After the All-Star Break, the Play-Off Stretch Begins
With the All-Star break coming at the 60-game point for most NBA teams, there is very little time to refocus and get back into regular season play. The playoffs are coming up fast and this season the NBA looks way more chaotic and unpredictable than usual.
NBA fans checking betting apps in the UK will have seen the odds change wildly over the last few weeks as injuries, form fluctuation and personnel changes have impacted many of the leading contenders.
The playoff picture is fairly confused and the situation varies a lot for different teams but as the postseason draws closer we are beginning to get a clear picture of the main contenders and of what needs to happen for some of those further down the rankings to get involved.
Phoenix Burning up the West
In the Western Conference, it is all about the Phoenix Suns, who have been busy underlining that last year’s Finals appearance was not a one-off. Devin Booker, Chris Paul and co have shown a remarkable ability to finish on top in close games and won 18 out of 19 going into the All-Star break. Chris Paul’s injury, which will see him miss up to eight weeks of action, is a concern, but the team has already built up a big advantage in the West and should be seeded high in the playoffs.
Golden State Warriors haven’t quite dominated in the way that they were expected to, but if they can get Draymond Green back, they are still in good shape, while the Memphis Grizzlies, powered by the explosive talent of Ja Morant, are also on course for a good playoff run.
With the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks also in contention, there is a familiar look to the standings, with the exception of one notable absent name. The LA Lakers’ struggle has been one of the stories of the season. Having gone all-in to surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis with established talent, the wheels have come off the wagon in spectacular fashion. With Russell Westbrook completely out of form and Davis again injured, will they even make the playoffs?
Return of the Bulls
In the East, the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers have once again dominated the headlines. With Joel Embiid once again in MVP form, the 76ers are in contention and the end of the Ben Simmons saga, which has also reunited James Harden with Daryl Morey, should give them a boost down the stretch. Certainly, there will be no excuses this time for Philly.
Over in Brooklyn, it has been another turbulent season, but although the Nets are languishing in around the eighth spot in the Conference, they shouldn’t have too much difficulty making the playoffs, and when Kevin Durant is back, the prospect of him, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons lining up together is almost as exciting as the Durant-Iriving-Harden axis. And if the New York Covid mandate is lifted and Kyrie gets to play home games, the Nets will go from contenders to favorites overnight.
Meanwhile, the reigning champions Milwaukee Bucks – remember them? – are going about their business in typically unfussy style, the Miami Heat have bounced back from a relatively disappointing 2021 playoff performance and the Chicago Bulls have progressed rapidly from potential contenders to Conference leaders.
The return of the Bulls is the result of hard work and intelligent acquisition under the guidance of Artuas Karnisovas, with Nicola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan joining talented rookie Ayo Dosunmu and Zach LaVine. Their scoring has been impressively high and consistent throughout the season so far and they have the potential to go deep into the playoffs this season.
The extent to which New York Knicks have failed to build on last season’s success is a disappointment but not entirely a surprise in a highly competitive Conference. With the Cleveland Cavaliers also on the up, the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors still hanging in there in the top eight and the Atlanta Hawks on the fringes of the playoffs, the East promises some fascinating match-ups to come.