NBA Daily: Teams Are Limping Into The Playoffs

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Stephen Curry on track to return for series against Nuggets

The NBA regular season is coming to an end. Most postseason berths have been clinched and now the final games of the season, for playoff bound teams, purely involve jockeying for position, seeding and home court advantage.

As stated previously in this space, the NBA regular season is the ultimate test of a team’s character and mental fortitude. The NBA playoff season is a completely different monster to overcome and navigate through. The playoffs will quickly and systematically divide the pretenders from the true contenders. Experienced teams that looked dead in the water in February and March will seemingly magically lock into gear, while world beaters throughout the campaign will wither and fade under the bright lights on the biggest of stages.

This is a yearly ritual and extremely intriguing to watch develop. The storylines following this narrative are plentiful.

Will the Toronto Raptors finally overcome their playoff struggles after another impressive regular season?

Will the notoriously inconsistent regular season Cleveland Cavaliers once again run roughshod once the playoffs begin?

Can James Harden and Chris Paul overcome playoff shortcomings of yesteryear and lead a Houston breakthrough out west?

Would you bet hard earned cash that the recently struggling Golden State Warriors won’t show their championship mettle and defend their title?

Most of the above-mentioned scenarios are perfect world instances. What those instances don’t factor in are injuries.

Pure and simple injuries help shape the playoffs every season and this year won’t be any different. No team wins a title without the benefit of relatively good health among its core unit.

Heading into the postseason, there are multiple teams limited due to injuries, essentially limping into the playoffs with the hope of getting healthier.

Boston Celtics 54-27
Eastern Conference:
No. 2 seed (locked)
Key Injuries: Kyrie Irving (season), Gordon Hayward (season), Marcus Smarts (two weeks)

In many instances, the Celtics are still way ahead of schedule. The team has an abundance of young talent, All-Star veteran talent and a strong head coach. But this year’s unit is limping into the postseason and aren’t a serious threat to contend for a title with injuries sidelining Irving and Hayward for the season.  

Golden State Warriors 58-24
Western Conference:
No. 2 seed (locked)
Key Injuries: Stephen Curry (out indefinitely), Andre Iguodala (day-to-day)

The defending champions are still the class of the league – when healthy. However, the Warriors have been mightily banged up as of late and their recent play has more resembled that of a lottery team than a franchise looking to lock in their third title in four seasons.

All-Star forward Kevin Durant might be the team’s best player, but Stephen Curry is proving to be their most important. Golden State has limped down the stretch with a 7-10 record and don’t look like a surefire NBA Finals lock without Curry in the fold.

Houston Rockets 65-16
Western Conference:
No. 1 seed (locked)
Key Injuries: Luc Mbah a Moute (day-to-day), Ryan Anderson (day-to-day)

The Rockets are a serious threat to upend the Golden State Warriors’ dominance in the Western Conference, but suffered a blow to the rotation depending on the severity. Mbah a Moute’s recent shoulder injury is one of those ailments that won’t get much press attention, but the veteran forward will be missed on the defensive end come playoff time. Mbah a Moute is shooting 36 percent from three-point range this season and averaging 26 minutes per outing. The Rockets are loaded with firepower, but the playoffs are about coming up with key defensive stops and the team just lost one of their most dependable guys on that side of the floor.

New Orleans Pelicans 47-34
Western Conference:
Clinched, Seed TBD
Key Injuries: DeMarcus Cousins (season)

Credit to the Pelicans for battling through Cousins’ season ending injury and making a playoff run. All-Star forward Anthony Davis basically strapped the team to his back during this time and emerged as a legitimate top five MVP candidate.

However, the team’s true ceiling is undoubtedly lower without the versatile (and volatile) Cousins manning the middle.

Oklahoma City Thunder 47-34
Western Conference:
Clinched, Seed TBD
Key Injuries: Andre Roberson (season)

From an offensive standpoint, Roberson has plenty of flaws but his defensive prowess cannot be understated. The Thunder’s defensive efficiency plummeted once Roberson went down for the season and in the playoffs they’ll miss his ability to match up against the opposition’s best wing player.

Philadelphia 76ers 51-30
Eastern Conference:
Clinched, Seed TBD
Key Injuries: Joel Embiid (out indefinitely)

The Sixers are ending the season as the league’s hottest team. With Boston’s injury woes the 76ers have become the trendy choice to battle the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, there’s a good chance the team won’t have the services of All-Star center Joel Embiid until the second round and it’s not a guarantee the young Sixers can get out of the opening round without him.

The probability is high Embiid will return at some point during the opening round, depending on his pain threshold, but any long term postseason success for the team is highly dependent of it.

San Antonio Spurs 47-34
Western Conference:
Clinched, Seed TBD
Key Injuries: Kawhi Leonard (out indefinitely)

The Spurs have been playoff staples for the past 20 years. It is an accomplishment of the highest order to maintain that level of success over the course of two decades. However, the team has a bit of drama surrounding the unit this season with Leonard sidelined for the foreseeable future. The Spurs are still a team that cannot be slept on, but without Leonard on the court their title contention dreams aren’t anywhere close to being a reality – anytime soon.