NBA playoff preview: what to watch for

The+Phoenix+Suns+have+been+the+best+team+in+the+NBA+throughout+the+entire+year%2C+and+are+looking+to+win+a+title+after+losing+to+the+Milwaukee+Bucks+in+the+NBA+Finals+last+season.+

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The Phoenix Suns have been the best team in the NBA throughout the entire year, and are looking to win a title after losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals last season.

DAVID WARRINGTON

As we come to the end of March and inch closer to April, we are also getting closer to the 2022 NBA Playoffs. With the play-in tournament beginning on April 12, followed by the playoffs themselves on April 16, we are just weeks away from the conclusion of the regular season. With the season winding down, teams find themselves in various different positions. Some are coasting towards a high playoff seed, some are battling for a more favorable seed, and others are just trying to get to the NBA Draft.

The NBA playoffs have undergone a change in recent years. Previously, the top eight teams in the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference all qualified for the postseason, and it was a simple 16 team tournament from there, with all matchups being a best-of-seven. However, the play-in tournament was introduced last year, allowing 10 teams in each conference to play for a spot in the playoffs. The top six teams from each conference still automatically get to the playoffs, but teams that finish between seventh and 10th have to earn their spot, with two teams qualifying.

In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns, who were just a couple of games away from being NBA champions a season ago, have had a phenomenal season, already clinching the top seed with their 60-14 record, nine games in front of second place. The only other team in the conference to clinch a playoff spot is the second place Memphis Grizzlies with a record of 51-23. Memphis is playing very well right now, winners of three in a row and eight of their last 10 despite missing star player Ja Morant to injury. Morant is expected to return for the playoffs, making Memphis a very dangerous team.

The Golden State Warriors are currently in third place, with a record of 48-26. They have struggled as of late with the loss of Stephen Curry, winners of just five of their last 10. However, a fantastic start to the season still has them positioned to get a high seed, and if Curry can return for postseason play as is currently expected, this could be a dangerous team.

Looking at the playoff bubble, the Los Angeles Lakers are currently in 10th place, holding the last spot into the play-in tournament. Despite all-time great LeBron James leading the NBA in scoring, the Lakers have struggled this season, with multi-time All-Star Russell Westbrook having an especially poor season. However, they are still two games in front of the San Antonio Spurs, and are in position to compete for a playoff spot.

In the Eastern Conference, the race for the top spot is much more competitive. The Miami Heat are currently in first place at 47-27, and are the only team in the conference that has clinched a spot in the playoffs. However, the Philadelphia 76ers and the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks are both just half a game back from Miami, and the Boston Celtics are only one game back.

In fifth place is one of the biggest surprises of this season, as the Chicago Bulls, led by Demar DeRozan, who has had a career resurgence in his first season in Chicago, are well on their way to clinching a spot in the playoffs.

One team that is surprisingly on the bubble is the Brooklyn Nets. Despite having arguably more star power than any other team in the form of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and previously James Harden before he was traded to the 76ers, Brooklyn is currently in eighth place, meaning the Nets would have to compete in the play-in tournament. However, things seem to be trending up for the Nets. Just last week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that athletes and entertainers are no longer required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This means that Irving, who had previously only been able to compete in away games due to his vaccination status, can now play in home games in Brooklyn.

Things at the bottom of the playoff qualifiers are not as close in the east as they are in the west. The Atlanta Hawks currently sit in 10th place, a full five games ahead of the New York Knicks in 11th.

With the NBA Playoffs just on the horizon, teams are jockeying for position and competing hard to try to get the most favorable position they can. With a super competitive Eastern Conference, and a Western Conference headlined by the Suns alongside some sleepers behind them, this year is shaping up to be one of the most exciting editions of the playoffs that we have seen in quite some time.