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Miami Holo-Herald: Playoff Races Heat Up in RBSL

Started by HeatGM, February 22, 2021, 01:04:31 pm

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HeatGM

February 22, 2021, 01:04:31 pm Last Edit: February 22, 2021, 01:47:22 pm by HeatGM
(Miami)- With two weeks to go in the regular season, the playoff races for the Eighth Seed in both conferences, the East's top seed, and the Atlantic Division Crown are heating up, even without the Hometown Heat, who appear to have finally locked in the 2nd best lottery odds on the heels of a 22-game losing streak which looks apt to continue for the rest of the season. Philadelphia and Brooklyn battle to win the Atlantic Crown, with a matchup with Chicago looming for the victor. To the loser goes the 7 seed and a matchup with the loser of the catbird race between the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers.

On the fringes of the Playoff picture, the East sees Detroit, Milwaukee (1.5 GB) and New York (2.5 gb) all within 3 games of the current seat holder, while the West pits the Phoenix Suns and their likely Rookie of the Year
guard Anthony Edwards against the Oliver Connelly-less Denver Nuggets for the privilege of being swept by the Memphis Grizzlies.

A breakdown of the top race in the East shows that, though the Cleveland Cavaliers are currently ahead in the standings with a game and a half lead over Washington, their schedule leaves doubt as to whether or not they can hold off Washington and preserve a matchup against the 'winner' of the battle for the Eighth Seed in the East. Their sole home game is against the Pistons, with road games agains the Pacers, Grizzlies, and Timberwolves all potentially throwing up a speed bump on Cleveland's path to a Homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. The Washington Wizards, in contrast, play one of the easiest schedules going out, with only a road trip to Chicago presenting so much as a hurdle to a team who otherwise should blow through a schedule of games in which only one other team is within sniffing distance of the playoffs.

That said, though their schedule certainly presents more interesting games than Washington's, the Holo-Herald predicts that the Cleveland Cavaliers shall power through the gauntlet of their schedule and hang on to the top seed, as well as remaining the league's top overall seed.

In the Atlantic Division, the Philadelphia 76ers currently hold only a half game lead over the Brooklyn Nets, with a win in hand over their division rivals. A tough schedule looms for both teams, with Philadelphia staring down matchups against Minnesota, three games (two at home, one away) with Orlando, and road trips to Brooklyn and Milwaukee waiting for the Sixers. Brooklyn, in addition to hosting the potentially deciding matchup between the teams, faces Denver and the Knicks at home, while looking at road trips to Phoenix before closing the season on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers.

With a slightly more favorable schedule, the Herald projects the Brooklyn Nets to win the division, on the strength of an expected victory in their game on April 13, held at Barclay's Arena.

In the Western Conference, it's a tale of two teams headed in different directions. The young and promising backcourt of the Phoenix Suns, lead by likely rookie of the year Anthony Edwards and point forward Nacio Ruiz, have answered the call of Head Coach Garrett Blakeslee and weathered a brutal post All-Star Road trip Schedule to sit in the eighth seed out West. Though the schedule is not what one would call 'favorable' going forward, there are neither expected losses and only one expected win (4/7 when Phoenix hosts the struggling Toronto Raptors) on the schedule. Ultimately, Phoenix's playoff chances lie in their own hands.

Tied with them in the standings is a team many expected to surge into the Playoffs, however these hopes were derailed when Star PG Oliver Connelly broke his leg while skiing. The injury is expected to cause Connelly to miss the remainder of this season as well as the playoffs, should Denver win the race. However, in his absence the Denver Nuggets have gone 14-5 absence to charge back into the playoff race.

In contrast to their rivals in Phoenix, Denver is staring down a lengthy road trip to close their season, with only two home games (against the Playoff-bound Mavericks and the pathetic Atlanta Hawks) remaining. Denver looks to be a heavy underdog in at least two games to close out the season, meaning they will likely need every win they can get from matchups with Brooklyn, San Antonio, and the Lakers as well in order to keep pace with the Suns.

The Herald projects that the Denver Nuggets, despite dropping games to Minnesota and Dallas, are able to beat the Suns on the road and thereby lock in the eighth seed and a proper brooming by Memphis to close out the season.

Which leads us to the fascinating race out East for the eighth seed, currently held by Detroit. Division-rival Milwaukee and Michael Campbell loom a game and a half out for the young guns from Detroit, but surprisingly it is the New York Knicks, two and a half games back, who may present the biggest challenge to Detroit's return to the playoffs. The Knicks and Pistons play each other three times in the remaining two weeks of the regular season. Milwaukee can count on at least 4 wins from the remaining weeks of the season, however, two matchups with Indiana, and a trio of games against the Rockets, Wizards, and 76ers look to a potential barrier to their playoff hopes.

Outside of their three games against one another, the Pistons and Knicks each face three other playoff teams with relatively few games to chalk up as certain victories to buoy their playoff hopes. While New York certainly must win all three games against Detroit to close the gap with the Pistons, even doing so does not guarantee a playoff spot. Milwaukee certainly hopes for a 2-1 split of those three NYK-DET games to go in the Knicks' favor, and to ride their games in hand to an eighth seed and a projected showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers. All three teams stand a strong chance of losing records over the final two weeks.

However, the Herald does not view this as a likely result. The Pistons houst two out of the three games with New York, and it's unlikely that this breakdown of games does go Milwaukee's way. With games against both Toronto and Miami remaining as well, the Herald projects that the Detroit Pistons cling to the Eighth seed and the privilege of being swept aside by SVATOS.