By Joseph Liptak
This year the NBA has seen an explosion of strong teams coming from the Eastern Conference. In years past the West has maintained control of the NBA because they had teams such as the Warriors, Rockets, Spurs and so many more. With this new generation of players entering the league, we are seeing a more spread out and exciting league. There are not nearly as many super-teams as there were years prior. Consequently, any NBA team could beat any other team, but this year this concept has never been more true. The Nets, Hawks and Clippers are all low seeds in the upcoming Playoffs, and they all have the potential to take down a higher seed.
The Nets currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference but that is not an accurate representation of their season so far. Their superstar point-guard, Kyrie Irving, was absent for all home games for a majority of the season, due to COVID-19 restrictions; until recently when the mandates were over. Now that he can play both home and away games, he and Kevin Durant can build off their existing chemistry.
Along with that, there is potential for Ben Simmons, a previous All-Star, to make his debut with the Nets. After James Harden was traded from Brooklyn for Ben Simmons, Simmons was still recovering from existing injuries, so he could not begin playing. These injuries have been prolonged to the present and the Play-In tournament, but there is hope for him to return after the Play-In. The Nets faced struggles in the earlier parts of the season, such as how they lacked bench depth. However, they solved this issue in the James Harden trade, when they obtained Andre Drummond, a top 20 rebounder in the NBA, and Seth Curry, a top-tier three-point shooter in the NBA at 47.7%. As the regular season comes to a close the Nets are showing signs that they could go far in this year’s playoffs, especially thanks to their pure star-power in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Last year the Hawks made an impressive run deep in the playoffs with an inexperienced squad. This was only possible thanks to their young, up and coming point guard, Trae Young. Young averaged nearly 30 points and 10 assists in last year’s playoffs. He is most known for his transgressive attitude, made most popular in the Hawks first round match-up against the Knicks. Ever since then he has been feeding off all types of energy, negative or positive. So, if Trae Young can get hot then the Hawks might be looking at a deep playoff run.
The Hawks go into the playoffs with a very similar roster as last year, they are now more experienced and have had more time to progress as a team. The Hawks no doubt have tons of offensive talent coming from Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Lou Williams, but their most glaring weakness is their defense. The Hawks clock in with the 26th worst defensive rating in the NBA. This is an important stat because the East is loaded with talent, like two out of three MVP frontrunners, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. If Clint Capela, the Hawks Center, can handle them in the paint then their chances greatly increase. Not only does Capela have to step-up, but so does Young and his surrounding backcourt. The Hawks are not known for their defensive ability, so they have something to prove this year. The Hawks no doubt have the ability to go deep in the playoffs, but the weight of the post-season rests on the shoulders of Trae Young.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have been under the radar ever since their two star players, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, went down due to injuries. Paul George recently made his return when the Clippers faced off against the Jazz, where he looked promising, going off for 34 points. In last year’s playoffs Leonard went down to an ACL tear, but he has been seen practicing and the Clippers are hopeful for a return sometime in the Playoffs.
However, even if the Clippers do not get Leonard at some point they still have hope. Last year the Leonard-less Clippers were able to finish off the Jazz and took the Suns to six games. This is credited to the outstanding play from Paul George and Reggie Jackson, who was made starting point-guard in the first-round of the 2021 Playoffs. Jackson provided a spark that the Clippers lacked when Kawhi went down.
The Clippers are full of guys who can get it done, such as Robert Covington, their forward who went off for 43 points just a few weeks ago, with 11 three-pointers. Not only do they have Covington but they also have Norman Powell, Clippers guard, who returned to action on April 7th and notched 24 points on 60-percent shooting.
There is no lack of offense on this team, but what about their defense? They are top-ten in defensive rating, and this is without their All-Defensive 1st team star, Paul George. The Clippers are a good team without Paul George and they are even better with him. The Clippers have all the tools to make a run in the Playoffs. It just depends on how George performs, and how well their role players do with Kawhi Leonard being out, which they showed they could do in the playoffs last year.