The 2021 NBA playoffs are set to begin in just over two weeks and, if you’ve been keeping track of all the injuries, they can’t start soon enough. But a more direct question is which teams are getting their act together just in time for the second season. The ones that have weathered the storm and now have their collective sights set on a greater accomplishment than a top-seed.
Which NBA Teams are Getting Hot at the Right Time for the Playoffs?
We keep trying to write the Washington Wizards off and they just won’t go away. After an 0-3 start to April, the Wizards went 13-3 the rest of the month. They’ve split their two games so far this month, but are now in 10th and have a shot at the playoffs via the play-in. Say what you want, but this is a team that was supposed to be dead in the water. All of this is gravy for Russell Westbrook and puts Bradley Beal in an interesting position regarding his long-term future.
Everyone (present company included) thought the Denver Nuggets ship was sunk when Jamal Murray went down. Well since then, Denver is 9-2, the second-best record in the NBA over that span. Nikola Jokic has averaged 27.1 PPG, 10.9 RPG, and 6.9 APG. Those numbers are down from his full-season averages, but part of that is due to the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. He’s been a top-20 scorer since Murray went down, averaging 25.0 PPG while shooting nearly 57 percent from the floor and over 49 percent from deep.
New York Knicks
A hot start by the upstart New York Knicks gave way to a lull that most probably saw coming. After all, this team is overachieving by most standards. It would make sense for a late-season swoon from a bunch of guys not used to winning. But the bounceback was strong with this one and the Knickerbockers, fresh off of a 6-9 stretch, have won 12 of 13, including nine in a row. There aren’t many teams that want to face this team in the postseason.
We did an entire write-up on Chris Paul and how his impact on every team he’s been on has allowed him to be one of the few who escape the “rings or bust” narrative we often see around the game’s greats. Pairing him with Devin Booker has proven to be trouble for the rest of the West. Granted, injuries have run amuck in the NBA and Western Conference teams haven’t been immune. But, at a certain point, durability is just like any other skill.
Lake (No) Show
Injuries have been a constant this season so barring any extenuating circumstances, it isn’t an excuse for our purposes. As such, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are limping their way to the finish line as Anthony Davis and LeBron James both knock off the rust from extended absences. It isn’t wholly unexpected, they and the Miami Heat (who have also been ravaged by injuries and COVID protocols) had just a little over two months between seasons. Basically, in this case, “disappointment” is less of a pejorative and more so just an acknowledgment.
Boston Baked Cs
Another focus of a Clocker Sports write-up, the Danny Ainge Boston Celtics have seen the sheen wear off of them. So much so that there were even questions of whether or not Brad Stevens was the right man for the job. They too have dealt with injuries and shook up their roster with mid-season trades. But for a group that has reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four years, anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be viewed as a failure. They’re 2-4 over their last six but they do have one of the easier remaining schedules.
Risers and Fallers Ahead of NBA Playoffs
The NBA Playoffs are right around the corner and most of these teams are doing the right things to get themselves prepared. But things can change so they have to keep up the intensity down the stretch. For those on the skids, at least those in our examples, returning players and weaker opponents appear to be saviors on the horizon.