NBA playoff chase: Every thing to find out about 12 Japanese Convention contenders

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The NBA’s Japanese Convention is deeper than it has been in many years, establishing what needs to be a wild dash to the playoffs over the ultimate seven weeks of the 2021-22 NBA common season.

With 5 groups inside 2.5 video games of first place within the convention, and simply six video games separating sixth via eleventh place, groups shall be swapping spots within the standings on a nightly foundation. And, irrespective of the way it shakes out, some good groups — together with the preseason title favorites Brooklyn Nets, who at present discover themselves in eighth place — shall be taking part in within the play-in event.

On high of groups jockeying within the standings, the largest commerce of the season — the James HardenBen Simmons swap between the Nets and Philadelphia 76ers — continues to reverberate throughout the league, and would require each groups to regulate to the arrival of big-name stars over the following a number of weeks.

The upshot of all of that? It needs to be a heck of loads of enjoyable to see how the East playoff image shakes out. Here is a glance popping out of the All-Star Break on the 12 groups with a shot to make the postseason, listed so as of every group’s convention standing.

Once we final noticed them … Miami was rolling going into the break. They received six of their previous seven and had discovered a powerful rhythm taking part in behind Jimmy Butler and a stable core of men who play similar to him.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +550
Caesars title odds: +1100
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals: 9%


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: The Warmth received 11 of 14 video games throughout a stretch from Dec. 21 to Jan. 19, and so they did it nearly fully with out Bam Adebayo — who missed all however two video games whereas recovering from thumb surgical procedure. The actual fact Erik Spoelstra and his employees have been in a position to navigate via the powerful occasions and proceed to rack up wins set them as much as be atop the East heading into the break.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: Nets at Warmth, March 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV): This recreation could possibly be a preview of what is coming in some unspecified time in the future in Might. A wholesome Nets squad with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Simmons involves city for a showdown with Butler and Co.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: The important thing for this veteran bunch is having the ability to keep wholesome. With Butler main the best way, and Adebayo, Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker within the fold, the Warmth have a range who play and take into consideration the sport with the identical tenaciousness Butler does. One of many essential questions for Miami because it heads into the postseason shall be who will be capable of create offensively moreover Butler and Tyler Herro. Lowry has carried out a few of that previously, and so they’ll want the 35-year-old (who turns 36 on March 25) to assist.

— Nick Friedell

Once we final noticed them … The Bulls entered the break on a five-game successful streak on the shoulders of a hot-shooting DeMar DeRozan. Regardless of the group being depleted by accidents, DeRozan has saved Chicago afloat, changing into the primary participant in NBA historical past to attain 35 factors on 50% taking pictures in seven straight video games.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +1500
Caesars title odds: +3000
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals: 0.5%


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: DeRozan hits back-to-back game-winners on New 12 months’s Eve and New 12 months’s Day. There have been a couple of spotlight reel moments to select from throughout DeRozan’s heater of a primary half, however changing into the primary participant in NBA historical past to hit buzzer-beaters on consecutive nights embodies the distinctive match he has been in Chicago up to now.

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DeMar DeRozan scores 38 factors and the Bulls maintain off the Kings for his or her fifth straight victory.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: Bucks at Bulls, March 4 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): A number of members of the Bulls group have been livid on the flagrant foul from Grayson Allen that resulted in Alex Caruso‘s fractured wrist the final time these two groups met. So this rematch ought to have a little bit further edge.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: The Bulls didn’t make a transfer on the commerce deadline due to their perception within the group when it is at full power. Whether or not the Bulls will be capable of get there earlier than the top of the season shall be essential. They misplaced each Lonzo Ball and Caruso to prolonged accidents throughout a one-week span, however each gamers together with second-year ahead Patrick Williams, who hasn’t performed since October, are eyeing returns in mid-March. How shortly they will get on the ground, stand up to hurry and revive a struggling protection may make the distinction.

— Jamal Collier

Once we final noticed them … The 76ers had a wild ultimate few days earlier than the All-Star break. They launched James Harden, misplaced large at residence to the Celtics, then picked up an enormous highway win in Milwaukee to go into the break on a excessive be aware — led by the most recent dominant efficiency from Joel Embiid in a season filled with them.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +340
Caesars title odds: +650
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals: 7%


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: It took place two hours earlier than the Feb. 10 commerce deadline, when the 76ers and Nets accomplished the Ben Simmons-James Harden swap. All of the sudden, the 76ers went from being down an All-Star and questioning how they might exchange him, to reuniting Harden with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, forming arguably the league’s hardest 1-2 scoring punch with Embiid.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: Nets at 76ers, March 10 (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT): What else may this be, when Simmons and the Nets come to Wells Fargo Middle to face Embiid, Harden and the 76ers? There is not a extra anticipated recreation the remainder of this common season throughout the NBA.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: How will Harden match? With Simmons lacking all season, the 76ers have overachieved because of what has been one of the best season of Embiid’s profession. However now the Sixers should acclimate themselves to one of many league’s greatest — and most ball-dominant — stars in 24 video games between now and the beginning of the playoffs.

— Tim Bontemps

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Joel Embiid talks with Malika Andrews about discovering a brand new gear this season and the Ben Simmons commerce.

Once we final noticed them … The Cavs dropped their ultimate two video games getting into the break, however it hardly slowed the momentum for the largest shock contender within the convention. It was the primary time for the reason that finish of December the Cavs have misplaced a number of video games in a row.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +2500
Caesars title odds: +5000
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals:


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: The instant affect rookie Evan Mobley made upon arrival in Cleveland is the largest purpose the Cavs have remodeled right into a contender. The No. 3 total draft choose has made himself the favourite for Rookie of the 12 months honors with 14.9 factors, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per recreation, whereas serving to anchor a Cavs protection that ranks fourth within the league.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: 76ers at Cavs, April 3 (6 p.m. ET): Led by Mobley and middle Jarrett Allen, the Cavs’ greatest strengths — their protection and entrance courtroom — shall be examined in every assembly with the Sixers and Embiid. Philadelphia can have Harden within the lineup by then, so this recreation may present a stable measuring stick for the upstart group as Cleveland prepares for its return to playoff basketball.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: What sort of an affect will Caris LeVert have? Cleveland misplaced two of its high three guards — Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio — to season-ending accidents, so the group made a transfer earlier than the deadline to choose up LeVert. He has performed 4 video games for his new group up to now, but when he may help take among the playmaking and scoring burden off of All-Star guard Darius Garland, Cleveland may have an opportunity to go from nice shock to creating noise within the postseason.

— Collier

Once we final noticed them … Giannis Antetokounmpo was going forwards and backwards with Philly’s Embiid within the final recreation earlier than the All-Star break. Every time the Bucks appeared prepared to start out rattling off wins within the first half — corresponding to successful 5 of six video games, together with their West Coast swing earlier this month — they adopted up with a setback, dropping three of 4 heading into the break.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +300
Caesars title odds: +600
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals: 13%


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: The Bucks cruised to a cushty victory over the Nets on opening night time in Milwaukee, however it might be the one night time their group was at full power. Brook Lopez hasn’t performed one other recreation this season, and the Bucks would spend all the first half shuffling gamers out and in. They wanted 24 completely different beginning lineups to get via 60 video games.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: Bucks at 76ers, March 29 (7 p.m. ET): Any probability to see Antetokounmpo and Embiid go head-to-head is value watching, however this recreation may assist determine the winner of this yr’s MVP award. A number of weeks earlier than the playoffs start, it may be Milwaukee’s first probability to see Philadelphia with Harden within the lineup.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: Rely the Bucks among the many groups hoping to get wholesome earlier than the postseason begins. Milwaukee has reiterated it expects Lopez, who’s recovering from again surgical procedure, and guard Pat Connaughton, who fractured a finger the night time of the commerce deadline, to return earlier than the top of the common season. The Bucks had been carried by the power of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday for a lot of the first half.

— Collier

Once we final noticed them … Though Boston dropped its ultimate recreation earlier than the All-Star break, it has been a banner few weeks for the franchise, which has received 11 of its final 13 video games and outscored groups by greater than 250 factors throughout that span. All of the sudden, the season has been infused with a large burst of power and pleasure.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +1100
Caesars title odds: +2500
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals: 21%


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: This could possibly be the return of Marcus Smart on Jan. 23, which coincided with Boston’s latest sizzling streak, however we’ll as a substitute say it was the acquisition of Derrick White simply earlier than the commerce deadline. White is precisely the form of participant the Celtics wanted, one able to taking part in at each ends of the courtroom and, equally necessary, makes sensible, fast selections with the ball. It is no shock White has instantly turn out to be a fixture in Boston’s closing lineup.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: Warmth at Celtics, March 30 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): When Miami involves city on the finish of March, there shall be lower than two weeks to go within the common season, making it a doubtlessly large recreation for seeding functions for each groups. It additionally could possibly be a possible first-round playoff preview.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: The Celtics have regarded like one of many NBA’s absolute elite groups for near a month. Is that actual, or will issues begin to backslide? One factor to look at: Boston’s 3-point taking pictures. The Celtics, if wholesome, have an elite protection. What’s unclear is whether or not they can hit sufficient pictures to actually reap the benefits of it.

— Bontemps

Once we final noticed them … Toronto dropped two of its ultimate three video games earlier than the break however has gone 18-8 since Dec. 31, revitalizing its season and going from a group hoping to get into the play-in event to 1 hoping to keep away from it by ending among the many high six within the East. Toronto has made its distinctive mix of athletes surrounding All-Star guard Fred VanVleet work, and it has made for an entertaining season north of the border.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +4000
Caesars title odds: +8000
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals: 0.3%


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: Beating the LA Clippers on Dec. 31. It could have been unimaginable to know on the time, however that win jump-started Toronto’s season. A six-game successful streak adopted, and after a short lull in January the Raptors then rattled off one other eight straight wins into mid-February.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule – Warmth at Raptors, April 3 (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV): Miami visits for the second time this season in what could possibly be Kyle Lowry’s first recreation again in Toronto since leaving after 9 seasons this summer season. Lowry, the best participant in franchise historical past, missed the primary recreation in Toronto on Jan. 17 as a result of he was away from the group for private causes. If followers are in a position to be within the stands by then, and Lowry is again, anticipate a giant celebration for the championship-winning level guard’s return.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: Can the Raptors maintain up? Coach Nick Nurse hasn’t hesitated to lean on his stars. VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are first, second and fifth within the NBA in minutes performed per recreation this season, with rookie Scottie Barnes and guard Gary Trent Jr. each inside the highest 25. If these gamers keep wholesome, the Raptors have an opportunity to be a menace. If they don’t seem to be? Issues will collapse shortly. One thing else value monitoring: whether or not followers shall be allowed within the constructing quickly, because the Raptors have been taking part in in empty arenas for weeks now. That will surely be a lift to the group’s fortunes as effectively.

— Bontemps

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Stephen A. Smith sees James Harden as having extra inquiries to reply about his future than Ben Simmons.

Once we final noticed them … The Nets had every kind of drama surrounding them heading into the break after buying and selling Harden — and enduring an 11-game shedding streak — however they lastly appeared to show issues round as they headed into the break having received two of three, which included a 28-point come-from-behind win in opposition to the Knicks.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +300
Caesars title odds: +600
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals: 0.9%


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: The Harden commerce. Because the losses piled up main into the All-Star break, it grew to become clear the All-Star guard needed out — which led to the deal that despatched him to the 76ers and introduced Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks to Brooklyn. The Nets are nonetheless assured they will contend for a title this season, however the commerce modified the group’s course in the course of a making an attempt season during which they’re nonetheless coping with Durant’s knee harm and Irving’s part-time standing.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: Nets at 76ers, March 10 (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT): If Simmons is able to play, that is arguably essentially the most fascinating recreation left on the NBA’s regular-season calendar. Simmons did not wish to play for the Sixers anymore and can hear it from the Philadelphia crowd. On high of that, Durant and Irving ought to each be on the ground to sq. off in opposition to Harden and Embiid.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: What occurs with Irving’s taking part in time? The Nets stay hopeful New York Metropolis mayor Eric Adams will roll again town’s vaccination mandate, however no one is aware of for positive if or when that can occur. If it does, the Nets have a official probability to contend for a title. If it does not, will probably be very tough for Brooklyn to achieve its final aim given Irving can solely play in away video games.

— Friedell

Once we final noticed them … On Jan. 26, the Hornets scored a franchise-record 158 factors. Two days later, the Hornets topped the Los Angeles Lakers to enhance to 28-22 on the season. They’ve misplaced 9 of their final 10 video games since, together with the 2 previous to the All-Star break in additional time and double additional time.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +10000
Caesars title odds: +20000
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals:


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: Charlotte is hoping the acquisition of middle Montrezl Harrell may help flip issues round. Harrell has averaged 17.8 factors and seven.5 rebounds on 65.1% taking pictures since being acquired on the deadline.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: Hawks at Hornets, March 16 (7 p.m. ET): The Hornets are 2.5 video games again of the eighth spot held by Brooklyn and are share factors forward of the Hawks for the ninth spot. If Charlotte can defeat Atlanta, it might tie the season collection and keep away from the Hornets shedding that tiebreaker for play-in seeding.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: The Hornets have confirmed they will win, however they’ve an opportunity to get off on the best foot after the All-Star break with 5 of their first seven video games at residence earlier than a highway journey to New Orleans and Oklahoma Metropolis. If LaMelo Ball continues to play at his All-Star degree (20.0 factors, 7.5 assists and seven.1 rebounds) and the group will get Harrell going, they might make their push sooner reasonably than later. When Gordon Hayward (left ankle) returns, it would additionally give the Hornets a much-needed enhance.

— Andrew Lopez

Once we final noticed them … Atlanta has received 11 of their final 16 video games to vault themselves again into the play-in dialog. They got here away with a giant victory over Cleveland (when Trae Young notched one other 40-point efficiency) whereas persevering with their climb towards .500.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +5000
Caesars title odds: +10000
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals: 0.3%


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: The Hawks traded away Cam Reddish (in addition to Solomon Hill and a 2025 second-rounder) in January for a protected 2022 first-round choose and Kevin Knox. It freed up minutes on the wing and gave the Hawks a choose to doubtlessly use down the highway to proceed to construct the roster.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: Warmth at Knicks, March 22 (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT): Well being and security protocols robbed followers of seeing Younger return to Madison Sq. Backyard on Christmas Day, so this shall be his first journey again for the reason that playoff collection final yr that ended with him taking a bow at halfcourt. Towards a reeling Knicks squad, he could possibly be on tempo for an encore.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: Atlanta begins with a tricky slate after the break — at Chicago, vs. Toronto, at Boston, vs. Chicago — however not less than the Hawks are trending in the best path. Whereas John Collins’ latest foot harm that saved him out of the ultimate three video games of the break is one thing to observe, the Hawks have proven they’re able to occurring successful streaks underneath coach Nate McMillan each final season and this one. Atlanta’s large stretch underneath McMillan that led them to the 2020-21 convention finals confirmed he can push the best buttons down the stretch.

— Lopez

Once we final noticed them … The Wizards beat the Nets for the second time in 5 video games with Rui Hachimura having his finest recreation of the season with 20 factors. Washington has received three of its previous 5 however continues to be ready for Kristaps Porzingis to make his Wizards debut since he was traded to the group on Feb. 10.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +50000
Caesars title odds: +100000
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals:


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: Dropping Bradley Beal (wrist) for the season has modified the outlook for a group that began off 10-3 however was struggling when Beal performed his final recreation of the season on Jan. 29. Washington did attempt to handle its chemistry points and loosen the logjam of minutes and roles by buying and selling away Harrell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: Mavericks at Wizards, April 1 (7 p.m. ET): Dallas involves city, establishing a reunion between Luka Doncic and Porzingis. The duo’s working relationship ended on the commerce deadline when the Mavericks despatched Porzingis and the 2 seasons remaining on his five-year, $158-million deal to the Wizards. If he is wholesome, Porzingis will definitely be motivated going through his outdated group.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: After their blazing begin in October and November, the Wizards regarded like a group prepared for the season to finish simply days earlier than the commerce deadline. However the Wizards nonetheless have a shot on the play-in, regardless of shedding Beal for the season. They’re going to want a wholesome Porzingis down the stretch.

— Ohm Youngmisuk

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Stephen A. Smith goes on a tirade calling for a boycott of the Knicks after they endure a devastating loss at residence to the Nets.

Once we final noticed them … It has been a tough trip for coach Tom Thibodeau’s group this season. The expectations have been excessive after the Knicks shocked the league and vaulted to the fourth seed within the East final yr, however they’ve come crashing right down to earth in a season full of inconsistency — particularly on the defensive finish. The Knicks got here into the break having misplaced 13 of their final 16 video games.


Playoff and title projections:
Caesars’ Japanese Convention odds: +25000
Caesars title odds: +50000
FiveThirtyEight’s probability of successful the Finals:


Most impactful second through the season’s first half: Julius Randle operating down the ground throughout a Jan. 6 win over the Celtics with his thumb down within the path of the Madison Sq. Backyard devoted symbolized the Knicks’ whole first half. Randle performed at an All-Star degree all through final season however has been unable to duplicate it. He let his frustration out in a second that shall be remembered lengthy after the season ends.


Should-see recreation left on the schedule: Nets at Knicks, April 6 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Will the Knicks nonetheless be within the play-in image? Will Irving be capable of play on the Backyard by then? How does Derrick Rose take care of getting back from ankle surgical procedure? These are all questions that hover over the ultimate cross-town recreation of the season.


Pivot level for the remainder of the season: If the Knicks wish to make a push down the stretch, they’re going to want extra depth on the defensive finish. Additionally they should hope Rose can come again at a excessive degree and stabilize New York’s bench. The Knicks want him to be the engine of the second unit that he has confirmed to be when wholesome.

— Friedell

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