NBA playoffs loom as regular season nears end

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Cecilia Hammond

The NBA playoffs are almost here.

Zachary Brandwein, Staff Reporter

For most NBA teams, the next 19 days carries as much, if not more, meaning than the rest of the regular season. As the end of the NBA season gets closer and closer, teams are looking to punch their ticket to the NBA playoffs, with the ultimate goal to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy, given to the winner of the NBA Finals. New Orleans’ old team, now the Utah Jazz, was the first team to clinch the playoffs, with a league-leading 44 wins. Rounding out the top half of the Western Conference is the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets. The Brooklyn Nets, who are leading the Eastern conference, have 42 wins. However, most of those came without their top guys playing together, as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden have all missed time this year. Close on the Nets’ tail is the Philadelphia 76ers, led by big man Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons, who has stepped up defensively in Embiid’s absence. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are set to be the third seed, with the New York Knicks rounding out the top four. 

Due to the irregularity of scheduling this year, the NBA is including a play-in tournament for the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th seeds of each conference. The seventh and eighth seeds play each other, and the winner of that game becomes the seventh seed in the playoffs. The ninth vs. 10th seeds will play each other as well, but the winner of that game is not guaranteed a spot. They will have to play the loser of the seventh vs. eighth game in a “win or go home” scenario. This means that two extra teams per conference will have a shot to make the postseason, explaining Stephen Curry’s MVP-like run as of late, winning eight of the past 11 games, including three of the last four. On the other side of things, the Indiana Pacers have a three-game winning streak, but all three of those teams do not qualify for the play-in. The Washington Wizards have elevated their play as of late as well, recently just ending an eight-game winning streak, including four- and three-point wins over both the Jazz and the Golden State Warriors.

For the players, not only does the home stretch mean that playoffs loom on the horizon, but the award season starts when the regular season ends. For MVP, Nikola Jokic is the betting favorite, though Curry may be the one to watch. When Curry won MVP in 2015-16 — unanimously — he averaged 30.4 points, 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds in every game. He made 5.1 three-pointers per game, as well as shooting more than five two-pointers a game. This season, although averaging less assists at 5.7, Curry has beaten his 2015-16 campaign in every other category previously mentioned. He currently is averaging 31.2 points, 5.7 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game. Curry is making 5.1 threes per game, but he upped his two-point field goals to greater than five for the first time since the MVP season, while upping his efficiency as well. During his prior MVP season, however, Curry was teammates with Durant, and Klay Thompson was not hurt. When Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked if he thought Curry deserves the award this season, he gave a simple answer:

“Yes.”