(Photo via todaysfastbreak.com)
Well…it’s that time of year again. We are officially less than 2 weeks away from the start of the NBA postseason and the playoff picture in both the Eastern and Western Conferences are starting to shape up. There has already been much discussion surrounding the true “contenders” in the league; the Warriors, Spurs, Cavs, Thunder, Raptors. But as I look at the field of teams this year, I can see some real sleepers that could give some of these powerhouse teams a run for their money. While there are many teams that could have ended up on this list, these are the teams that I feel could truly shake up the playoffs; It’s simply too hard to bet against the Warriors and Spurs losing very early. So let’s take a look at some of the teams who I feel are successfully flying under the radar come playoff time:
Boston Celtics (45-32, tied for 3rd in East)
Don’t look now, but the C’s are starting to develop a strong core of talented young players. Led by Isiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Jared Sullinger, the Celtics have impressed many around the league with fast-paced offense and their quick hands on the defensive side (2nd in NBA in steals). With former college coach Brad Stevens at the helm, this team screams quickness and pace on the offensive end and when they get on a roll, there aren’t many teams that can stop them. Because their team doesn’t have a true star in the lineup (although Thomas may be well on his way), they are a great passing team that breaks down defenses with their fluid offensive flow. I can really see the Celtics making a nice run in the playoffs, as they have been known to rise to the challenge against their quality opponents.
Portland Trailblazers (41-37, 6th in West)
Damian Lillard surely is maturing into the franchise piece that all Blazers fans have hoped for. Although they lost 4 of the 5 starters from the 2015 season, Portland remains in the playoff hunt and has looked very sharp against tough Western Conference competition. The backcourt duo of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is quite possibly the 2nd best guard-combo in the league (behind the Splash Brothers, of course) and they can flat out score with the best of them. The Trailblazers shoot 37% from the 3-point line (4th in the NBA) and they are also a very good rebounding team that has the ability to rack up possessions. If they remain at 6th, they will most likely be facing the Thunder, which is certainly tough, but they have the play-making abilities to perhaps pull the upset in the first round and make a run.
Atlanta Hawks (45-32, tied for 3rd in East)
I know it may seem odd to be naming a team 3rd in the conference after a 60+ win season a “sleeper”, but frankly, they have gotten little to no recognition throughout the year. The Hawks have quietly but surely racked up wins this season, and although they may not be what they were a year ago, they are equipped with a deep roster that can threaten any opponent. Their 25.6 assists-per-game (2nd in the NBA) has been the reason why they have remained one of the most efficient offenses over the last two seasons. With a core group of talent that already has playoff experience under their belt, I’m almost certain the Hawks won’t be an easy out. And because of the parity within the East, anything is possible.
– J. Yellin