trail Blazers
Current record: 32-26; 6th in West, 3rd in Northwest Division

The Trail Blazers have been playing some really solid basketball, but again, it’s another case of really good offense saving a team’s lackluster defense. Portland ranks top 10 in points per game, but 25th in points allowed. Obviously, their offense is led by the lethal backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. With the addition of former Raptor Norman Powell, the three could become one of the best pure scoring trios in the league. Enes Kanter has been filling in at center nicely while Jusuf Nurkić remains out of the lineup here and there. The other starters include Derrick Jones Jr. and Robert Covington, both nice pieces for the team. The bench consists of Carmelo Anthony, Rodney Hood, Anfernee Simons, and Nassir Little. If Lillard, McCollum, and Powell can click together with their teammates and help carry the rest of the load, then Portland has a chance to go deep into the postseason.

Los Angeles Lakers
Current record: 35-23; 5th in West, 3rd in Pacific Division

The team that has been struck the worst by the injury bug is the Los Angeles Lakers. The defending champs have has to deal with lingering injuries to both of their superstars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Davis has been dealing with an Achilles injury, and returned for the first time since mid-February yesterday against the Dallas Mavericks. That’s very good news, but LeBron’s injury status remains a question mark for some time. James injured his ankle in March, and head coach Frank Vogel states there’s no true date set for James’ return. With AD and LeBron out, people expected the Lakers to collapse, but the team has held their own. Dennis Schröder, Kyle Kuzma, and the recent acquisition of Andre Drummond have helped the team stay in competition in the West. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s three point shooting has been incredibly important to the Lakers, and their bench of Montrezl Harrell, Markieff Morris, Alex Caruso, Talen Horton Tucker, and Wesley Matthews will be very important to L.A.’s momentum come playoff time. However, the question of LeBron’s injury still remains. No matter what people may think of him, he’s still one of the greatest to ever do it, and his health will become vital to the Lakers’ hopes of repeating in the postseason.

Denver Nuggets
Current record: 38-20; 4th in West, 2nd in Northwest Division

Yes, the Nuggets are the fourth seed in the West, but the team is in serious contention to win a championship. They have one of the best coaches in the game in Mike Malone, a top-10 offense and defense in points scored and allowed per game, respectively, and an MVP candidate. That candidate is Nikola Jokić, who has been playing at a level that no big man has ever done before. The Joker has been nothing short of dominant, posting 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists. He also leads the entire NBA in player efficiency rating and practically any other stat that records a player’s value; Jokić is just that good. Unfortunately, he will be without last year’s playoff hero Jamal Murray, who suffered a torn ACL against Golden State not too long ago. It was horrible news for such a great athlete, but the show must go on, and the Nuggets have the pieces to keep fighting for a title opportunity. The responsibility of top scorer outside of Jokić and Murray will now fall on Michael Porter Jr., and the rest of the starting lineup includes Will Barton, Paul Millsap, and the recently acquired Aaron Gordon. It now looks as if Monte Morris will have to step up as Denver’s point guard. The bench is one of the finest in the NBA, with PJ Dozier, Facundo Campazzo, JaMychal Green, Austin Rivers, and JaVale McGee leading the way.

Los Angeles Clippers
Current record: 42-19; 3rd in West, 2nd in Pacific Division

Yes, last year’s Clippers were an undying meme following their heartbreaking series loss to the Nuggets after being up three games to one. But don’t count this team out just yet; it looks like they have a chip on their shoulder. The meme himself, Paul “Pandemic P” George has been on fire as of late, and his success is undoubtedly important to the Clippers’ success. Kawhi Leonard remains one of the best players in the league, averaging 26 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals, but Leonard has been missing time with right foot soreness. The rest of the starting lineup is more of rotational starters, but it has worked well for Ty Lue’s squad. Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, Serge Ibaka, and Ivica Zubac have all rotated in the frontcourt, and Reggie Jackson has played the point guard while Patrick Beverley recovers from a hand injury. The bench features Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Patrick Patterson, and the additions of Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins. Is it championship or bust for these Clippers come playoffs? Only time will tell.

Phoenix Suns
Current record: 42-16; 2nd in West, 1st in Pacific Division

I truly believe there are certain players in sports that are just so good that they can turn an entire team and franchise around. Chris Paul has got to be recognized as one of those players. Two seasons ago, the Suns didn’t even win 20 games, and now they’re legitimate title contenders. Paul’s veteran leadership has done wonders for this team, along with Devin Booker dominating as usual. Mikal Bridges has been improving as a great three-and-d player, while DeAndre Ayton and Jae Crowder have solidified the rest of the starting lineup. Their bench is very formidable with Cameron Johnson, Dario Šarić, Cameron Payne, Frank Kaminsky, Jevon Carter, and Torrey Craig. They also might just have the NBA’s Coach of the Year in Monty Williams. The biggest question for the Suns is their ability to perform in the postseason, with Chris Paul having the most experience in that department. But if these young guys can pull it together, Paul could have a chance at his first NBA Finals appearance.

Utah Jazz
Current record: 44-15; 1st in West, 1st in Northwest Division 

Utah has been the NBA’s best team all season, and boy, they’re more than just good. I know the media has their doubts, but this team is elite, being both top five in points scored and points allowed per game. They are led by the high-flying scoring machine Donovan Mitchell, who is putting up 26 points per game and has become a quiet MVP candidate. However, Mitchell suffered an ankle sprain recently and will miss time. The team has played well without him, due to their incredible depth. The rest of their starting lineup includes Royce O’Neale, Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert, and Bojan Bogdanović, who have stepped up in Mitchell’s absence. The Jazz also have one of the top-tier benches in the NBA, with possible Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, Georges Niang, and Ersan Ilyasova. Again, many in the NBA community have their doubts about the Jazz in the playoffs, but I don’t. The Jazz are the best team in the NBA record-wise, and their coaching with Quin Snyder has the ability to take them to their first ever NBA championship.

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