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Here’s a few observations on NBA teams as the Play-In Tournament & Playoffs get closer.

Philly’s title hopes will come down to top players stepping up and coaching moves

With the Ben Simmons for James Harden trade finally over, Philly’s been able to focus on a set starting lineup that they can feel comfortable about moving forward. So far, Doc Rivers’ new starting five of James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, & Joel Embiid has been electric. The Sixers also have veteran bench players like Danny Green, Georges Niang, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, & Paul Millsap and a former champion coach in Rivers to go along with it. However, James Harden’s past shaky playoff appearances and Doc Rivers’ history of blowing playoff series leads could get in the way of winning the 2022 Larry O’Brien Trophy. 

Luka showed us he can win without another star during the Tokyo Olympics, now doing it again for new look Mavs

What impressed me the most about Luka Doncic’s run for Slovenia at the Tokyo Olympics was his ability to win games without any stars by his side. The only NBA players on Slovenia’s roster were Luka and the Denver Nuggets’ Vlatko Cancar, as the country consists of just over 2 million people, yet the group still finished 4th on the world’s highest stage. Luka is now in a similar position with the Dallas Mavericks after the club traded Kristaps Porzingis last month, and it’s safe to say the fit is great for his style. The Mavs have a team full of players who know their roles, defend, take the right shots, and want to win by any means headlined by Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, Dwight Powell, and a head coach in Jason Kidd who had that same type of mindset when he played as well.

Herb Jones looking like Pelicans’ defensive anchor of the future, offense playing great with CJ McCollum, plus Zion cleared for basketball activities

We knew the New Orleans Pelicans’ offense was going to get much better when they first acquired CJ McCollum last month, but defense was still a question mark and it showed in losing 4 of 5 games. Although since the rough start to McCollum’s arrival, the Pelicans have won 4 straight games by double digits (now 10th in the West standings), rookie Herb Jones has established himself as their defensive anchor for years to come, Jaxson Hayes went from getting no minutes to starting, and Zion Williamson was recently cleared for basketball activities. Quite the turnaround for a team who began the season with a 2-14 record.

Nuggets & Clippers will have loaded rosters when Jamal Murray, Michael Porter, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George get back

If the Denver Nuggets & Los Angeles Clippers proved one thing this season, it’s that they’ll be even better when at full health. With starters such as Jamal Murray, Michael Porter, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George all missing a large amount of time, both clubs’ rosters had to prove they can get it done on both ends with the exception of 2021 MVP Nikola Jokic. As the season comes to an end on April 10th, the Nuggets and Clippers are both top 8 seeds out West thanks to the play of their deep rotations. Denver’s Jokic, Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, Monte Morris, DeMarcus Cousins, Facundo Campazzo, Jeff Green, JaMychal Green, Bryn Forbes, Bones Hyland, Austin Rivers, & Zeke Nnaji are bringing balanced minutes while LA’s Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, Norman Powell, Ivica Zubac, Luke Kennard, Nic Batum, Robert Covington, Terance Mann, Amir Coffey, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Brandon Boston Jr. continue to do the same. Just from all the players I mentioned, you can clearly see that the two teams possess quite the talent and experience.