2018 NBA and NHL Playoff Preview
With just a few more weeks remaining in both the NBA and NHL seasons, fans are excited to see which teams will and won’t make the upcoming playoffs as the race to make it to the postseason begins to come to an end. As usual this late in the season, both the NBA and NHL have teams with an already guaranteed playoff spot as well as teams fighting through the final stretch in hopes of nabbing one of the last available seeds.
Most contending teams in the NBA have already solidified their presence in the upcoming playoffs including favorites like the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trailblazers, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, and the OKC Thunder. However, with roughly ten games to go in the season for each team, changes in the seeding position are bound to occur, and only time will tell which teams will be seeded where, with many teams from both conferences having nearly identical records. The top favorites from the Eastern conference this season are Toronto and Boston, but I would not underestimate LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the playoffs. LeBron has a way of showing up in the playoffs unlike any other player currently in the NBA, and it would come as no surprise to me to see Cleveland make it to yet another NBA Finals. It will surely be difficult for Cleveland to keep up with an overall solid team like Toronto, but I wouldn’t consider it unlikely for Cleveland to outplay an injury-plagued Celtics team. The Toronto Raptors are currently the favorite to make it to the Finals from the East, but Cleveland could definitely make a splash if LeBron and friends can muster up some playoff magic. Things get more complicated in the West, however, as the best-record Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, and the red-hot Portland Trailblazers are all ready to continue their regular season success into the postseason. Despite recent injuries, defending champions Golden State Warriors should still be considered a favorite due to their dominance in the playoffs in recent years. If they are healthy in the playoffs, they win in the playoffs; it’s as simple as that. Golden State finally has some real competition in the West this year though, with Houston and Portland currently playing more dominantly than we have seen them in recent years. It will be interesting to see if Golden State will be able to continue its recent playoff supremacy against teams playing just as good as or better than they are. Personally, I expect Golden State’s streak of representing the West in the finals to come to an end this season, possibly to Houston.
With the NBA playoffs always come the NHL playoffs, and this year’s playoff hockey looks bound to be a good one. Each division has a leader that will not likely be kicked from the top spot before the season ends, but the rest of the seeding could easily change within the next few weeks. With only ten or less games remaining for each team in the regular season, some teams are playing harder than ever to try to secure their spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs while others are simply trying to improve their seeding position as they are already guaranteed a playoff spot. Oh, and there are some teams getting geared up for tennis season as well. The wild card spots are definitely not set in stone yet as teams like the Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, and the LA Kings are all fighting to claim a wild card spot, but a few of them will inevitably end the regular season disappointed. Unfortunately, down seven points to New Jersey and six to Florida with only eight games left to play, a true miracle would be needed for our Carolina Hurricanes to sneak into the last spot. The top dogs in the Eastern Conference include the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the currently hot Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won nine straight games. Pittsburgh is definitely a contender in the East as long as they can continue their habit of playing great hockey in the spring, and the Blue Jackets are playing so good right now that I don’t think any team wants to see them on their schedule in the first round. As long as Alex Ovechkin can keep playing the way he is now, the Capitals could make some noise in the playoffs, but I do not expect the team to make it past the second round because of how average the team is playing without him. Tampa Bay are definitely the overall favorite from the East due to how dominant they have been all season, but the Boston Bruins should be taken seriously as long some of their star players can get back to good health. The Toronto Maple Leafs remain underrated, as superb goalie play and an offense that seemed to come life when the growing superstar Auston Mathews came to town could easily propel them deep into the playoffs. Over in the Western Conference, the current best team in the NHL, the Nashville Predators, look to keep up the wins and finish the season as the Presidents Trophy winner, but we all know little the records matter once the playoffs start. With plenty of competitors including the new expansion team on the block that surprised everyone with an incredible regular season, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Winnipeg Jets, who have also been playing better than anyone expected this season, it’s hard to undoubtedly consider Nashville the favorite. I would also look out for the three California teams in the West, the LA Kings, San Jose Sharks, and the Anaheim Ducks, who are all filled with so many experienced veterans who know to win in the playoffs that these teams always seem to give their playoff competition a tough time no matter what their record was in the regular season. Winnipeg looks ready to finally bring some good playoff hockey to the city, something fans up there haven’t had the chance to experience in a long time, and they should be able to beat any team in the conference, including the favored Predators, if they don’t slow their roll. With so many good teams playing all right around the same level, it is hard to pick one to beat out the rest in a game where teams in the wild card spots consistently outplay their favored opponents in the playoffs.
With just a few short weeks to go before both the NBA and NHL postseasons are officially underway, which playoffs are you looking forward to most? Who are you picking to win each conference and championship? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!