• Joseph Thiel

Most Shocking Teams Entering the 2017 Playoffs

We are just a little over a week away from the beginning of the 2017 NBA Playoffs and many teams have already punched their ticket. The Western Conference is almost set in stone with seven of the eight spots already locked in, while the 5-8 spots in the Eastern Conference have yet to be decided. Although the NBA Finals have seen a LeBron James led team versus the best team in the West over the past six years, it has still seen its fair share of surprising teams who were either not even close to a playoff berth the previous year or take a huge jump to the top of the conference. This year we witnessed both happen. Who knows if anything will come from being labeled as a playoff surprise, but it still deserves to be recognized by the public.

The Eastern Conference: Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks are poised to make their return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. The Bucks finished the 2015-2016 campaign with a record of 33-49 and 12th in the Eastern Conference. With another year of coaching under the belt of Jason Kidd, the Bucks have already surpassed their win total from last year by seven games with a record of 40-37.

Barring an epic collapse, the Bucks will finish as the five seed headed into this year’s playoffs. Led by the 1st year All Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks have compiled a record of 40-37 with just five games to go. Not many people including myself would have picked the Bucks to be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, but the emergence of the “Greek Freak” has taken the team to new heights. Antetokounmpo has swept the board when it comes to team statistics. He is the only player in the league to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Despite recent success and the development of a young star, the team is still missing the 2nd overall pick from the 2014 draft.

Jabari Parker was a one and done at Duke following the 2013 season averaging just over 19 PPG. During his three seasons in the NBA, Parker has seen his fair share of ups and downs. Parker has torn his ACL twice in the same knee over the last three NBA seasons. It is incredibly difficult to come back from one ACL injury, but two in the same knee is asking a lot from one player. Parker seemed to be progressing well, averaging 20.1 PPG this season before tearing his ACL this February. If he can overcome the injury bug that has plagued him early on in his career, the Milwaukee Bucks have a great opportunity to become one of the top contenders in the East for years to come.

The Western Conference: Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets have easily been the most impressive turnaround team for the 2016-2017 season. Last year’s team finished as the 8th seed with a record of 41-41 and was quickly bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Many experts began debating whether or not James Harden was a good fit with the Rockets, labeling him as a selfish player on offense and lazy on defense. It even got to the point where people were questioning if Harden was a good fit in Houston.

Just one season later, it is hard to imagine anyone with basketball knowledge make such an outlandish statement. Harden is on pace to set a career high in points, assists, and rebounds averaging 29.2 PPG, 11.2 APG, and 8.1 RPG. Along with these stats, Harden has recorded 20 triple doubles this season, second only to Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. If it had not been for Westbrook’s remarkable season, Harden would be a run-away selection for the league MVP.

With just a handful of games left in the regular season, the Rockets sit as the 3rd seed in the Western Conference with a record of 52-25. A first round matchup with Westbrook and the Thunder seems almost inevitable at this point with both teams essentially locked in their playoff seeds. If the Rockets can overcome the Westbrook led Thunder, then they very well might have a shot to represent the West in the NBA Finals.

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