Graphic by David Jakacky

With the NBA season coming to a close, it is time to look at the playoffs and see who the top contenders are this year. After a wild regular season, this year’s playoffs are wide open with no clear front runner.

After having one of the hottest stretches in the league at the end of the season, the Boston Celtics appear to be one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. Led by the best defense in the NBA since the New Year, Boston looks to continue their dominant run.

Forward Jayson Tatum continues his MVP caliber year, leading the Celtic’s offense. This season, Tatum averaged 26.9 points per game on 45% from the field to go along with 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Guard Jaylen Brown has been very impressive this season as the sidekick to Tatum averaging 23.7 points per game on 47.3% from the field to go along with 6.2 rebounds. 

If Boston wants to make it out of the East, the Miami Heat are a mighty opponent in their way, as the Heat holds the number one seed in the East after a very strong season, bouncing back from a disappointing last season. 

Forward Jimmy Butler leads the Heat for his fourth straight season and has continued to play well. On the season, he is averaging 21.4 points per game on 48% shooting to go along with 5.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists. While Butler has been the star for Miami since he has been there, he might not even be the best player on offense this season as that goes to guard Tyler Herro. Coming off the bench this season, Herro has averaged 20.8 points per game on 44.6% shooting. Expect the Heat to be one of the hardest teams to get through in the East.

After losing to the Milwaukee Bucks last year after a surprising run to the finals, the Phoenix Suns used this season to prove last year’s finals run was no fluke. This time, they might have what it takes to win it all. With the West being even tighter than the East, it will not be easy for any team to make it out of the conference.

Guard Devin Booker leads the high-powered Suns offense with 26.7 points per game on 46.5% shooting. Center DeAndre Ayton has been playing at a very high level this season for the Suns being a major part of their success. On the season, he is averaging a double-double with 17.2 points per game on 63.8% shooting to go along with 10.2 rebounds.

When looking at the Memphis Grizzlies this year there is one key player that sticks out, point guard Ja Morant. In just his third season, Morant already led Memphis to the second-seed position in the West and is proving to be a superstar already in his young career.

Morant is an MVP candidate this season for good reason, with him averaging 27.6 points per game on 49.3% shooting to go along with 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists. Memphis will need Morant to continue playing at this high level if the Grizzlies have a shot at reaching the finals. Guard Dillon Brooks has been solid this season as an underrated second option to Morant, averaging a respectable 18.3 points per game on 42.7% shooting.

With an NBA regular season that was anything but predictable, the post-season is shaping up to be one of the most competitive yet. With other teams such as the Brooklyn Nets, the defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks, and the formidable Utah Jazz, who knows who will win.