The NBA playoffs are fast approaching and as the season winds
down, there are a total of 21 teams fighting for 16 playoff spots
across the two conferences.
Every game matters.
Injuries have had a major impact on this season. In the Western
Conference, a number of potential playoff teams are missing key
pieces, including the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and
James Wiseman), Denver Nuggets (Jamal Murray and Michael Porter
Jr.), Los Angeles Clippers (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George), Memphis
Grizzlies (Ja Morant), Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis), New
Orleans Pelicans (Zion Williamson) and Portland Trail Blazers
There are fewer injured stars in the Eastern Conference, but
Jarrett Allen (CLE), Ben Simmons (BKN), Lonzo Ball (CHI), Gordon
Hayward (CHA) and Colin Sexton (CLE) are currently sidelined.
Between now and the start of the playoffs on April 12, some
important players are expected to return to their respective teams,
which could alter the NBA landscape in a major way.
On March 15, the Nuggets assigned Jamal Murray to their G-League
affiliate (the Grand Rapids Gold) to get some additional work at
practice. This sent waves through social media, as fans anticipated
Murray's long-awaited return to the Nuggets' lineup. However, just
a few days later, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said that
Murray is "not close" to suiting up.
It seems unlikely that Murray will be able to play during the
regular season, but perhaps he'll be able to return at some point
during the postseason.
Michael Porter Jr. is also on the mend, but the reports about
his availability have been all over the place. There were rumblings
that his rehab didn't go great and that he was further away than
Murray. Then, there was a rumor that he's due back very soon.
A little over a week ago, Malone was asked about the possibility
of Murray and Porter returning, and he said, "There is no immediate
return on the horizon for either one of those players."
Denver is currently the sixth seed in the Western Conference,
trying to stave off the Minnesota Timberwolves and avoid the
Nikola Jokic has played at an MVP level (again) and the absence
of these two stars has allowed for Bones Hyland to emerge as a
legitimate rotation player as a rookie. Adding even one of these
two players back into the fold would make the Nuggets a
significantly more threatening first-round opponent for the
Grizzlies, Warriors or Mavericks.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Since the acquisition of CJ McCollum on February 8, the New
Orleans Pelicans rank No. 10 in offensive rating and No. 6 in net
rating. While the Pelicans won't be getting All-Star power forward
Zion Williamson back at any point this season, they did just have
another impact player return to their lineup.
Larry Nance Jr. was acquired as part of the McCollum trade and
he made his Pelicans debut a few days ago. The 29-year-old is a
seamless fit on the offensive end and he'll give New Orleans some
Even though we all wanted to see how this team would look with a
healthy Zion, they have a solid core with McCollum, Brandon Ingram,
Jonas Valanciunas, Herb Jones, Devonte' Graham, Nance and Co. —
making them a scary opponent in the Play-In Tournament.
New Orleans likely won't catch the Clippers for the eighth seed,
but they could steal homecourt advantage in the 9-10 game against
the Lakers, as they are currently a half game behind L.A.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
With LeBron James on roster, there always seems to be this
lingering feeling that the Lakers will catch their stride and
figure this thing out. But without Anthony Davis, it seems unlikely
that Los Angeles will be able to escape the Play-In Tournament.
There has been no official word on a potential return date for
Davis, but the Lakers would need him available if they hope to play
beyond April 12.
The presence of Davis would inject a tiny sliver of hope that he
and James could will this team to victory and into a revenge series
against the Phoenix Suns in the first round.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Stephen Curry is expected to be out until mid-April at the
earliest, which is a huge blow to the Warriors. Fortunately, Curry
has said that he should be back in
time for the first game of the playoffs.
The team has reintroduced Klay Thompson back into the fold, and
Draymond Green is back in the lineup too. While Golden State's
star-studded trio has only played three games together this season,
at least the Warriors should have all three vets together for the
postseason (barring any setbacks or new injuries).
Unfortunately, Golden State won't be at full strength, as James
Wiseman was recently ruled out for the remainder of
this season. The sophomore is still recovering from a torn meniscus
that he suffered last April. Wiseman's size and versatility would
have helped the Warriors, especially when facing the likes of
Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Golden State has been struggling without Curry, dropping four of
their last five games (including surprising losses to the Orlando
Magic, San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks). Golden State
surrendered the No. 2 seed to the Memphis Grizzlies, and the
Warriors could slip to fourth in the Western Conference, leading to
a potential second-round matchup against Phoenix (instead of
Memphis or Utah).
Still, assuming the Warriors have their Big Three, they will be
dangerous in the playoffs.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Recently, Clippers head coach Ty Lue was asked about Kawhi
Leonard and Paul George potentially returning prior to the
playoffs, and he didn't shoot down the possibility.
"If guys are able to [return], they are gonna do it," Lue said.
"But the most important part is making the sure the players are
taken care of and making sure they're ready to go and fully
Leonard has been sidelined since last postseason, and Clippers
fans have been holding out hope for a late-season comeback. ESPN's
Ohm Youngmisuk reports that Leonard may be able
to return if the Clippers make it out of the Play-In
George has been sidelined due to a torn ulnar collateral
ligament in his right elbow, and there is no timetable for his
return. Recently, he has reportedly made progress and
been cleared for 4-on-4 and shooting drills, so a return still
The Bulls skyrocketed to the top of the East standings early in
the season thanks to a supernova DeMar DeRozan and stellar defense.
Two key cogs of that defense were Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, who
have played just 35 and 36 games, respectively. Chicago also played
most of the season without forward Patrick Williams, who's another
important rotation player.
The absence of those two elite perimeter defenders caused the
Bulls to slip to the East's five seed, and they are just one game
ahead of the sixth-seeded Toronto Raptors.
Caruso returned on March 12 and Williams returned on March 21.
But if Ball is able to return to the starting lineup, that could
significantly affect the outcome of a series against the Celtics or
However, here's the bad news:
Ball may not be needed for Chicago to avoid the Play-In
Tournament, but his return is crucial in order for the Bulls to
make a deep run in the playoffs.
Colin Sexton is not coming back this season. In fact, it's
possible that he has played his final game as a Cavalier since he's
set to become a restricted free agent.
However, one of the main reason that the Cavaliers have exceeded
expectations this season is the play of Jarrett Allen. Ricky Rubio
was also a key cog in the Cleveland machine, but his injury back in
December led to the acquisition of Rajon Rondo... who is also
currently out with an ankle injury.
Allen's presence defensively next to Evan Mobley is crucial to
the success of the Cavs. Cleveland's opponents take the ninth-most
shots at the rim in the league, but they shoot the worst
percentage. Their perimeter defense funnels opponents to the rim
because of the three 7-footers they have on the floor.
For Cleveland to pull off a first-round upset, Allen must be
present and continuing his career-year.
Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game and oftentimes
play a major factor in the postseason. This year is proving to be
no different, as the field seems wide open due to injuries and the
players who are returning could have a major impact on who is
eventually crowned champion.
After arriving in Brooklyn, Ben Simmons began ramping up his
conditioning and preparing to make his season debut, but then his
back started giving him trouble. Initially, it was being described
as back soreness, but he was recently diagnosed with a herniated
disc and he needed an epidural for the pain.
Nets head coach Steve Nash has said that surgery isn't currently
being considered. Simmons is working with a physical therapist and
trying to get healthy enough to make his Nets debut. Nash told
reporters that he's "fully expecting" Simmons to play at some point
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported that Brooklyn hopes to
have Simmons for a "couple" regular-season games so that he can
start shaking off the rust and getting acclimated prior to the
Whenever he returns, the Defensive-Player-of-the-Year runner-up
will provide a huge boost for the Nets. Last season, Simmons
averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.6 steals with
the Philadelphia 76ers.
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