With a week until the beginning of the NBA playoffs, many teams are barely holding on to their seed. In the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks still hold onto the first seed with 59 wins, holding a three game lead on the second place Toronto Raptors, who sit at 56 wins. Following closely behind, the Philadelphia 76ers in third place with 49 wins. Only two games separate the third through fifth seeds, with the Boston Celtics sitting in fourth with 48 wins and the Indiana Pacers in fifth with 47 victories.
The Western Conference is similarly close, with the Golden State Warriors in first with 55 wins. The Denver Nuggets are in second with 53, and the Houston Rockets are in third with 52 wins. With barely a few games separating the top seeds, home court advantage will hinge on every team’s performance this week.
Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has secured his third season averaging a triple double, a groundbreaking feat. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s eight-time All-Star also put up an incredible stat line of 20-20-20 in a single game against the Los Angeles Lakers, tributing the historic night to the late rapper Nipsey Hussle. Westbrook joins NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain as the only other player to ever put up a 20-20-20 triple double, speaking to the fire that Westbrook plays with.
With less than 3200 players ever playing in the NBA, only two have averaged a seasonal triple double, with the other being Oscar Robertson in 1961-62. The fact that Westbrook has been able to do this for three consecutive years is a testament to his elite skill as a basketball player.
Another crucial part of the end of the season is clinching playoff removal. The Los Angeles Lakers have officially been cut out of the playoffs, while the New York Knicks are now cemented as the worst team in the league. The Lakers, who started the year out strong and were predicted by many analysts to compete against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, just couldn’t push through after small forward LeBron James injured his groin during the season.
Though the Lakers have been removed from playoff contention, their ability to compete cannot be overstated, especially after their Christmas Day shellacking of the Golden State Warriors, winning 127-101. With James’ injury and a risky play for New Orleans Pelicans’ star center Anthony Davis involving a major roster shift, Los Angeles failed to develop as a team around James and have thus paid the price.
The Knicks are an interesting team to watch as well. Despite their poor performance, there is much talk around the team as they have the best chance to get the first overall pick and the possible acquisition of Duke University’s first-year phenom Zion Williamson. Williamson, an explosive player that has dominated at the college level, is predicted to surpass the likes of players such as James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
Although it is far too early to make these claims, it makes you wonder what the Knicks could do. Not only that, but rumors of players like Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving and Warriors small forward Kevin Durant going to play for New York have surfaced. Irving gets out of his contract this summer, so it is quite possible for him to join the Knicks. Durant also could be leaving with a player option this year, and the end of his contract next year. If these players came together with a strong group of smaller pieces, they could take the league’s worst franchise to first place.
Without James in the NBA playoffs for the first time since the 2004-2005 NBA season, the lack of a usual suspect should shake up the competition all the way through the Finals.