• Welcome, Hoop Ball readers, to another edition of The Week Ahead!

    As the playoffs are nearing, let’s take a look at the playoff picture and predictions for how it will play out!

    Eastern Conference (current standings)

    1. Nets- 41-20
    2. 76ers- 39-21
    3. Bucks- 37-23
    4. Knicks- 34-27
    5. Hawks- 34-27
    6. Celtics- 32-29
    7. Heat- 32-29
    8. Hornets- 30-30
    9. Pacers 29-31
    10. Wizards- 27-33

    Play-in Tournament Predictions

    #7 Heat vs. #8 Hornets- Heat win and retain 7th seed

    #9 Pacers vs. #10 Wizards- Pacers win

    #9 Pacers vs. #8 Hornets- Pacers win and grab the eighth playoff spot

    First Round Predictions

    #1 Nets vs. #9 Pacers- Nets win 4-0

    #2 76ers vs. #7 Heat- Heat win 4-3

    #3 Bucks vs. #6 Celtics- Bucks win 4-2

    #4 Knicks vs. #5 Hawks- Knicks win 4-3

    Second Round Predictions

    #1 Nets vs. #4 Knicks- Nets win 4-1

    #3 Bucks vs. #7 Heat- Heat win 4-3

    Conference Finals Predictions

    #1 Nets vs. #7 Heat- Nets win 4-1

    The Brooklyn Nets will win the Eastern Conference fairly easily.

    Western Conference (current standings)

    1. Jazz- 44-16
    2. Suns- 42-18
    3. Clippers- 43-19
    4. Nuggets- 39-21
    5. Lakers- 35-25
    6. Mavs- 33-26
    7. Trail Blazers- 32-28
    8. Grizzlies- 31-28
    9. Spurs 30-29
    10. Warriors- 31-30

    Play-in Tournament Predictions

    #7 Trail Blazers vs. #8 Grizzlies- Trail Blazers win and retain #7 seed

    #9 Spurs vs. #10 Warriors- Warriors win

    #8 Grizzlies vs. #10 Warriors- Warriors win and get the eighth seed

    First Round Predictions

    #1 Jazz vs. #10 Warriors- Jazz win 4-2

    #2 Suns vs. #7 Trail Blazers- Suns win 4-3

    #3 Clippers vs. #6 Mavs- Clippers win 4-2

    #4 Nuggets vs. #5 Lakers- Lakers win 4-1

    Second Round Predictions

    #1 Jazz vs. #5 Lakers- Lakers win 4-2

    #2 Suns vs. #3 Clippers- Clippers win 4-3

    Conference Finals Predictions

    #3 Clippers vs. #5 Lakers- Clippers win 4-3

    The Los Angeles Clippers will have a tough road, but will win the Western Conference

    NBA Finals Prediction

    #1 Nets vs. #3 Clippers- Nets win 4-3

    Finals MVP- James Harden

    The Brooklyn Nets will win the 2021 NBA Championship

    Weekly Schedule Breakdown

    5 games: Mavs, Raptors, Thunder

    4 games: 76ers, Bucks, Bulls, Cavs, Celtics, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, Jazz, Kings, Lakers, Magic, Nets, Nuggets, Pelicans, Rockets, Spurs, Suns, Trail Blazers, Wizards, Wolves

    3 games: Clippers, Knicks, Pacers, Pistons, Warriors

    Best Schedule: Mavs (at Kings, at Warriors, at Pistons, Wizards, Kings)

    The Mavs are currently at the 6th seed, which is just above the play-in tournament so they will look to widen that gap with a successful week.  They are playing five teams with worse records than them and only two teams that are in the playoff picture right now in the Warriors and Wizards.  Both of those teams are the 10th seed in their respective conferences, so we could see a big week for the Mavs.  Start Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis and Dorian Finney-Smith with confidence and do not be surprised if Dwight Powell and Josh Richardson have solid weeks as well.

    Worst Schedule: Pistons (Hawks, Mavs, at Hornets)

    The Pistons are already one of the worst teams in the NBA, so any schedule they have is typically bad.  However, they are one of five teams that only play three games this week and the three games are all against playoff teams so this week is especially bad.  Isaiah Stewart and Jerami Grant should be the only players on the Pistons worth starting this week.

    Game of the Week: Clippers at Suns on Wednesday at 10 PM ET

    The 2nd and 3rd seed in the Western Conference will face off in what could be a potential preview of a second round playoff matchup.  We will get an early look at Kawhi Leonard and Paul George versus Chris Paul and Devin Booker.  Tune in on Wednesday night for an entertaining and hopefully competitive game!

    Waiver Wire Watch 

    Khem Birch- With the injury to Chris Boucher and the already thin depth chart for the Raptors at center, Birch is in line to see some big minutes and could be a top-100 asset for the remainder of the season.  Over the past two weeks, he is averaging 9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game on 56.1-percent shooting.  He could continue to see even better numbers if his minutes remain around 27/28 per game.  Grab Birch off the wire immediately as he could be one of the players that alters the landscape of the fantasy playoffs for teams that were weak at the big man position and need rebounds and blocks.  

    Dorian Finney-Smith-  Finney-Smith has quietly been producing top-60 value over the past two weeks and is having a solid fantasy season overall as he sits just outside the top-100 in 9-cat formats.  He is averaging 13.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 3.0 triples per game on 56.1-percent shooting over his last seven games. Those numbers are good for top-60 value and he could hover around that range if he continues on this hot streak as the season winds down.  Add Finney-Smith as he is a lock for above 30 minutes per game and should fall nowhere below top-100 value for the remainder of the season.  

    Daniel Gafford- Similar to Birch, the minutes and opportunities will be there for Gafford to produce so he could be a top-100 asset for the remainder of the season.  He is averaging 11.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game on 63.8-percent shooting over the past two weeks.  The Wizards have been on a tear as of late and are fighting for seeding in a competitive Eastern Conference, so expect them to continue giving Gafford around 20 minutes per game.  Grab him off the wire as he has double-double potential and should be a lock for top-100 value in all formats as long as the minutes keep coming his way.

    Injury/COVID-19 Report

     James Harden (hamstring) will miss the next few weeks after suffering a setback during his rehab session.  We could see Harden sit the remainder of the regular season and return for the playoffs.  Health has been the biggest issue for the Nets, but if things fall into place for the playoffs it could be a scary site.

    Taurean Prince (ankle) will have season-ending ankle surgery due to an ongoing issue that has been bothering him.  He played well in his stint with Cleveland, but unfortunately his season was cut short.  Cedi Osman should see a huge role for the remainder of the season.

    Myles Turner
    (toe) is out indefinitely after tearing the plantar plate in his big toe on his right foot.  This is a tough blow as the Pacers as they are fighting for positioning in the East. Goga Bitadze will see most of the minutes at center until Turner returns.

     De’Aaron Fox (COVID-19) will be sidelined for 10-14 days due to health and safety protocols.  He is having an amazing season, so this is a tough blow for Fox and the Kings.  Delon Wright and Tyrese Haliburton will see most of Fox’s minutes until he returns.

    Chris Boucher (MCL sprain) is out indefinitely with an MCL sprain and could be out for the season as the Raptors are outside of the playoff picture and could be cautious with the big man.  Khem Birch could see most of Boucher’s minutes.

    Here are the guys currently listed as day-to-day due to COVID-19 protocols:

    Alize Johnson, Nic Claxton, Zach LaVine, Kent Bazemore, Damion Lee, Kevin Porter Jr., Alec Burks

    Here are the guys currently listed as day-to-day due to injuries:

    Kris Dunn, De’Andre Hunter, Trae Young, Robert Williams III, Malik Monk, LaMelo Ball, Collin Sexton, Luka Doncic, Josh Richardson, Kristaps, Porzingis, Monte Morris, Will Barton, Eric Gordon, Christian Wood, Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Kawhi Leonard, Rajon Rondo, Serge Ibaka, Anthony Davis, Dennis Schroder, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Steven Adams, Otto Porter Jr., Terrence Ross, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, Rui Hachimura

    Check for updates on these guys throughout the week.

    Thanks for reading this week’s edition of The Week Ahead!

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