The NBA’s Eastern Conference is still wide open, but the Western Division has become a tight race. These six teams could make it to the playoffs from each conference and catch fire once they get there.
The “nba playoffs 2021” is a list of the teams that will go directly to the playoffs from each conference. The list includes six NBA teams.
We’re nearly a quarter of the way through the regular season, which gives every club in the league ample time to develop real trends and statistics. We’re ready to go through the numbers and offer an informed prediction as to which clubs will qualify for the playoffs directly in both conferences, as well as where each team will finish.
Following that, we’ll look forward to the top six Conference of the West playoff seeds. Then we’ll do the same for the Eastern Conference, predicting who will make the top six playoff teams.
The Phoenix Suns are the first team in the league.
First place in the Western Conference with a record of 21-4.
The Phoenix Suns have a one-game lead over the Golden State Warriors for the league’s top record. Chris Paul and company get the first seed not just because of their superior record, but also because of their big three, consistency, and easier remaining schedule.
Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton could be the finest three-man team in the NBA. Each player brings a distinct skill set to the court, and they are all in the top five in the league in their respective positions.
Chris Paul is the playmaker, and no one outside of LeBron James comes close to matching his abilities. Chris Paul leads the NBA with 10.2 assists per game and just 2.4 turnovers per game, giving him a phenomenal 4.32 assist-to-turnover ratio. The scorer is Devin Booker. He averages 23.2 points per game and shoots 40.3 percent from beyond the arc. At the conclusion of the shot clock, he’s one of the finest isolation options in the league, averaging 0.97 points per possession (70.5th percentile). The inside bruiser is Deandre Ayton. He’s averaging 16.3 points per game and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 61.4 percent from the field for the Suns.
The Phoenix Suns have reassembled a group that is remarkably identical to the one that reached the Western Conference Finals last season. Their starting lineup has enjoyed great injury luck, with no major injuries to any of their key players in the previous year and a half. C. Paul, J. Crowder, D. Booker, M. Bridges, and D. Ayton, the Suns’ starting five, have played a total of 292 minutes this season, which is the third-most in the NBA. It’s easy to see how much consistency the Suns have already developed when you compare them to the Lakers’ most utilized five-man unit of C. Anthony, R. Westbrook, A. Bradley, A. Davis, and T. Hoton-Tucker, who have played just 53 combined minutes.
Finally, according to Basketball-Reference, the Suns have the second-most favorable remaining schedule (-0.37) among the Western Conference playoff contenders. The Suns have a.840 winning % and have already completed their most difficult schedule of games.
Golden State Warriors, No. 2
2nd in the Western Conference with a record of 21-5.
The Warriors, unlike the Phoenix Suns, are more of a one-man show. Stephen Curry has the best +/- rating in the NBA (minimum 10 games played), and it’s evident that his gravity is the engine that drives the Warriors’ offense. Andrew Wiggins (18.5 PPG) and Jordan Poole (10.5 PPG) are the Warriors’ only other double-digit scorers (18.0 PPG). The Warriors’ offensive threats drop off a cliff after those two; Damian Lee is fourth on the team in scoring with 8.5 points a game, and Draymond Green averages 8.0 points per game.
Stephen Curry is the Warriors’ offense, which may be frightening to fans in Northern California, but he’s one of the best-conditioned athletes in the league, and his high-flying style doesn’t lead to severe injury. Whatever happens, Stephen Curry is unlikely to miss a significant amount of time.
On offense, the Warriors are exceptional because to Curry’s brilliance, but on the less glamorous end, they really differentiate themselves from the rest of the Western Conference. Due to a smothering perimeter assault and Draymond Green’s ferocity in the middle, Golden State leads the NBA in defense. Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, and Draymond Green are the finest defensive trio in the NBA, and it’s not even close; they suffocate offensive possessions like a fire on an anthill.
Klay Thompson has yet to be discussed. He’s an important player for the Warriors in the playoffs. Golden State is still a contender without its sharpshooting guard and likely finish in the top two in the West owing to their great start, but if he returns to his pre-injury form, the Warriors will soar to new heights.
Utah Jazz, No. 3
3rd in the Western Conference with a record of 19-7.
The Utah Jazz boast the league’s top offense. They shoot almost half of their shots from beyond the arc (.497 3Par) and hit on 37.4 percent of those attempts, which is good for third in the league. The Jazz are the only team in the NBA with five rotation players who shoot 40% or better from beyond the arc:
– Mike Conley: 46.3 3P% off 5.6 attempts.
– Rudy Gay: 41.7 3P% off 5.0 tries
– Joe Ingles: 40.9 3P% from 4.9 attempts
Royce O’Neale: 40.4 3P% on 3.9 attempts.
– Bojan Bogdanovic: 40.3 3P% from 6.1 attempts.
Utah is a difficult opponent to overcome. Donovan Mitchell provides them with a reliable off-the-bounce creator from the perimeter that opposition coaches must account for in their game plans. Rudy Gobert is practically unstoppable close to the hoop, receiving lob passes and grabbing offensive rebounds with ease. Five assassins circle the Jazz’s one-two punch on the perimeter, ready to knock down a three-pointer with barely a sliver of daylight.
On defense, the Jazz are also quite good. Rudy Gobert is the early favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. He blocks a league-high 18.5 shots per game, allowing any opponent who dares to venture into his paint to shoot a whopping 39.0 percent from the field.
Rudy Gobert is the defensive anchor for the Utah Jazz. Everything revolves on his defensive abilities at the rim. By the three-point line, Jazz perimeter players flex their muscles, snuffing out shooting attempts and challenging their man to go into the lane for a shot at the rim over Gobert.
The Jazz may not be able to match the Suns’ big three or Stephen Curry’s brilliance, but they are certainly in the Western Conference’s top tier.
Los Angeles Lakers, No. 4
15-13 in the Western Conference, 6th place
The Lakers have a.500 record and have looked dreadful at times. But that’s OK. The Lakers, unlike the Suns, Warriors, and Jazz, who have excellent continuity from last season, have brought in 12 new faces; there will be a learning curve.
The trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook is the league’s most skilled trio, and they’ve recently showed indications of sorting things out.
Take a look at their statistics from the previous 10 games:
– Russell Westbrook: 19.8 points per game, 8.0 assists per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, 4.2 turnovers per game, and 41.9 three-point percentage
– LeBron James: 29.8 points per game, 8.0 assists per game, 6.0 rebounds per game, 3.8 turnovers per game, and 34.8 three-point percentage
– Anthony Davis: 23.5 points per game, 3.3 assists per game, 9.3 rebounds per game, 1.6 turnovers per game, and 22.2 three-point percentage
As they learn to know the guys around them, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James are turning the ball over less. Russell has unexpectedly become a reliable three-point shooter, and although AD continues to struggle from beyond the arc, he has substantially reduced his three-point attempts, averaging just 2.3 per game.
During the regular season, the Lakers will not push things to their limits. This group isn’t made that way. However, as the season develops, they’ll develop greater synergy and start to peak as the playoffs approach. To escape the play-in tournament and avoid the Suns and Warriors in the first round, the Lakers are expected to surge into the fourth spot.
Memphis Grizzlies, No. 5
16-11 in the Western Conference, 4th place
The Grizzlies are a legitimate team. Ja Morant, their leading scorer and All-Star contender, is out, but that hasn’t stopped them. Without him, they are 7-2.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is a mythical being. He’s making 35.8% of his 3-point shots and averaging 1.9 blocks a game. Desmond Bane has also proven to be more than just a capable sidekick. He’s averaging 16.3 points per game for the Grizzlies, and he’s shooting 40.2 percent from outside the arc.
When you watch the Grizzlies, you’ll notice two things: they play as hard as any team in the NBA, and despite their youth, they’re immensely confident.
The Memphis Grizzlies are a playoff club, but we’ve moved them below the Lakers due to the analytics. The Grizzlies are the league’s 22nd best defensive club, well behind a Lakers squad that has unexpectedly risen to 12th place. Memphis is also three games ahead of their predicted record of 13-13, according to Basketball-Reference.
Dallas Mavericks, No. 6
7th in the Western Conference with a record of 13-13.
The Dallas Mavericks are now at.500 and have seemed to be in a state of disarray for the most of the season. Their top-six rating is based on three factors:
– MVP candidate Luka Doncic is still on the roster.
– They returned practically their entire roster from last season’s fifth-place finish in the Western Conference.
– There aren’t many better contenders in the West to crack the top six.
Luka Doncic is as important to the Mavericks as Curry is to the Warriors, but an ankle injury has slowed him down. On the court, Doncic will improve as he recovers and plays himself into greater form.
During the summer, the Mavericks had very little turnover. Tim Hardaway Jr., bruiser Jalen Brown, and big Kristaps Porzingis are still on the roster. They’re still a good team that should improve as the season goes on.
This year’s Western Conference is reduced. The Clippers, Nuggets, and Trailblazers are all missing key players, and it’s difficult to see a young team like the Kings or Timberwolves lighting fire and rocketing up the rankings.
The Eastern Conference is comprised of the following teams:
1. New York Nets
First place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 19-8.
The Brooklyn Nets have the best backcourt in the league. Kevin Durant leads the league in scoring with 28.5 points per game, while James Harden is on pace for a triple-double with 20.8 points per game, 9.6 assists per game, and 7.9 rebounds per game.
On offense, Kevin Durant has no flaws. He can get to the rim and finish with the best of them (72.1 percent from 0-3 feet), pull up outside the lane with two hard dribbles (52.9 percent from 10-16 feet), curl off a screen and connect from just inside the arc (64.7 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line), and jack from deep off the dribble (37.3 percent from three-point range).
James Harden is gradually coming into his own. He’s averaging 10.9 assists per game and 21.8 points per game over his previous ten games. Harden’s shooting percentages haven’t been spectacular, but he’s given the Nets a +/- of +4.7 points since he’s doing so much on the floor. Conditioning issues, rule changes, and maybe his age have hampered Harden. Overall, he’s still the greatest isolation scorer in the league, averaging 7.3 one-on-one opportunities per game and scoring 1.07 points per possession, which puts him in the 84.8th percentile.
Kevin Durant and James Harden’s skill sets combine to make them tough to cover. To add insult to injury, the Brooklyn Nets have two of the finest long-distance shooters in the league, with Joe Harris hitting 46.6 percent of his long-range shots and Patty Mills nailing 44.6 percent of hers.
The Nets have a strong offense, but it’s their unexpected defense that has them ahead of the Bucks and Bulls in the East. Brooklyn’s defensive rating is ninth, thanks to a switch-heavy style that stymies opposition attacks. The team’s only true flaw is at the center position, where LaMarcus Aldridge is a little sluggish and Blake Griffin is too undersized.
Milwaukee Bucks, No. 2
18-10, enough for second place in the Eastern Conference.
The Bucks started the season poorly, in part due to Khris Middleton’s absence due to a minor injury in October and November, as well as a mild title hangover.
The Bucks are 8-2 in their previous 10 games as they transition from autumn to winter. During those 10 games, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday have guided the Bucks to victory after victory. Take a look at their numbers:
– Giannis: 27.3 points per game, 11.0 rebounds per game, 5.5 assists per game, and +/- +13.0.
– Khris Middleton: 18.1 points per game, 5.1 assists per game, 5.8 points per game, and +/- 7.8 points per game
– Jrue Holiday: 19.1 points per game, 5.5 points per game, 6.6 points per game, and +/- +15.2 points per game
All three players can score, but this group is special in that they can also pass the ball. Opposing defenses can’t focus on a single playmaker throughout the regular season or in the playoffs because Holiday, Middleton, and Antetokounmpo can all play as the team’s playmaker.
On a less glamorous note, the Bucks have gone switch crazy without star 7-footer Brook Lopez, who is sidelined due to injury, and they may have discovered something. The Bucks are seventh in defensive rating over the previous 10 games, allowing opponents to shoot a league-best 42.5 percent from the field.
The Bucks’ formidable trio, as well as their length and versatility, make the reigning champions a certainty for a playoff place in the top two.
3. The Bulls of Chicago
17-10, enough for third place in the Eastern Conference.
The Chicago Bulls surprised everyone with their performance. The signing of DeMar DeRozan was a joke in the NBA before the season started. A few months may have a significant impact. Now. DeRozan is a candidate for MVP, and his Bulls are among the best in the NBA.
You may be harmed in a variety of ways in Chicago. DeRozan and Zach LaVine are about as good as it gets when it comes to delivering a one-two punch to the face. LaVine is a dangerous shooter from beyond the arc, making 39.1 percent of his shots on 7.5 attempts. Those aren’t even cover-up looks. He’s mostly shooting off the dribble or from step backs. In the mid-range, DeRozan is even nastier, hitting 54.2 percent of his attempts from 10 to 16 feet.
Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso may be the finest defensive backcourt duo in the league. Both players have high basketball IQs and seem to anticipate where the ball will go before it leaves the hands of an opponent. Ball and Caruso also have quick feet, which enable them to glide side-to-side and block off even the most explosive players’ drives to the rack.
Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls’ center, isn’t much of a post presence (6th percentile on post-up plays), but he has a nice stroke and helps DeRozan and LaVine get into the lane and pick apart defenders.
There are no gaps in the Bulls’ defense. They’re solidly entrenched in the NBA’s highest class, but if you had to choose between the superstar duos of Kevin Durant and James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, and DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine vs DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, the Bulls have to come in third.
Miami Heat, No. 4
16-11 in the Eastern Conference, 4th place
Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry are two of the world’s most ferocious basketball players. Despite this, Lowry has fallen short of the lofty expectations that were placed on him when he arrived in Miami this summer. He’s averaging just 13.4 points per game and shooting only 32.7 percent from outside the arc. To make things worse, Lowry hasn’t been himself on defense, enabling his assignments to shoot 4.2 percent higher than average. Jimmy Butler has improved, but he’s still shooting 19.4 percent from three, and he’s allowing the guys he guards to shoot 1 percent higher than their season average.
The injury to Bam Adebayo hurts. He’s a defensive dynamo who shifts onto guards and holds down the fort in the lane on a regular basis.
The Miami Heat have the potential to overcome a two-month layoff from Bam Adebayo, a sluggish start from Kyle Lowry, and Jimmy Butler’s awful long-range shooting. Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson are exceptional offensive players who can hit several bombs every game and are much stronger defensively than most people outside of Miami realize. P. J. Tucker and Markieff Morris are two seasoned wings who thrive from beyond the arc and help the Heat improve their overall toughness.
The Miami Heat haven’t quite reached the heights of the Nets, Bucks, or Bulls, but they’re firmly placed among the top four in the Eastern Conference.
5. The 76ers of Philadelphia
15-12 in the Eastern Conference, 6th place
The Philadelphia 76ers just played their greatest game of the season, winning by nine points against the Golden State Warriors and setting out a winning template for the rest of the season. Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey provided backup scoring from the outside, but Joel Embiid dominated inside. At the same time, Matisse Thybulle, the defensive powerhouse, harassed MVP leader Stephen Curry into an uncommon 6-20 brick-fest.
The 76ers have gone 4-1 in their past five games with Joel Embiid back in the lineup and building up his fitness after missing time early in the season. They have victories against the Warriors, Hornets, and Hawks. The 76ers are having a good season, but here’s the thing: they’ll trade Ben Simmons for an impact player (CJ McCollum? ), and the offense will open up, making life simpler for Embiid and Harris.
The 76ers are just one game behind the Miami Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, and they’ll have to battle their southern rivals all season for home-court advantage in the first round.
Atlanta Hawks, No. 6
9th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 13-13.
This was the most difficult decision to make.
With a 16-12 record, the Cleveland Cavaliers are now in fifth place. The strange thing is that their predicted victories based on points gained and allowed put them in fourth place in the league with 17 wins. Cleveland’s defense is ranked fourth in the NBA, and that isn’t an early season fluke. Evan Mobley, a rookie, devours opponents on all three levels of the field, while guards Ricky Rubio and Darius Garland have played outstanding perimeter defense.
The Washington Wizards have a 15-12 record, but they’re 12-1 in games decided by five points or fewer, which is an unsustainable record, particularly without Kevin Durant, LeBron James, or Stephen Curry at the helm.
LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges are probable All-Stars for the Charlotte Hornets, who are 15-13. Still, they’re one of the league’s younger teams, and it’s difficult to envision them beating off more experienced teams for the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed.
We had to settle on.500 Hawks in the end for two reasons:
Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, and Trae Young, the Hawks’ closing unit, have the greatest net rating in the NBA with +98 total points.
The Hawks’ remaining schedule is the second-easiest in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks have looked sloppy at times, and their defense has been borderline abysmal (25th in DEFRTG). Nonetheless, with almost the same roster as previous season, this team reached the Eastern Conference Finals, and they are much too talented to continue playing mediocre basketball beyond 2022.
After the new year, they’ll ramp up the intensity and feast on a slew of lesser opponents, steadily moving up to sixth position.
The Western Conference vs. the Eastern Conference is a matchup between two conferences.
The top six teams in the West seem to be fairly apparent, but injuries have weakened elite teams like as the Clippers, Trailblazers, and Nuggets. The Western Conference playoff bracket at the bottom is as wide open as it’s been in the previous quarter-century, allowing new incumbents like the Kings or Timberwolves to join the play-in party.
Nine Eastern Conference clubs are now playing at or above.500, cluttering up the chase for the remaining four berths. It will be exciting to watch whether one of the youthful teams, like as the Cavs or Hornets, can break through after the All-Star break, or if the old guard can keep their grip on the East for another year.
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