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If the Playoffs Started Today – NBA Week 18

Cavaliers vs Lakers: Week 18's prediction for the NBA Finals

Celtics and Nets; no thanks. But otherwise, there’s been plenty to look at. Utah has been relegated back to #4 while Dallas has cruised up to #2. #8 Portland is 4.5 games ahead of #9 Memphis, so there’s some huge space developing there; it looks like we may have our final eight West teams. Out East, #8 Miami is 1.0 games ahead of #9 Charlotte, but 7.5 ahead of #10 Philadelphia. Charlotte could make another run at a playoff spot after doing so well, but Boston didn’t make it easy.

Speaking of Boston, they put the Nets on pace for 8.2 wins, but we should still see a new record for worst record, after the Cavs put New Jersey back in their place. There’s plenty of movement still to be done, so let’s look at what would happen if the playoffs started as of Thursday, March 4, before the day’s games:

West:

#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs #8 Portland Trailblazers

One win away from 30 home victories, the Lakers are on pace to be the only West team with 60+ wins. Despite winning three straight, Portland is still tied with San Antonio 10.5 games back, and they have six less games to play than the Spurs. With an NBA-least 18 remaining games, Portland has precious little time to make a push to avoid the Lakers in the first round, which would be their doom.

#2 Dallas Mavericks vs #7 San Antonio Spurs

Mark Cuban’s team has won their last nine to be the hottest team in the league right now, though giving up 109 points to Minnesota and only winning by three was a little disappointing. The Spurs are 2-1 against Dallas this year, but they’ll find themselves in a very difficult spot trying to beat the only team besides Cleveland with at least 20 wins at home and away.

#3 Denver Nuggets vs #6 Oklahoma City Thunder

Both teams look to take the home games in the series with their superior home records. Oklahoma City does have a winning road record, though the Nuggets are 26-5 in Denver. The Thunder may have Kevin Durant, but the Nuggets have Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder will fight hard, but the day will belong to the Nuggets. And the Nuggets beat OKC by 29 in Denver Wednesday.

#4 Utah Jazz vs #5 Phoenix Suns

Both teams have a spectacular home record, but mediocre road records. This would heavily favor the Jazz with home court advantage, and they have beaten Phoenix in Utah earlier in the season, but Phoenix will have a home game of their own Thursday to settle Utah’s hash. If Phoenix hopes to take out Utah, they’ll need to show they can win in Utah on April 14 after preparing their taxes.

East:

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #8 Miami Heat

Miami is struggling to hold onto the last spot, 17.5 games behind the Cavs. Miami is near .500 at home and away, while Cleveland is spectacular at both. Even though Shaq is out for the rest of the regular season, they still have plenty of depth and power to overtake any team. Miami is in serious jeopardy.

#2 Orlando Magic vs #7 Chicago Bulls

Chicago even has the advantage in Chicago, but their 12-19 road record will leave them in a highly difficult position of having to win in Orlando, where the Magic are 24-6. The teams split their two games so far, both in Chicago. If the Magic do that again in the playoffs, Chicago can essentially be written off. And if they can blow a 35-point lead against the Kings, what can the Magic do against them?

#3 Atlanta Hawks vs #6 Milwaukee Bucks

How ’bout the Bucks? They’re tied with Chicago and only half a game out of the #5 spot. They’re 8-2 in their last 10 and 19-9 at home. The thing is, Atlanta has a better home and road record. Milwaukee only lost by four in Atlanta on February 28, so I suppose they’re not to be counted out just yet. But with four games in Atlanta, and 20 road losses, the Bucks will have some trouble.

#4 Boston Celtics vs #5 Toronto Raptors

True, the Raptors are 0-3 against Boston this year (0-5 if you count the pre-season), and true, they’ve lost four in a row, but this is the most likely upset of the first round, even though this is the match-up the Celtics would want most if Charlotte can’t work their way back into things. Having just played their first game with a full roster available Wednesday against Charlotte, injuries have created rust and destroyed chemistry. If the Celtics want to contend, they’ll have to stay healthy and get an A in Chemistry class.

What Might Change Next Week:

  • Charlotte looks to take over Miami’s spot, especially since they host Miami Tuesday.

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