The 2018 NBA Playoffs are right around the corner, which means there are some key games to take a look at before the regular season ends.
NBA fans were given a treat on Friday night as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers battled things out for third place in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. The Sixers prevailed in the end, winning 132-130, overcoming 44 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists from LeBron James.
Rookie Ben Simmons went off for 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists for Philadelphia, showing he’s ready for the NBA Playoffs. He also had four steals as the Sixers moved to 49-30 and now currently lead Cleveland by half a game for third place.
The Philadelphia 76ers used a strength in numbers approach to overcome James’ 44-point performance. J.J. Redick led all scorers for Philadelphia with 28 points. Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli finished with 23 points and 17 points respectively, showing that this team’s depth may be its biggest strength as the playoffs approach.
5. Denver Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers (April 7)
The Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers aren’t out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference just yet. Both teams meet on Saturday afternoon with a lot on the line and on hot streaks of their own.
The Nuggets are 6-4 in their last 10 games and have won four games in a row. They’ve gotten the most out of Paul Millsap since his return from injury on Feb. 27. He put up 36 points on 13-of-18 shooting against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 30 to lift Denver to a 126-125 victory. Then, there’s Nikola Jokic, who’s averaging 26.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.5 steals per game during their four-game winning streak.
4. Portland Trail Blazers @ San Antonio Spurs (April 7)
The Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs are two other teams who have a big game coming up tomorrow night. The two teams square off at nine o’clock on the East Coast with positioning on the line.
The Trail Blazers are in a safer position currently at third place (48-31) in the standings. Since winning 13 games in a row, they’ve cooled off a bit. They are 4-5 in their last nine contests and can’t afford to lose another game to the Spurs. Portland has posted a 19-21 record against teams in this year’s playoff race.
The Spurs have lost two games in a row and four of their last six contests. They’re making things work in the absence of Kawhi Leonard but his extended time away has cast a dark cloud over his return to the hardwood. Big man LaMarcus Aldridge has stepped up in his absence, averaging 23.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 blocks per game, but they’re still missing that spark on both ends.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder @ Miami Heat (April 9)
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat are in two different conferences but every win counts at this juncture of the season. The Thunder are currently 45-34 and in a three-way tie with the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs with an identical record. They are the seventh seed in the Western Conference, but a victory here could change all of that.
The Miami Heat are currently 43-37 with a half-game lead over the Milwaukee Bucks for the sixth spot in the East. Miami trails the Indiana Pacers by four games for the fifth spot, but winning here still strengthens their hold on the sixth position in the playoff race.
Oklahoma City is 12-8 since the All-Star Break and seems to be taking things one game at a time. The Thunder are 1-4 in their last five contests as they look towards the playoffs. The Heat, on the other hand, have won four of their last six games entering their matchup with the Thunder.
2. Boston Celtics @ Washington Wizards (April 10)
The Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards face off on Tuesday night in a big primetime matchup on TNT. It is their final meeting of the season as the Wizards lead the regular season series 2-1. Washington won the last matchup, 125-124 in double overtime, but has landed on hard times as the regular season comes to a close.
The Wizards have lost four games in a row after falling to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night. Washington was outscored 16-4 by Atlanta to finish the game. The collapse came one night after the Wizards fell apart against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday. A victory over Boston would be great for their confidence as they’re currently eighth in the Eastern Conference standings.
1. Milwaukee Bucks @ Philadelphia 76ers (April 11)
The Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers face off on ESPN next Wednesday in the final night of the regular season. The Bucks are currently 42-37, seventh in the East standings, behind All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo. They could finish anywhere from sixth to eighth depending on how they finish the season.
Antetokounmpo has been superb for the Bucks this season, averaging 27.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, but his supporting cast has been less than stellar. The Bucks are a young and up-and-coming team but they’ve got some kinks to work out still. They’ll need to bring their A-game against the Sixers or they could be in for a long night before the playoffs begin.