Why is it, that in a great NBA season, races for playoff seeds seem to be depressing? We know about the Eastern Conference. We know it sucks, and at least one bad team will make the playoffs. The Western Conference has been fantastic this year, but since the Trade Deadline, it seems that it’s becoming a little bit like the East’s. Depressing. How though?
Since the Trade Deadline, Oklahoma City rebuilt their bench, and Phoenix blew up their chemistry. New Orleans, who’s hanged around this year, lost Anthony Davis for the second time to a shoulder injury.
The case for all three of these teams is there. It’s matter of who stays healthy, and whether teams can adapt to newcomers. Phoenix has to adapt. The Suns traded away Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, and got back multiple big men. They also acquired Brandon Knight, who will replace Dragic.
It seemed strange to me that my Suns would break up the near perfect chemistry they have in the middle of a playoff race. My theory was that they were semi-tanking. Basically, trying to get a higher pick, while also causing some ruckus in the conference.
The other side of my theory stated that the Suns are truly breaking up the team, but would still try to contend for a playoff spot. The trades they made don’t end their season. They aren’t rebuilding. They are reduxing, like Miami did this past summer. It’s risky doing that in the middle of the season, and it’s a risk the Suns are taking. They understand that they may not make the playoffs. Yet, these trades could come together quite nicely, and work instantly. It’s a wait and see. The opportunity for the Suns could actually be there.
The Thunder have been injury riddled all year. Kevin Durant broke his foot before the season began, and he sat out longer then expected. Since his return, he played decently, but has had more issues with the foot. The latest? A small procedure to the foot he broke. He’s gonna be out at least a week. That’s when he’ll be re-evaluated.
OKC has done decent without Durant most of they year. They’re in the playoff race, and after a win Thursday night, they jumped into the 8th seed for the first time this year. Russell Westbrook has been phenomenal this year. The guy goes 100 MPH every night, and is a ferocious competitor. He’s carried this team, even when Durant has played. KD hasn’t been 100% at any point this year, and it’s quite amazing they’re where they are.
However, if this injury is one that Durant can’t get over, OKC could be in trouble. Yes, they have a new bench. Yes, they have Russell Westbrook. But, this is the Western Conference. One great player might not be enough. The Thunder are a great team when healthy, but they don’t have amazing chemistry. Adding the new guys may mess with the chemistry they had. It takes time, and sometimes it doesn’t work.
OKC’s biggest problem is Durant. If he’s healthy, the Thunder will be the 8th seed in the West. No one is better than them. If Durant is still hurt, or even shut down, OKC has Phoenix to worry about.
The Suns and Thunder have issues, yet they’re different. On paper, OKC’s is better. When it comes to being healthy, Phoenix’s is better. Chemistry plays a huge part, and both have questions with that at this stage.
So could neither of these two make the playoffs? It’s not inconceivable, but not likely.
The last possible team who could spark a fire in this race is New Orleans. At 10th in the West, they’ve hung around. It’s quite remarkable, and kinda insane when you look at their roster. One guy sticks out though.
Anthony Davis is the best young player in the league. He’s so young, that’d he’d be a senior at Kentucky this year if he stayed (Can you even imagine that? Good lord.) Did I mention he’s super good? Davis is a freak. That’s the only way to put it. He does so many things. He’s the only reason why the Pelicans are where they are.
New Orleans is only three games behind OKC for the 8th seed. It’s not crazy that they could make a push. However, the Pelicans, like OKC, need their stars to be healthy. Davis has been healthy for most of the year, but has battled a shoulder problem the past three weeks. Just yesterday, the Pelicans announced that he’d be out two weeks with the issue.
A lot can change in two weeks in this conference. Anything could happen. It’s not only the Pelicans who have to worry about it. OKC and Phoenix understand it.
There is two ways this could go. 1) All three teams overcome their problems, and create an incredible race for the 8th seed that comes down to the final night of the year. One team prevails, while the other teams aren’t disappointed. 2) The Thunder shut down Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis never gets to 100%, and the Suns, somehow, squeak into the playoffs with a team that hasn’t gotten used to each other.
It could go both ways. One is glass half-empty, and one is glass half-full.
As a Suns fan, I’m hoping KD and Anthony Davis don’t get healthy. I wish no harm or ill, againist them, but that’s part of being a fan. You have to root againist people.
As for what I expect, Russell Westbrook can carry this OKC team to the playoffs without KD. He’s that good. KD could come back and play fantastic, putting the Thunder in the playoffs no matter what. There would be no chance for the Suns or Pelicans. It’d be over.
Right now, you can’t count on that. KD has to be healthy, or at least 75%. The new bench will help, but KD is the second best player in the league. He has to be healthy.
Phoenix has an opportunity here. If the new players can mesh quickly and win games, the Suns might leapfrog OKC. I’m not saying it’s gonna happen, but it’s possible.
New Orleans is barely hanging on right now. Without Anthony Davis, they aren’t much of anything. That roster needs help, and maybe a new coach.
Whatever happens with this, some one will barely sneak in. It’s going to be a nail-biter, but it’s possible that the teams that gets in, won’t deserve it. We just have to wait and ponder.