5. Orlando Magic
There’s only less than 15 games left for teams in the regular season, which means that it’s go time for those who are gunning for that valued play-in slot. This final stretch of games is special - it can either expose flukes or reveal undercover superstars.
What’s good about the Orlando Magic is that they’re only 3.5 games out of a spot in the play-in. Even better is that they’ve got Paolo Banchero, the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Rookie of the Year frontrunners aren’t the type to go on cruise control–they finish stronger. With that, these last few games will be interesting for the Magic, not just because of Banchero, but also because of Markelle Fultz, who’s been playing like he’s also a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, six years too late.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are currently 13th in the West, but with about three weeks left in the season, they’re still in the running for the play-in. That’s a testament to how crazy the Western Conference is in terms of rankings. It changes by the day.
Unfortunately for Portland, Damian Lillard is facing issues with his calf, which may force him to miss games, or at the very least, be hobbled a bit. What makes them an interesting watch now is to see how a team with their backs against the wall would respond. Dame Time is ticking.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James has been out, and it’s given the new-look Lakers a chance to be the team no one expected them to be: scrappy, gritty, and led by the duo of D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves. DLo has missed a couple of games himself, but whenever he’s out there, he’s mostly put out impressive numbers.
The Lakers are on a rollercoaster ride that has sent them dipping below .500 then in one swoop going above .500. What that does to their system is obvious–tired, aching bodies resulting in a number of GTDs. Instead of rolling over though, what the Lakers have done is pure dedication to battle for a playoff spot. With Anthony Davis playing with a nagging foot injury, the Lakers would need to find another gear in this last stretch to make it through.
2. Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are right at the edge of the play-in tournament in the East. With a 31-36 win-loss record, the 10th place Bulls are in a logjam with the Toronto Raptors (32-36), Washington Wizards (31-37), and Indiana Pacers (31-38).
The Bulls have been clawing and fighting their way throughout the season, but it seems like Zach LaVine is in his best fight form at the right time. In the Bulls’ last five games, LaVine averaged 35 points per game, shooting efficiently well from everywhere. LaVine and the Bulls will be looking to make that one final run.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
If the theme of this League Pass rankings is Make It To the Play-In, then no team right now is in the thick of things than the OKC Thunder. They’ve won five of their last six games and are looking to be in tiptop shape as the games get tougher and the calendar gets shorter.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams, and Josh Giddey are playing at a level that reeks of play-in tournament upset. If you’re playing against them in a tight race, you might be wary of a group of young and hungry hoopers who are smelling blood. If you’re a fan of exciting basketball, you might want to tune in to the last few Thunder games.