NBA Playoff Races

NBA Playoff Races

There is only a month remaining in the NBA season, and the NBA playoff races are heating up. There are so many questions left to answer. Who will get the one seed in the West? Who will be the eighth seeds in both the East and West? There are so many seeds undecided and positioning is going to very important in who will make deep postseason runs. Here is what to watch for in the final four weeks of the season.

Western Conference: First Seed

NBA Playoff Races

(Photo Credit: Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

There is still much to be decided in the West. The race for the first seed has really picked up since Kevin Durant got injured. The Warriors lead has vastly shrunk.

Their lead for the first seed is down to just a game and a half over the Spurs with 14 games remaining. This is an important race for the path to the conference finals and then having home-court in the conference finals.

Neither team has to worry about their first round matchup as both should win in short, easy series. The team who gets the second seed would likely see a tough series versus Houston in the second round. That is what both San Antonio and Golden State want to avoid. Both teams want to go into the conference finals as rested as possible.

Golden State and San Antonio will meet on March 29. It will be a huge game in deciding who wins the number one seed.

The Spurs and Warriors both have nine home games remaining. San Antonio has six away games while the Warriors have five. Both teams’ remaining opponents have a win percentage of 53 percent.

It will be a close finish and will come down to the final days of the season. Golden State will hold on to that number one seed as the season ends.

Western Conference Race for 8th

The Denver Nuggets currently hold the spot for the eighth seed in the West with a record of 33-35. Portland (30-37), Dallas (29-38) and Minnesota (28-39) all still have a shot to get the eighth seed.

This four team race is really close to becoming a two-team race between Denver and Portland. Denver has been playing much better lately and looks like a playoff team. They only have five home games remaining and that could be the factor that costs them that playoff spot.

Portland, on the other hand, has 10 games remaining at home and their remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of 49 percent. The Trailblazers will end up getting the eighth seed in the Western Conference with all those home games remaining against subpar teams.

The Rest of the West

NBA Playoff Races

(Photo Credit: http://deadspin.com)

Golden State and San Antonio are fighting for first and second. Denver or Portland will get the eighth seed. That leaves seeds three through seven.

The third seed is pretty much locked into Houston. Utah, Los Angeles (Clippers), Oklahoma City and Memphis mathematically can catch them, but it would take a total collapse by Houston to do so. Utah is the current four seed, but only four games separate Utah, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Memphis.

Russell Westbrook is close to breaking the single-season triple-double record and the Thunder are 29-6 when Westbrook gets a triple-double. Predicting he breaks the record means the Thunder will win at least eight more games. If that happens the Thunder will end up in the four or five spot.

Utah will get the spot the Thunder do not get, meaning they will also be the fourth or fifth seed. The Clippers will finish with the sixth seed and Memphis will remain as the seventh seed.

The East’s Top Half

The Eastern Conference is divided in half in terms of playoff seeding. Teams seeded one through four can end up in any one of those spots while teams five through eight will end up in the bottom half of the seeding.

The Cavaliers are in the top spot with a record of 45-22. The Celtics are two and a half back, the Wizards are three and a half back and Toronto is six and a half games back of the top spot. There should be a few changes in the top four seeds in the final weeks.

The Celtics remaining opponents have a win percentage of just 44 percent. They also have nine home games remaining while the Cavaliers have nine road games remaining. it is safe to predict the Celtics being only two and a half back will finish as the first seed and the Cavs will finish as the second seed.

The Wizards have 10 road games remaining and all that travel will catch up with them. The Raptors remaining opponents have a win percentage of just 47 percent. The top of the east will finish as follows: First Boston, second Cleveland, third Toronto, and fourth Washington.

The Rest of the East

NBA Playoff Races

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Teams seeded fifth through 10th are separated by just five games. There are four spots for six teams.

Currently, it stands as Atlanta as the fifth seed with a record of 37-31. They will make the playoffs without question.  The Pacers are 35-33 and being above a .500 win percentage will be enough to get in as well.

That leaves Milwaukee, Detroit, Miami and Chicago fighting for the seventh and eighth seeds. Chicago has lost Dwayne Wade for the remainder of the year with an elbow injury. They were struggling with Wade and won’t be able to win enough games without him in the final month to make the playoffs.

Milwaukee is an exciting team with a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will lead them to a playoff appearance this season. Their remaining opponents have a win percentage of just 49 percent.

That leaves Miami who is 33-35 and Detroit who is 33-36. Both are fighting for the final remaining playoff spot. Miami started the season 10-31 and has since been on fire. No pun intended, but they have been heating up.

These teams have one more meeting against each other and that could be the deciding factor. The Pistons do have the easier remaining schedule of the two teams. This race is hard to predict, but in the second half of the season, the Heat have been the much better team.

The Heat will end up making the playoffs and Detroit will be the odd team out in the Eastern Conference Playoff race.

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Who Can Knock Off Cleveland

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Threats in the Eastern Conference

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the clear-cut favorites to win the Eastern Conference and make it to the Finals. It makes you think: Who can knock off Cleveland in the East? Most assume that the Warriors and Cavaliers will meet for a third-straight Finals but that assumption could be dangerous. There are teams who could beat the Cavs and mess up everyone’s dream matchup.

The first version of this short series looked at who could knock off Golden State. If you haven’t read it you can check it out here.

LeBron James has led his team to the Finals for six straight years. It is safe to say the road to the Finals goes through Cleveland. Because it has been so long since a team not featuring LeBron has been to the Finals, it is hard to see anyone beating Cleveland in the East. Here are a few teams with the shot to dethrone the Eastern Conference Champions.

Boston Celtics

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Boston is just three games back of the Cavaliers for the number one seed and have one more game remaining against the Cavs. Getting that first seed could be the all-important factor in the Celtics’ chances of upsetting Cleveland as the home team has won every game this season. The Cavs have won two of the three games but all have been close contests.

In all three games, Isaiah Thomas has scored 30 points or more. They match up well all along the wing with valuable minutes coming from Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown. Boston’s depth gives them a shot at the upset.

To beat Cleveland in a seven game series, Boston will need its frontcourt to play well. It is the weakest area of the team and they have the fourth worst rebounding differential (-3.6) in the NBA. In their recent win over Cleveland, they won the rebounding battle 47-41.

Getting home court can be helpful but the key to Boston upsetting Cleveland will be in the frontcourt play and they will have to win that rebound battle with a healthy Kevin Love who did not play in the last matchup.

Toronto Raptors

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Like a few other teams in the NBA, the Raptors are dealing with injuries. Kyle Lowry is a key player for Toronto and without him the Raptors have no shot at upsetting the Cavs. With that said, Lowry should be back in time for the playoffs.

Last season the Raptors faced the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals but lost the series 4-2. The Raptors struggled in the front court in that series.

The addition of Serge Ibaka was one of the most important in-season deals this year. Ibaka not only gives the Raptors a presence in the frontcourt, but he can stretch the floor on offense. He is a shot blocker on the defensive end and has lots of playoff experience.

Another addition that will help the Raptors chances of upsetting the Cavs is the addition of P.J. Tucker. Tucker provides a spark off the bench and impacts the game in multiple ways. It remains to be seen where this team will finish in the standings but this team should not be taken lightly. DeMar DeRozen needs to be a superstar for them to win a series against Cleveland as well.

They got off to a horrible slump against the Cavs last year but with those two additions they are a better team then they were last season. The Cavs cannot take them lightly or this season the Cavs will be sent home early.

Washington Wizards

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

John Wall and Bradley Beal are both having their best seasons of their careers. It can be argued that they have the best backcourt in all of basketball. Yes, as good as Golden State’s backcourt. Wall is second in assists per game with 10.9. Both guards average 22 points per game. These two stars carry the Wizards but the role players are they key to upsetting the Cavs.

Marcin Gortat is a veteran who plays big inside the paint. He could give the Cavs problems in a seven game series. Along with Gortat, the Wizards get big contributions from Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, and Kelly Oubre Jr.

The Wizards are also getting a career year out of Otto Porter who is averaging a career-high in minutes (33.8), field goal percentage (52.6%), three-point percentage (45.7%), free throw percentage (80%), rebounds (6.6), steals (1.6), blocks (0.6), and points (14.1).

This team has been playing well, especially at home were they are 25-9. Washington also signed veteran point guard Brandon Jennings will have a big impact off the bench when giving Wall some rest. They also traded for Bojan Bogdanovic who has played in five games with Washington and most recently dropped 27 points on the Raptors. As he finds his role with the Wizards he will become a valuable player. These two additions together will be huge in their pursuit of the Eastern Conference Championship.

It will take a team effort but with how well the Wizards play at home all they need to do is steal a game on the road. If they steal a game in Cleveland and John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter continue their amazing season they will upset Cleveland.

 

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Who Should Start in the NBA All-Star Game

The 66th NBA All-Star game is set to be played Feb. 19 at 8:00 p.m. in New Orleans. Fans began voting for All Stars on Christmas day and can do so through NBA.com, the NBA app, Twitter, Facebook, or by Google search. Fans can submit one ballot a day on any of these platforms. Voting ends Jan. 16, so there is plenty of time for fans to cast their ballots.

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Sporting News

There is a lot of argument over how voting is done and which players should be playing. Every fan has heard from someone that the All-Star game is just a popularity contest anymore. It is all offense and no defense. It is full of high flying dunks, deep three-point shots, and entertainment for the fan.

This season, the NBA changed the voting process and will allow fans to account for just 50% of the All-Star vote. The other 50% will be from NBA players and the media, each accounting for 25%. Time will tell if this new method will change the way players are selected. In the mean time, these are the guys I will be voting for.

Eastern Conference Starting Lineup

Kyrie Irving

If Kyrie has not yet proven he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, I don’t know what more he can do. He has proven how clutch he is with game-winning shots over his last two matchups against Golden State. He is second among Eastern Conference point guards in points per game (24), first in field goal percentage (48%), and second in three-point percentage (42%). He is also averaging nearly six assists a game. He is incredible when it comes to playing iso and has the best ball handling in the NBA.

Demar DeRozan

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Yibada

DeRozan has shown a lot of improvement from last season. He is leading the East in scoring with just about 28 points a game. He has been a big part of the Raptors offense and is why they are second place in the Eastern Conference. His field goal percentage is also the highest it has been since his rookie season, and he is averaging almost three times the amount of shot attempts. No other two-guard compares to DeRozan in the East.

Lebron James

King James is the most obvious choice in the East lineup. The best player in the NBA is once again in the MVP talks like he is every season and his numbers back it up. Lebron is averaging 25 points, eight rebounds, and almost nine assists per game. He has the Cavs at the top of the Eastern Conference and that looks like it will not change anytime this season. Lebron is a sure lock in the All-Star game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Better known as the “Greek Freak,” Antetokounmpo is not only making a case as the league’s most improved player, but also an All-Star starter. The 22-year-old forward would be first in rebounds and assists for his position in the East if it wasn’t for Lebron James. He is also third in scoring for his position in the conference. With numbers like 23 points per game, nine rebounds, and nearly six assists, the Greek Freak should be seeing his first All-Star game action as a starter.

Hassan Whiteside

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of ESPN

Whiteside is probably the least likely of these selections to make the starting lineup. In this new small-ball era, popularized by Golden State, centers are a dying breed in the NBA. Last season no player over 6-foot-9 made the starting lineup. If this trend continues to grow, Whiteside may never get a chance to start. Whiteside is also better known for his defense rather than his offense, which is not popular amongst All-Star voters. Here is the argument for Whiteside.

His numbers per game are 18 points, 15 rebounds (first in the NBA), and just over two blocks (fourth in the NBA). The points are a career high for Whiteside, whose field goal percentage is also fourth in the east at 55%. Whiteside has the range to shoot jumpers, can catch lobs, and block shots as he said earlier in the season. He is no doubt the best center in the East and should earn a spot in this lineup.

Western Conference Starting Lineup

Russell Westbrook

The triple-double king and league’s leading MVP candidate should be as sure of a lock as Lebron James is in the East. The NBA’s leading scorer at nearly 32 points a game is also averaging 11 assists (second in the NBA) and 10 rebounds. No player has put up numbers like this since Oscar Robertson. Not much more to say about Westbrook, who knows how to put on a show for the crowd as well.

James Harden

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Sporting News

Harden is showing this season that he is an All-NBA caliber player. Being left off the teams last season must have been all the motivation he needed. Harden is putting up MVP-like numbers with 27 points per game (fifth in the NBA) and is first in assists with 12. He is also averaging eight rebounds a game. Perhaps the most improved aspect of Harden’s game is his defense. You can tell from watching him that he is putting a lot of effort on both sides of the ball.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is pretty much just picking up where he left off last season. After moving over to Golden State, he quite possibly became the league’s most hated player. The same thing happened to Lebron James when he moved to Miami and it didn’t keep him out of the All-Star lineup. It should not keep Durant out either. He is averaging 26 points per game and nearly nine rebounds, which is a career high. Durant is still at the top of his position in the Western Conference.

Anthony Davis

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of USA Today

The league’s leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year is playing the best season of his life. Davis is averaging almost 30 points (second in NBA) and 12 rebounds (seventh in NBA) per game. Not to mention he is leading the NBA in blocked shots. Davis should also be hearing his name in the MVP talks, but the incredible players like Westbrook, Harden, and James have overshadowed him. Not to mention the fact he is on the Pelicans, one of the worst teams in the NBA. Nevertheless, Davis is a lock in the West lineup.

Demarcus Cousins

Unsportsmanlike conduct and bad attitude often overshadow the fact that Cousins has been the best center in the NBA for the last several years. This year he is no doubt at the top again. Cousins is third in the NBA in scoring (29 points per game) and also averaging just over 10 rebounds a game as well. No other center compares.

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And Then There Were Four

We are nearing the end of this intense 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with only four teams left competing in the Western and Eastern Conference finals. Here’s a look at the first couple games and what to watch for in games to come.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (1-1)

To start out game one, starting goaltender for the Lightning, Ben Bishop, tweaked his leg and was taken off the ice on a stretcher. Bishop was later quoted “I fell back and felt something I’ve never felt before, and just pain right away” (via NHL-Transcripts). Although it seemed very serious, Bishop will most likely be ready for game 3.

After losing Bishop, the Lightning went to work by not missing a beat with back-up goalie 21 year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy in the net. Although being out shot 20-35 the lightning held on to win 3-1 with goals from Johnathon Drouin, Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat.

Sidney Crosby and Matt Cullen celebrate after winning game 2 in OT (chicagotribune.com)

Game two started out with both teams scoring two goals in the first period. It then went scoreless until Sidney Crosby scored on a one-timer 40 seconds into the first overtime period. Crosby hadn’t scored a goal since the first round against the New York Rangers. Phil Kessel and Matt Cullen scored the other two goals for the Penguins on Monday.

Game three is going back to Tampa Bay, where Ben Bishop and even Steven Stamkos may return.

San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues (0-1)

Joe Thornton and David Backes checking on each other’s beards. (ddexpress.info)

Game after game the Blues goalie, Brian Elliot, proves any doubters wrong. Only allowing one goal off 32 San Jose Shots, Elliot is nearing if not already at the “Elite” status. Blues captain David Backes said, “When your goalie is your best player, it gives you a great chance of winning and that was the case” (ESPN). Although it is a pretty obvious statement, it is the truth, the Sharks are going to have a tough time scoring throughout the series.

I see the rest of the series looking pretty similar to game one. Hard-hitting, low scoring, and coming down to the wire. Also something to watch for is the way the Blues handle the red hot Logan Couture, who is leading the NHL in points in the playoffs. In the first game Logan was held in check by the great St. Louis defense. Holding Couture to just two SOG (shots on goal).

San Jose Sharks @ St. Louis Blues/ May 17th/ 7:00 CT/ Game two

Pittsburgh Penguins @ Tampa Bay Lightning / May 18th/ 7:00 CT/ Game three

NHL Playoffs: Who is in and Who is out?

As the end of the NHL regular season comes to a close, the race for a playoff spot is heating up. With the Central division teams red hot and the Pacific division teams trending downward, who knows who will come out on top in the West?

The unique trait of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that truly anyone can win. Last year the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals being 2 and 3 seeds which shows anyone can win once you are in. Who are the true contenders that have a chance to hoist the cup at the end of the year? This is the question on every hockey fans’ mind.

Western Conference

The teams that will be coming out of the Western Conference are nearly figured out at this point but not final with a decent amount of games left in the regular season. The teams that look to be most likely in for the Central division include the Stars, Blues, Blackhawks, and Predators. The Central also might produce both wild card teams with the final wild card going to the Wild or Avalanche. The likely playoff teams to come out of the Pacific division will include the Kings, Ducks, and Sharks.

Central Division

Six of the seven teams in the Central division have a winning streak of two or more wins, and three of those teams have more than a two game winning streak. The only team trending downward in the division is the Chicago Blackhawks. The once hot Blackhawks, have lost six of their last seven, most of the games coming against division rivals.

The Dallas Stars on the other hand cannot be slowed down, and even with the crafty center Tyler Seguin being out 3-4 weeks it didn’t look good, not so long ago. Winning three of their last four the Stars hold the lead in the Western Conference. Nipping at the Stars’ heels are the St. Louis Blues, only trailing 2 points with the same amount of games remaining. Don’t be surprised if they are first at the end of the season. Yet, the Blues are a known for being a regular season team, and being knocked out early in the playoffs.

The Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche are in a tight race for the final playoff spot, and we will have to wait and see who is going to get hot when they need to.

Jamie Benn Captain of the Dallas Stars. (Hockeysverige.se)

Pacific Division

The Pacific is more clear as to how it may play out, with three teams who have separated themselves from the pack. Leading the three is the Los Angeles Kings who have lost their last three but are not surprisingly leading the division in points.  Right behind them are the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks both teams capable of advancing far into the playoffs. If I had to predict out of the two who will go the farthest I would have to say the Ducks. The Ducks have the experience and have that physical edge that can wear teams down in a playoff series.

Eastern Conference

The Eastern Conference is going to be very entertaining to watch down the stretch because it is difficult to tell who is in and who is out. You could say that eleven teams have a chance to come out of the Eastern Conference. The only team that is certain to be in the playoffs, is the nearly unbeatable Washington Capitals, as they look to take home the Presidents trophy.

Metropolitan Division

The Washington Capitals are leading the league with 109 points with no team even close. The Caps are known to choke in the playoffs, but can Ovi (Alexander Ovechkin) come away with his first Stanley Cup? The Rangers, Penguins, and Islanders are favorites to join the Capitals in the playoffs. If it plays out this way, it would be the same four Metropolitan teams advancing just like last year.

Alexander Ovechkin seeks first Stanley Cup (Sportsrants.com)

Atlantic Division

I believe the Atlantic Division is the weakest of the four divisions. After the top two teams, Lightning and Panthers, the talent really drops off. Yes, the Lightning and Panthers are great teams that have dominated in the league this year, but no one else in the division has proved themselves. The Boston Bruins have been shaky at times and the Detroit Red Wings have been struggling to string together wins.

With only two weeks left in the regular season the playoffs are shaping up to be a great six weeks of competition with only one team being able to call themselves 2016 Stanley Cup Champions.

Impatient Management Means Failure

30 teams reside in the NBA and 16 make the playoffs every year. The reality, like any sport, is only one team can win a championship.

Winning a championship is never easy. It takes hard work, dedication, talent and luck. A championship team also has great chemistry. The players and coaching staff all have to be in sync or you can’t win a title. It also takes plenty of experience to win. Most teams or players have suffered losses in the playoffs in past years before they get back and actually hold up the trophy when it is all said and done. With that said, front office management needs to be patient.

A championship team isn’t constructed in a day, a week, or even in a year. It takes time and growth and an impatient management is always the path towards failure.

Chicago Bulls

The fans of all teams in the NBA are probably shocked that the Chicago Bulls are 30-30 this year, sit at 10th in the Eastern Conference and are in danger of missing the playoffs since 2007-2008, the year before they drafted Derrick Rose. Should the basketball world be shocked about this team’s performance though?

In the off season the Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau after six seasons with the Bulls. In those six seasons Tom Thibodeau went 255-139 in the regular season. He won coach of the year in the 2010-2011 season after tying the record for most wins, 62, ever by a rookie head coach. In his tenure in Chicago he never missed the playoffs, led the Bulls to two number one seeds and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Management decided it was time for a change because Tom Thibodeau was 23-28 in the playoffs. That change has doomed the Bulls to a team who currently is .500 and most likely going to miss the playoffs. There is no telling how good the Bulls could be if they had just stuck it out with Thibodeau, but now it looks like the once powerful contenders are heading for the lottery and a possible rebuild.

New York Knicks

Mike Woodson took over the Knicks coaching job during the 2011-2012 NBA season in which they made the playoffs for the second consecutive year. In his first full season after that he led the Knicks to a 54-28 record and they were the two seed in the Eastern Conference. He lasted just one more season and was fired after missing the playoffs by one game. In his tenure with the Knicks, Mike Woodson went 109-79 in the regular seasons and 7-10 in the postseason.

The Knicks management unrealistically expected championships right away. Derek Fisher then got hired for his first ever coaching job following the firing of Mike Woodson. His first season was horrible as the Knicks went 17-65 and had their worst season in franchise history. This current season was his just the start of his second ever season as a head coach and he led the Knicks to a 23-31 record through 54 games. There were 28 games remaining in the season and the Knicks had six more wins than they did in his first year.

He was showing signs of improvement, but it still wasn’t enough and he was fired. What was the Knicks front office expecting from him in his second year? A playoff appearance? A championship? The Knicks are impatient and it is hurting their chances of growing into a championship contender.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings provide the best example of any of impatience leading to failure. Since 2006 the Kings have had eight different head coaches with only 4 of those coaches lasting more than 100 games. I could list all the names with their records but can any coach be successful with such little time at the helm? There is no chance for the players because of the ever changing staff. Different philosophies and styles coming in on average every two years. The Kings management has no patience and that is why they haven’t made the playoffs since 2005-2006 and might not playoffs for another 15 years.

The Game Haus EST. 2015

Patience is required in sports if you want to build a successful organization. There needs to be stability or a team can’t be good. There are so many more examples that can be listed and it isn’t just in the NBA. I know owners care about making money from their team and nothing brings in money like a championship. That’s why teams like the New England Patriots, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Lakers are some of the most valuable franchises in the world. Impatient management means failure.