NBA talk: Five teams to watch as the playoff push begins

The NBA postseason may be a foregone conclusion to many. The Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference, vilified and deified as they are with the addition of former New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins made them a lock for yet another run to the NBA Finals.

While this team may be the most talented, well-coached and star-powered roster we have seen since the pre-2010 Celtics, Suns and even the recent Lebron-led Miami teams, we must acknowledge that if there is any guarantee in professional sports, it’s the fact that nothing is guaranteed.

While I may sound like I am “on one” as they say, I am inherently not wrong. The NBA has seen power houses like the Tim Duncan-David Robinson Spurs teams fall, Steve Nash and his offensive firework that was the Phoenix Suns and even the first “superteam,” the Bosh-James-Wade team that fell to the Dallas Mavericks in its first NBA Finals appearance.

While the greatest shooting backcourt of all time in Thompson and Curry, one of the best scorers in Durant, and one of the winningest coaches (see record 73-win season) of all time already make for a formidable cast, the curtain must fall on every dynasty and some may think that this show must finally end.

This list is not one of teams that I think will make the NBA Finals, takedown the hated Warriors or even make their respective conference finals. This is simply a list of teams that I believe can make some noise this postseason and surprise some average fans about what they are capable of with the power of youth, shooting, and of course some luck.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (Please read)

The Lakers are led by one of, if not the greatest, basketball player of all-time in LeBron James. And while LeBron’s teams have never been ones to surprise anybody, give me a second to explain.

The Lakers currently sit at 28-29 overall, four games back from the fellow Staples Center team the LA Clippers. The Clippers traded pretty much everyone away as they trend towards the lottery for the second half of the season. This gives the Lakers, who are still only a few games back after James missed 18 games with an injured groin, a fighting chance.

So… hypothetically, the Warriors and Lakers could meet in the postseason in a one versus eight seed matchup. This, along with a second-half push from a healthy James and young talent that continues to develop, could make for interesting finish to the season.

The bigger news would probably be LeBron missing the playoffs instead of getting swept by the armada that is the Warriors starting lineup, but think about this. The Lakers are 2-2 against the Warriors this season, and have won both those games by more than 10 points.

Wouldn’t it be something to see LeBron take on the Warriors? Or possibly pushing a superpower of a squad to six or maybe seven games? It could spell upset. But first you gotta get into the dance before you can have some fun. If the Lakers don’t put it together soon (7-4 in their last 11), then James and company could be watching from the sidelines instead.

You know what they say though, all you gotta do is get into the dance to start having fun.

  1. Brooklyn Nets

The team that is 30-29 and led by former Ohio State guard and Lakers’ lottery selection D’Angelo Russell, is up next. Russell said recently in an interview that getting traded from Los Angeles was, “The best thing that could’ve happened for my career.” Talk about gusto. But the play of former Piston Spencer Dinwiddie and center Jarrett Allen also helps, giving a major boost to a  squad that is all of the sudden trending upward in a big way postseason potential.

Caris LeVert also just returned from a miraculously not-as-serious-as-we-thought leg injury that has allowed the team to find another scorer and creator, adding to a team that  has been playing well all year long. To the surprise of many, this team has been competitive for much of this season and is currently matched up with the third-seeded Indiana Pacers in the playoff standings.

The Pacers are now without All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The leader on both sides of the ball and leading scorer being out indefinitely will hurt the Pacers’ ability to make a deep run with an inexperienced roster and lack of a go-to scorer.

This is something that the Nets do have in Russell. The first-time All-Star is averaging 20.3 points a game and leads a team that has a coveted thing in today’s league: three-point shooting.

The Brooklyn Nets are shooting 36 percent from behind the arc, good for ninth in the league, and have players like Joe Harris, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Dinwiddie to help stretch the floor. All of those guys are averaging at least 1.5 three-point makes per game, evident of the way basketball is headed in today’s NBA.

But a balanced offense has helped this team. Harris is averaging a career high 13 points per game after being a lost cause in Cleveland. Dinwiddie has become a prime sixth-man of the year candidate after Detroit cut ties with him. This team is suddenly poised to make some moves up the standings before the start of the summer and even shock a team or two in the postseason.

  1. Denver Nuggets

This one isn’t necessarily a “surprise,” at 39-18 in the meat grinder that is the Western Conference, the Nuggets are in second place,setting them up perfectly to make a run to the conference finals and give the Warriors a run down the stretch. But the question is, will the youth of their roster hurt them in the postseason or will they be able to stay healthy enough?

Injuries have been the most consistent issue with this team, you have to wonder how much they can hang on as Gary Harris and Michael Porter Jr. remain out with groin and back issues.

Outside of that, the Nuggets are absolutely stacked with young guys who know how to play together. Nikola “The Joker” Jokic is a throwback of a big man who can throw passes the majority of point guards coming out of college won’t even think of tossing. Oh yeah, he’s also a 7-footer.

Jokic leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game, averaging a 20-10-8 (pt-reb-ast) stat line. Thats unprecedented for the European center who also can also shoot from outside. This alone gives the Nuggets a fighting chance, along with strong play from Monte Morris in place of a now healthy Jamal Murray.

This goes along with a bunch of athletic young dudes who know how to play defense. All of this combined and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success if you are head coach Mike Malone.

Denver is set as of now to face off with the San Antonio Spurs, a team that could give them trouble come playoff time mainly due to the fact Gregg Popovich is still coaching somewhere. But I digress, I think this Nuggets team is one that IF healthy, can be very scary in June. Side note: Paul Millsap is still playing some high-level basketball in Denver and wants a playoff run as bad as anyone.

  1. Miami Heat

You think Dwyane Wade doesn’t want to close out his career with another postseason appearance? It won’t be easy. The Heat have the seventh hardest remaining schedule in the league (according to Tankathon.com) and are led in scoring by Josh Richardson (who?). This fact may be true but head coach Erik Spoelstra has done an outstanding job of sneaking into the postseason the last few years. The Heat, who are tied with the Pistons for the eighth seed, would face off with the Milwaukee Bucks. Which may not be the best option.

While that wouldn’t be a great thing for Miami. Who would you rather see in the NBA Playoffs? An aging D-Wade and his band of middle-aged role players/slightly above average teammates, or the Detroit Pistons? A team that is a Blake Griffin injury away from being relegated to NBA irrelevance.

Before you answer, I will for you. Give me “Flash” and maybe a healthy Dragic against the best team in the Eastern Conference. It would be great for the fanbase to get one last playoff game in Wade County.

Also, Josh Richardson is really having a great year at 17 points per game. Not to take away from what he has done, but most of the attention has been on the retirement tour of one of the best shooting guards in league history.

The development of Justice Winslow has also been a nice surprise, as he has taken over a lot of ball-handling duties in the absence of Dragic. I like where the Heat are headed but they are a far-cry from the super teams we all loved to hate in the early 2010’s.

The Heat do still have multiple matchups with Milwaukee, Golden State, Toronto and Oklahoma City ahead of them, so while south beach would love their GOAT to get in for one last show, it’ll be an uphill climb for Miami.

  1. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers just got A LOT better, as the team added Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic at the trade deadline. This was evidently part of what the Sixers ownership sees as a prime opportunity to climb up the standings into a top-two seed and  make a run at the NBA title.

Harris brings much-needed floor spacing to a starting lineup that is clogged by Ben Simmons’ inability to shoot a jump-shot and the paint-centered play of Joel Embiid. NBA experts praised the move and so do I. Inserting Harris at the four spot next to Jimmy Butler just made this the second best starting lineup in the league. This gives the Sixers another floor spacer who was scoring 20 points per game for the Clippers.

Cameroon-born Joel Embiid is averaging 27 points and 13 rebounds per game, which is a lethal combination for the best post-player in the league that also knows how to shoot. He is a massive individual and the Simmons-Embiid pick and roll would be tough for anyone to stop.

This team is a little thin at guard after giving up on the Markelle Fultz experiment, but it did add a glue guy in Jonathan Simmons. Having Boban packaged with Harris in the Los Angeles trade also gives Philly a nice backup piece for when Embiid needs a little rest.

This team won the deadline in a lot of ways for me and set itself up nicely to make this list as they look to make their first NBA Finals appearance since 2001, back when Allen Iverson was MVP.

Philadelphia sits a nice 37-21, which is obviously safely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The team just decided that the window might be closing sooner than they thought and set itself up to make a very deep run, and likely conference finals appearance after being bounced by the rival Boston Celtics last season.