Four Unexpected Teams That Can Make Some Noise in the NBA Playoffs

Updated: February 27, 2019
Orlando Magic pic

Yes, we’re only a week removed from the NBA All-Star Break, but most teams have around 20 games left to play in the 2018-19 season before the playoffs begin.

Of course, there are the usual suspects atop the standings in each conference – Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston, Golden State, Oklahoma City, and Houston are performing well and will be expected to be among the last teams standing come May. But there is hope for some teams further down in the standings – especially in the East, where LeBron James’ nearly decade-long stranglehold on the conference is over.

Here are four teams lurking under the radar and might make some noise come playoff time.

  1. Orlando Magic

We’ll start in the East, where it’s almost certain that we will see a team besides Cleveland or Miami in the Finals for the first time since 2010. We start in Orlando, where what was looking like a rebuilding season under first-year head coach Steve Clifford is beginning to show some promise with core players Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. The Magic are 8-2 since January 31 and have closed to within a game of division leader (and current 8-seed holder) Charlotte. Orlando has beaten all top-8 seeds in the East – including a 113-98 beatdown of a Kawhi Leonard-less Raptors team in Toronto.

Vucevic, a first-time All-Star, is averaging 20.5 points per game and 12.1 rebounds per game. Point guard was a major issue coming into the season, but D.J. Augustin has been serviceable (11.4 PPG, 4.9 assists per game), and could be in line for a major upgrade is the recently acquired Markelle Fultz is able to return from thoracic outlet syndrome.

  1. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets made a splash when arriving in Brooklyn in the summer of 2012, but their tenure back in New York City has been disappointing. One first round playoff series in those six seasons, six head coaches, and sub-30 win seasons for each of the past three years. Current head coach Kenny Atkinson has the longest tenure in Brooklyn, and his team is showing signs of improvement. The Nets aren’t likely to rise higher than their current 6-seed, but they have emerging talent that could upset a team like Indiana or Boston in the first round. Caris LeVert is back from his foot injury, while first-time All-Star D’Angelo Russell is maturing into a fine point guard (20.5 PPG, 6.7 APG). The Nets slumped going into the break, but they showed something in a 117-115 win at Charlotte on Saturday.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers

Venturing to the Western Conference, it’s tough to put a team with LeBron James on a list of under-the-radar teams, but if the Lakers do rally to reach the playoffs and play Denver, for instance, I don’t think many league observers would be surprised if James wills his team to several victories in the postseason. The Lakers are just 3-4 since James returned to action after missing 18 games due to a groin injury.  The warning signs are there – 29th in the NBA in both free-throw shooting and turnovers – but, it’s tough to bet against LeBron on at least carrying his teams to the playoffs, when he has carried multiple teams to the NBA Finals since 2007.

  1. Sacramento Kings

One of the teams that will be fighting with the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West will be L.A.’s neighbors to the north – Sacramento. Longtime Kings fans haven’t much liked the Lakers since Kobe Bryant and company tormented the likes of Chris Webber and Vlade Divac in the first years of the 21st century. The Kings own the NBA’s longest postseason drought (12 seasons), but a three-game road stretch against the top three teams in the West showed that the Kings have some fight in them – a pair of two-point losses at Denver and Golden State, followed by a three-point win at Oklahoma City. Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox make up an emerging backcourt, while Rookie of the Year contender Marvin Bagley III has been a force off the bench, averaging 13.7 PPG and 7.1 RPG.

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