We’re officially less than a month away from the start of the NBA’s play-in tournament and the races for those final spots into the pseudo-post-season are tight and filled with intrigue.
Cynically speaking, holding the play-in tournament this season amid a pandemic reeks of greed by the NBA, but the general spirit of why it was approved in the first place is playing out right now.
In the past, when teams were in 10th place or lower this late in a season, some fans lost interest, particularly if they were in markets with other pro leagues, like the NHL, also in the stretch run of its regular season and MLB getting underway, too.
Now, however, there are real possible post-season takes for these teams who may not have had a chance before, manufacturing interest, for better or worse, as a result.
Here’s a look at how we view the league right now.
Are the Sixers the best team in the league right now?
Having navigated the injury to Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers have now won four straight and five of their last six, including signature victories this past week over the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers.
Philly now holds a 1.5-game lead over Brooklyn for tops in the East and appears to be the best team in the NBA right now.
The Sixers aren’t head-and-shoulders better than everyone, but right now they’re the best, no doubt about it.
Man, injuries suck
Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray’s season is finished with the start of next season also in jeopardy, and any activity with Team Canada this summer also likely completely out of the question after he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee.
Utah Jazz star guard Donovan Mitchell suffered a sprained right ankle Friday and will be evaluated in a week. An initial MRI revealed no structural damage to the ankle, but this could still see him miss more time than many would like.
And the Nets’ Kevin Durant got hurt again Sunday, this time with a thigh contusion. He had just returned to the lineup on April 8 after a hamstring issue that kept him sidelined for close to two months.
Injuries suck, man.
The Knicks are streaking
Further indication that the New York Knicks are, indeed, back: They now hold the longest winning streak (along with the Boston Celtics, who appear to have found their footing this season at long last) at six games straight.
For all the grief he’s taken over the years for how hard he plays his players, Tom Thibodeau is still a hell of a coach and his tough-minded approach appears to be just what the Knicks have needed all along. There’s certainly a case to be made for Thibodeau to be this season’s Coach of the Year.
Would you like to see Luka Doncic and Stephen Curry in a duel in a win-or-go-home game? Of course you would, and it could happen.
Right now in the Western Conference’s play-in tournament race, the Golden State Warriors hold the No. 9 spot and the Dallas Mavericks are in No. 7.
If things in the West remain where they are now, we could very well see this dream matchup between Doncic and Curry.
In order for it happen, however, the Mavericks would have to lose to the No. 8 seed — currently the Memphis Grizzlies — and the Warriors would have to beat the No. 10 seed — the San Antonio Spurs right now — so they could meet in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the play-in tournament.
Three-way tie for No. 10 in the East
Even though it’s appeared that one of these three teams — the Toronto Raptors — have been trying to lose games in hopes of landing a better draft pick, the reality is they are currently tied for 10th place in the East and could very well find themselves in the play-in tournament.
Both the Raptors and Washington Wizards are on win streaks at the moment, with Toronto having won three in a row and Washington four straight, but of the three clubs, the Chicago Bulls still have the greatest advantage, holding the tiebreaker over both.
The next best bet would then probably be the Raptors, who hold the tiebreaker over the Wizards.
How to Tank 101
If you’re looking to tank, then pay attention to what the Oklahoma City Thunder are doing. They’ve now lost 10 straight and 13 of their last 14, aided greatly in their endeavour by convincing Al Horford to sit out the rest of the season and an injury to leading scorer, and Canadian stud, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Oklahoma City has famously acquired roughly 1,000 draft picks over the next seven years or so. As such, getting a head start on making use of them on top-end talent isn’t a bad idea.