Although this season’s playoffs will be formatted a little differently, underdog teams still remain. If these teams can avoid simple mistakes during the playoffs, they might be able to edge around a few teams and make it to the Finals. Doing this would be very difficult, but these 4 teams have the talent to get there.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
This season has not gone as planned for the 76ers, but that doesn’t mean it’s over yet. Philadelphia holds the 5 spot in the Eastern Conference, and would be playing Miami if the standings didn’t change for the rest of the season. Playing the Heat wouldn’t be too bad in the first round. If they were to win the first round, most likely they would have a second round matchup with the defending champs. Last season ended horribly for the 76ers when Kawhi Leonard knocked down “the shot”. This season, Kawhi is no longer in Toronto. Not only would Phili have to play the Raptors without Kawhi, but they also wouldn’t have to play in the tough environment at Scotiabank Arena. It would take a lot to get past a team like Milwaukee in the conference finals, but with the confidence they would have from beating Miami and Toronto, there is an even greater chance for them to do it.
3. Utah Jazz
Many people have been questioning the relationship between Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell since the suspension of the season. If these two work their relationship out and continue to play together, they could go farther in the playoffs than expected. Utah currently holds the four seed in the West, but they still need to play the remaining eight games. If the Jazz hold their position, the toughest team they would play in the first round are the Houston Rockets. Hard, but they can get through them. The Jazz have been playing well as a team so far, Mike Conley gave a nice boost off the bench, and hopefully will carry that into the postseason. Getting past one of the L.A. teams will be very difficult, but the Jazz have the skill and depth to get it done.
2. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat pulled off one of the most unexpected moves this offseason when they signed Jimmy Butler. Many people were surprised by this move, but when the Heat jumped to the top of the Eastern Conference many people saw how good of a team the Heat were. Even though the Heat sit at the number three spot, there are many speculations about how far this team can go into the playoffs. This team is built around Jimmy Butler and they have many surrounding pieces around him, but the one problem many people see is a lack of a second star. In crunch time during the playoffs, having more than one star to take the load off of Jimmy Butler could Butler and the team. This team may not have superstar duos, but Butler and the rest of this team plays tough and scrappy. With a great coach in Erik Spoelstra, and a group of players like Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro this team may surprise many people. If they can play with the type of edge that they had during the regular season and Butler plays like the superstar he is, this team could surprise many people in the East.
- Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets shocked the NBA when they decided to go small ball. With their two star point guards in Russell Westbrook and James Harden the Rockets offense should never see a dull moment. By taking away a traditional center from the Rockets rotation, Westbrook has space underneath the basket and has been having one of his best seasons ever. The small ball lineup has been working in the small sample size we have been given, but there are doubts about whether the small ball can work in a playoff setting. On the other side of the ball, many people worry if the Rockets can stay competitive on defense without a center. With forwards such as P.J Tucker and Robert Covington stepping into fill the hole at center, the switching scheme that the Rockets use on defense should allow them to cover bigger defenders and still be aggressive defensively. The rockets have a high ceiling while running with small ball, but there are still questions surrounding the defense and sustainability of this type of lineup. If the Rockets are able to answer the questions about their lineup, they should be able to match up with top tier teams like the Lakers and Clippers.
Top Photo: NBA.com