Observations on NBA teams in the East & West at All Star break.
Bulls & Cavs have nothing to lose in playoffs, both teams took huge steps forward this season
The Chicago Bulls & Cleveland Cavaliers will be playoff teams for the first time in quite a while if they keep up their great play after the All Star break. Chicago’s last playoff appearance was back in 2017, while Cleveland’s latest trip to the postseason came in 2018. Both clubs are now completely different squads today thanks to the help of stars like DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Darius Garland, and Jarrett Allen, as the two teams have both achieved top 4 seeds in the Eastern Conference heading into All Star Weekend. Also I can’t forget about the solid coaching jobs of Billy Donovan & JB Bickerstaff and all around depth from players like Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen, etc. The Bulls & Cavs have made a major jump from the past 4-5 years and should see bright futures ahead, so they really have nothing to lose this playoffs in my opinion.
Bucks will need Brook Lopez & Serge Ibaka to be ready on defense following loss of PJ Tucker, bench struggling without Pat Connaughton as Bobby Portis continues starting for Lopez
I’m not trying to make it sound like the regular season matters that much, but Milwaukee has definitely shown some noticeable flaws in the 2021-22 season. Brook Lopez injuring his back/losing PJ Tucker in free agency has hurt the club defensively, not to mention the Bucks recently lost one of their most valuable bench players on both ends in Pat Connaughton to a right hand injury. However, these concerns might not even matter if the newly acquired Serge Ibaka can bring a spark for the time being until Lopez & Connaughton get back healthy. This should take the workload off Bobby Portis when he transitions back to less minutes, as he’s done an amazing job this season at the starting center position.
Warriors facing questions about health & lineup rotations going into playoffs
The Golden State Warriors are another championship caliber team who hope to be 100% healthy by the playoffs. Top defenders Draymond Green & James Wiseman missed a bunch of time this season and sharpshooter Klay Thompson is still settling in since coming back last month. The returns of Green & Wiseman will take the pressure off big man Kevon Looney on defense and if Thompson can get back fully healthy/find his jumper that will do the same on offense for first time All Star Andrew Wiggins. Also head coach Steve Kerr plays a bunch of guys each night in his lineup rotations and will have to shorten it up once the playoffs come around. Warriors such as Jordan Poole, Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II, Nemanja Bjelica, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Jonathan Kuminga, and others have all proved their deserving of postseason minutes, so Kerr certainly has some important decisions to make.
We know Phoenix can get back to the Finals, playoff adjustments should be their biggest focus
The Phoenix Suns own the league’s best record at 48-10 and have a great chance to stay in 1st with only 24 games remaining. With that being said, here’s a few things I noticed during the 2021 NBA Finals that hurt the Suns.
1. Mikal Bridges only took 21 shots in Games 3-6 after averaging 20.5 PPG during the first two wins
- Bridges put up 28 total shots in Games 1 & 2 on 46.4% FG/38.5% 3-PT/100.0% FT shooting numbers. For a team like the Suns who mostly generate their offense through team basketball, not getting Mikal enough shots after going up 2-0 proved to be critical. With the exception of Devin Booker & Chris Paul, Phoenix’s starting lineup doesn’t have many shot creators/playmakers and rely on a lot of cuts/pick & rolls/catch & shoot plays.
2. Not having another versatile/long defender besides Deandre Ayton to put pressure on Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim played a big role
- Giannis took 85 total free throws & averaged 35.2 PPG on the series. Phoenix’s only defender who came close to the size/length of Antetokounmpo was Deandre Ayton (Dario Saric tore his ACL in Game 1), leading the club to add extra needed size/length this season in JaVale McGee & Bismack Biyombo.