NBA Playoff Picture 2018: Standings and Outlook as Postseason Approaches

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 5: Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets high-five during the game against the Portland Trailblazers  on April 5, 2018 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

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With just two days left in the regular season, the NBA playoffs are really beginning to take focus.

Nearly all of the teams are now locked in, but there could be some last-minute shuffling as far as placement after Wednesday, the last day of the regular season.

Finding out the order of playoff seeds is one thing, but to have to get in by the skin of one’s teeth is another.

There are two teams left that are literally fighting for their postseason lives: the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Denver Nuggets.

And as luck would have it, the deciding game for both of these two teams is on the final night of the season, against each other.

Fans wanted some drama and high stakes in their basketball. Well, it doesn’t get any more dramatic than having to play one game with everything on the line.

This week has been and will be one of the most exciting calendar of days in the Association.

From the San Antonio Spurs clinching their 21st straight trip to the playoffs despite Kawhi Leonard not playing, Russell Westbrook clinching a spot for the Oklahoma City Thunder on the strength of his triple-double or Anthony Davis literally putting the New Orleans Pelicans on his back and dragging them into the postseason, these last few days of the regular season have been amazing.

Here are the latest NBA playoff standings and a brief outlook on postseason play, which begins Saturday.

     

Eastern Conference Standings

e-1. Toronto Raptors (59-22) .728

x-2. Boston Celtics (54-26) .675

x-3. Philadelphia 76ers (50-30) .625

c-4. Cleveland Cavaliers (50-31) .617

x-5. Indiana Pacers (48-33) .593

x-6. Milwaukee Bucks (44-37) .543

x-7. Miami Heat (43-38) .531

x-8. Washington Wizards (42-38) .525

     

Western Conference Standings

w-1. Houston Rockets (64-16) .800

p-2. Golden State Warriors (58-23) .716

x-3. Portland Trail Blazers (48-33) .593

x-4. Utah Jazz (47-33) .588

x-5. New Orleans Pelicans (47-34) .580

x-6. San Antonio Spurs (47-34) .580

x-7. Oklahoma City Thunder (47-34) .580

8. Minnesota Timberwolves (46-35) .568

9. Denver Nuggets (46-35) .568

x = clinched playoff spot, e = clinched Easter Conference, c = clinched Central Division, w = clinched Western Conference, p = clinched Pacific Division

     

Outlook

Can the Philadelphia 76ers make it to the Eastern Conference Finals?

Let’s face it, “The Process” has been a complete and utter success.

Process that.

The Sixers have won 50 games for the first time since 2000-01 when Allen Iverson took them to the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Philadelphia is also on a historic 14-game winning streak, thanks to the play of its rookie sensation, Ben Simmons.

Simmons, this week’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week, has averaged an incredible 14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 10.9 assists during the streak.

“Where do I begin?” coach Brett Brown told Brian Seltzer of Sixers.com. “Let’s start with the poise, and the unflappable type of mindset that he has, and inner peace and inner confidence that he has that doesn’t let him get rattled or distracted much. Let’s talk about the continued growth of the intellectual side what is a point guard…he’s grown tremendously on that side of the position as well. And then, there’s just how good he is. Some of the things he does athletically—speed, vision, presence—he is for real. He really is for real. He has exceeded for me all of the expectations I’ve had for him.”

With the way they are playing, and especially if they get All-Star Joel Embiid back, the Sixers are primed to surprise a lot of people this postseason.

And that can include the Cleveland Cavaliers. In their last meeting, Simmons went off for 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists to give Philly a 132-130 win over the Cavs.

The Cavs are still right there, though it seems that something is missing.

And yes, it’s easy to assume that what they are missing is Kyrie Irving.

But only time will tell if that’s the case or if other teams like the Sixers are just too good for even the great LeBron James to overcome.

     

Are the Houston Rockets the new Golden State Warriors?

For the first time in franchise history, the Houston Rockets are ending the regular season with the best record in the league.

No one saw that coming, even with the addition of Chris Paul in the offseason.

Now that the playoffs are about to begin, everyone’s curious.

Can the Rockets beat the Warriors and make it to the NBA Finals?

If Golden State weren’t banged-up, there would be some very lengthy arguments on both sides.

But as it stands, the Warriors are injured, and they are without their two-time MVP Stephen Curry.

Meanwhile, Paul and James Harden are playing out of their minds, and the perfect supporting cast surrounds them.

Harden, the leading candidate to win this year’s MVP, is averaging a league-best 30.6 points and 8.7 assists per game, and Paul is adding 18.6 points, 7.9 assists and 5.4 rebounds per outing.

When Harden, Paul and Clint Capela were on the floor together this season, they were 41-3, including 20-2 against any of the eight teams they could face in the postseason, per NBA.com’s John Schuhmann.

“These last few years I’ve learned that obviously you can’t do it by yourself,” Harden told Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press (h/t Houston Chronicle). “You need guys to step up, make big shots, make big plays and so we have enough guys in here on any given night that can change a playoff series. So that’s what you need. That’s what puts you over the top.”

Golden State may not be as strong as it was last year, but it’s still not an easy out. The triumvirate of Harden, Paul and coach Mike D’Antoni will have to bring its combined best to put a stop to the Warriors’ reign in the West.

But all signs point to it being able to do just that.

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