Celtics, Wizards and Bucks might disfigure usual NBA playoff picture with continued success
With the National Basketball Association season coming to a close, usual suspects such as the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs are the main teams in the championship discussion. However, other Eastern Conference teams have surprised the rest of the league as of late and are now also entering the discussion, including the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards.
In the west, Golden State and San Antonio are playing as expected: under twenty losses, beating top teams and playing championship level defense. The Warriors in particular are on a hot streak despite an unhealthy Kevin Durant, winning 10 out of their last 10. In this stretch, they have beaten top teams and have made it to game 75 with only 14 losses. Point guard Stephen Curry has averaged 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds per game, and shooting guard Klay Thompson has been putting up 24 points a night.
San Antonio is also playing extremely well, though their last ten games have provided them with three unfortunate losses. Nonetheless, coached by legend Greg Popovich and led by defensive star Kawhi Leonard, the team will also contend for the championship, as is customary.
In the east, Cleveland has lost five out of their last ten games, giving up first place to Boston. After losing to San Antonio 103-74 — the team’s fifth loss in seven games — superstar forward Lebron James said, “We’re just in a bad spot right now.” James has even used the word “delicate” to describe the team’s rattled state of mind.
Cleveland is perhaps the second most star-studded group behind the Warriors, which seems to magnify their lack of success. However, it is important to remember that Cleveland had a similar period of struggle last year, during which they fired head coach David Blatt and eventually went on to win the title against a historically talented Warriors team.
However, Boston has been on the rise in the past several games, winning eight of their last 10 and beating both the Warriors and the Cavaliers in the past month. Led by star guard Isaiah Thomas, who is averaging 29 points a night —second behind Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook — and six assists per game, the Celtics have reached a new level of intensity. Fourth in the league in assists, the group is sharing the ball beautifully, as starting center Al Horford leads all centers in this category. The Celtics are in first place in the East for the first time in several seasons, and they look to close out the season in this spot to obtain home-court advantage for as much of the playoffs as possible.
Another new team on the radar is the Milwaukee Bucks. In their last 15 games, they are tied with the Warriors for the best record at 12-3, as they are playing with an intensity that has truly picked up. With young athletic players such as forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, guard Malcolm Brogdon and big man forward Greg Monroe, they have the potential to outlast older teams at the end of games when fatigue is an issue. The current fifth-place Bucks may challenge the Cavaliers or Celtics in a potential playoff series.
Lastly, the Washington Wizards are playing at a level that could threaten other major teams in the East. John Wall and Bradley Beal are at their career peaks, with both averaging 23 points per game, and center Marcin Gortat is averaging a double-double per game with 11 points and 11 rebounds. With a recent 127-115 victory over Cleveland, they have shown that they can beat highly talented teams.