By M. Goncalves
After a hard fought season that was compressed into 72 games, 8 teams from each conference rise above all else and head to the playoffs. Every year some teams surprise everyone and make it farther into the competition than expected, whereas other teams disappoint all and are eliminated early. After one team is crowned champion, the offseason begins, those teams who were just short of winning it all try to make minor changes to the squad, those who failed to meet expectations, are likely to either make a big change and get rid of all their young assets for a star or get rid of their stars for young assets with potential. With the playoffs right around the corner, these three teams have the most to lose if they are disappointing yet again.
After having to endure many years of misery between 2013 and 2017, Sixers fans finally have something to be exited about. Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie created the process, a method that involved purposefully making the team worse just so they would get a higher draft pick. Since 2018, the Sixers have made it to the playoffs but have never gotten past the second round. After assembling teams that were ill-equipped to complement Sixers’ stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, two non-shooters, the Sixers new general manager Daryl Morrey surrounded the two stars with snipers. The additions of shooters, Seth Curry and Danny Green has proved very effective as for the first time since 2001 the Sixers have claimed the first seed. Embiid has been unleashed this season and is an MVP candidate, whereas Simmons is a defensive player of the year candidate, therefore if the Sixers underperform and achieve anything less than a conference finals appearance, you might see either Simmons or Embiid being traded, probably the former.
Unless you want to watch a Clippers fan lose their mind, do not mention the 2020 playoffs to them. The “Clips” were up 3-1 on the Denver Nuggets and were 1 win away from reaching the Western conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Instead, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George choked and led their team to three losses in a row, thus eliminating them from the playoffs. At the time, analysts claimed the problem was they didn’t have a true point guard, who could control the game’s pace and lead the team on the court. This excuse will not suffice this season, as they sent Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks, for one of the players with the highest basketball IQ ever - Rajon Rondo. George is now fully recovered from his shoulder injury and the Clippers have added more big man defense with the signing of Serge Ibaka. The Nuggets have been weakened by Jamal Murray’s season ending ACL tear, the LA Lakers have only got LeBron James and Anthony Davis recovered from injury towards the end of the regular season, and the Utah Jazz’s star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell has missed some significant time this season with an ankle injury. The race in the Western conference is brutal, but is easier this season because of all the injuries, therefore the Clippers must at least make it to the conference finals or that will make Leonard’s decision to leave this season a lot easier.
Building a team around 2-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has been proven to be something the Bucks can do when it comes to the regular season, however, the playoffs tell a different story. In the past two seasons, the Bucks have been unable to make it to the finals and haven’t achieved the goals fans thought they’d accomplish, especially last season when the Miami Heat dominated them in 5 games in the second round. The addition of 12-year veteran and proven playoff competitor, Jrue Holiday might solve their issues, although if they still fail to get to the finals, they might end up trading Khris Middleton for another star; or offering a package that surrounds Donte DiVincenzo and the few picks they have left for a player like Spencer Dinwiddie. Also, they could begin trading away everything if Antetokounmpo were to ask for a trade. If the Bucks unlock their full potential, the Eastern conference playoff race will be a dog fight.