NBA playoff race is heating up with the Knicks surprising all


Sam Kassan, Staff Writer

The 2020-2021 NBA regular season is approaching its end, and the playoff picture is slowly coming into focus.  There have been many surprises this season, such as the stellar play by the New York Knicks, currently clinging to the four seed in the Eastern Conference.  There have also been major disappointments, none more so than the Toronto Raptors, a team that went from battling it out in the Eastern Conference semifinals to likely missing the playoffs altogether.  This postseason is looking to be one for the ages, especially with a controversial new addition that has the league divided: the play-in tournament. 

The play-in tournament is relatively simple, designed both to keep teams motivated towards the end of the regular season and to add more excitement to the league.  In each conference, three games will be played, starting May 18 and ending on May 21.  The first game will be played between the seventh and eighth seeds, with the winner securing their spot in the playoffs as the seventh seed.  Game two will consist of the ninth and tenth seeded teams, although a win does not guarantee a playoff berth.  The winner of game two will go on to play the loser of game one in a final chance to advance into the playoffs as the eighth seed.  Basically, the seventh and eighth seeds that would previously have been guaranteed an extended season must win an extra game, while the ninth and tenth seeds that would have had no shot at the playoffs must win two straight to advance.  

While it may seem like a fun way to add some extra action into the postseason, not all figures in the NBA welcomed this change with open arms.  Some of the more vocal dissenters to the play-in tournament are Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic.  They mention the additional stress players are put under, especially with this year’s compressed season.  Instead of potentially resting and preparing as they would have previously for the playoffs, now they must play more games, putting themselves at an increased risk of injury.  Doncic also believes that the 82 (72 this season) games of the regular season should be plenty to decide what teams deserve a playoff spot and which don’t.  

“I see where Luka and Mark are coming from, but as a viewer I am very excited to watch how the tournament plays out.  It is a great way to get more teams involved, and it also helps boost the NBA ratings, which have been freefalling since the pandemic,” said sophomore Jack McNaughton.  

In the Eastern Conference, the Nets, 76ers, and Bucks sit comfortably in the top three spots.  The Nets “big three” have only played a handful of games together due to frequent injuries, the team is still a force to be reckoned with.  MVP-worthy performances by Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo have helped their respective teams get to their current position as well.  Several other teams are in a close race to clinch their ticket as one of the top six teams, avoiding the play-in tournament.  The New York Knicks now sit precariously at the four seed, while the Hawks, Celtics, Heat and Hornets are in close pursuit.  The Knicks have been hot as of late, but a bad end to the season could plummet the Knicks all the way down to the play in games.  The Hawks and Celtics have not lived up to the hype this year, but the plethora of talent on both rosters could propel them to a higher seed.  

“I think the Knicks should easily be a top six seed.  While they do have a tough stretch to finish out the season, the team plays with heart that no other team can rival, allowing them to compete with the best of the best,” said sophomore Joseph Asselta.  

On the other hand, the Pacers, Wizards, Bulls and Raptors are all battling for just a spot in the play-in tournament.  With the return of Caris Levert, the Pacers have been on the rise.  The Wizards have also been falling into rhythm, led by Bradley Beal and triple double machine, Russell Westbrook.  Unfortunately, the lack of surrounding talent makes it difficult for the elite duo to succeed.  

In the Western Conference, the standings are a lot clearer.  The domination of the Jazz and the Suns has shocked many this season, as they are the only two teams who have over 40 wins and under 20 losses.  Rudy Gobert has been exceptional for the Jazz, playing elite defense while also being a reliable scorer on the other end of the court.  Chris Paul has had a huge impact for the Suns, flipping their franchise around in a single season.  But, credit should also be given to fellow All-Star Devin Booker and the drastically improved play of the supporting cast, including Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.  

The top five seeds seem to be secure, but the sixth seed is still very much up for grabs.  The Mavericks are currently holding onto the sixth spot, but many other teams trail close behind, including the Trailblazers and the Warriors.  Despite recent struggles from the Trailblazers, they are still one win back from the Mavericks’ spot at six.  

Additionally, even with Klay Thomas injured and very little depth, Steph Curry has found a way to keep his sub-par team in the playoff hunt.  After a historic streak in which he set the record for most threes made in a month, Curry and the Warriors sit at the tenth seed, but a few wins could propel them several spots higher.  

“Stephen Curry has been electric out on the court.  He has been very consistent and carries the entire Warriors team.  Without Curry, Golden State would be a G-league team at best, but with him on the court, they are a force to be reckoned with,” said sophomore Bryson Shaub.  

The Pelicans, eleventh in the West, are quickly falling out of the playoff hunt.  Zion and the Pelicans need a win streak immediately if they want a shot at the play-in tournament.  

 Overall, the play-in tournament is an exciting yet controversial addition to the postseason format.  The picture may be taking shape, but there are still several games left of the regular season, and anything can happen.  With so many teams neck and neck in the playoff hunt, it will be exciting to see how things play out, and which teams go on long postseason runs.