NBA Bold Predictions: Last Quarter of the Regular Season

With ~20 games left in the NBA regular season for each team, the season seems to be going by faster by the day. Let’s take a break from the present- at least until the end of this article – and predict the future of the league.

What a ride it’s been. From the Boston Celtics’ amazing start to the Los Angeles Lakers’ recent surge, there has been plenty to talk about this season. For every occurrence that has been predictable (Boston leveling out, GS getting complacent, Suns struggling to win games), there has been an unexpected turn to match it. With all of this in mind, I have a few bold predictions for the remainder of the regular season. Enough premise – let’s take a look!

The Utah Jazz will make the playoffs

Seeds 3-10 in the Western Conference are currently separated by four games. That’s it, four. Whether you take it as nerve-wracking or amazing, it’s entertaining nonetheless. Your favorite team could be the 3-seed this week and by the end of the season could be completely out of the playoff picture. With that said, I believe the Utah Jazz will continue their recent hot stretch and dethrone either the New Orleans Pelicans or Denver Nuggets for a playoff spot.

In the 19 games since Rudy Gobert‘s return on January 19, Utah is 15-4. Although the Pelicans and Nuggets are 13-5 and 12-6, respectively over the same stretch, there are a few factors that come into play. First and foremost, having Gobert back and playing with rookie Donovan Mitchell is huge for the Jazz. Inserting one of the best defensive players in the league back into your lineup never hurts a playoff push.

Secondly, remaining strength of schedule plays a large role in this prediction. While Utah has the 22nd-hardest remaining schedule, Denver has the 16th-hardest and New Orleans’ remaining SOS is the 8th-hardest in the league. Utah is the hottest team of these three and has the easiest schedule moving forward. This prediction was a no-brainer.

The Eastern Conference playoff teams are set

If the season ended today, your Eastern Conference playoff picture would be as follows:

  1. Toronto Raptors (45-17) –
  2. Boston Celtics (44-20) 2.0 GB
  3. Cleveland Cavaliers (36-26) 9.0 GB
  4. Indiana Pacers (36-27) 9.5 GB
  5. Washington Wizards (36-28) 10.0 GB
  6. Philadelphia 76ers (34-28) 11.0 GB
  7. Milwaukee Bucks (34-29) 11.5 GB
  8. Miami Heat (33-30) 12.5 GB

Less than 5 games out: Detroit Pistons (29-34)

The order will likely change (Indiana should drop and Washington, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee should rise), but the eight teams currently in the playoff picture will still be there once the season ends. Despite the Charlotte Hornets’ recent five-game winning streak, they’ve followed it up with what is currently a three-game losing streak. Close to .500 isn’t completely out of the question, but the playoffs just aren’t in the cards for the Hornets.

Detroit is the only non-playoff team that could make a late-season push in the Eastern Conference. Including Blake Griffin‘s debut on February 1, the Pistons are 9-5 in their last 14 games. On the surface that looks good, right? When factoring in a 2-8 stretch in the last 10 games, it’s not that promising. Detroit simply isn’t talented enough outside of Griffin and his frontcourt partner Andre Drummond in order to make a run down the stretch. What exists now will still be there when the regular season ends for the East.

Lonzo Ball’s recent stretch is not a fluke

Here is Lonzo Ball‘s season stat line:

  • 10.4 PPG
  • 7.1 RPG
  • 7.1 APG
  • 36.9% FG
  • 33.6% 3P

Pedestrian at best, right? Especially when you look at those field goal and three-point percentages. Let’s compare those stats to Ball’s last 15 games:

  • 13.3 PPG
  • 7.5 RPG
  • 7.1 APG
  • 44.8% FG
  • 44.4% 3P

Those numbers look a lot better. Not only has ball averaged three more points and nearly half a rebound more per game, but his efficiency both from the field and from deep have drastically improved. Is he a beneficiary of luck, health or finally adjusting to the NBA? I’m going to take the latter two.

Lonzo Ball is legit. His rebounding, passing ability, and basketball IQ have never been questions. His length has always set him up to collect blocks and steals. The only problem has been his ability to put the ball in the basket. Now that he’s finally doing that (at a very efficient rate), the game is beginning to slow down for Ball. Think of it as a reverse rookie wall. Ball’s adjustment period came right when the season began, now he’s acclimated to the league. Not only is Ball improving, but so is the rest of his team.

Final Thoughts

It’s been one heck of an NBA season. There have been tons of surprises, both good and bad. The landscape of the league could change completely come April, but I predict three things will be certain: the Utah Jazz will be in the playoffs, no new Eastern Conference teams will sneak into a playoff spot, and Lonzo Ball’s improvement is legitimate. Here’s to a great final month-or-so of the regular season!

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