By Shawn Dennis
The NBA season is approaching the final stretch as we are about to enter May in a couple of weeks and the seedings for both Conferences will become finalized. This 2020-2021 has been riddled with injuries more than usual, as well as players missing games due to contact tracing from COVID. Because of this, teams that were expected to be higher than where they currently rank are struggling to get hot and string some wins together. There’s also been a fair share of surprises with trades, players performances, and most importantly, the quality of play of certain teams.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the team that has surpassed their expectations this season and what team has been the biggest disappointment.
There’s a solid four-to-five teams that have certainly showcased their talents on several occasions and are sitting higher in the seedings than most would have predicted. When Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are healthy, the Philadelphia 76ers are no joke in what they can accomplish come playoff time. Even the New York Knicks have been on the radar with how well they’ve been playing. Julius Randle is having the best season of his career alongside RJ Barrett putting all the pieces of his game together. But, the team that has exceeded their expectations the most in the association is the Phoenix Suns.
Although Chris Paul has never won a ring, what he’s been able to do for each franchise he’s been a part of is what makes him a sure future hall of famer. Paul’s ability to be a true facilitator on the floor and his overall presence is the reason why every team’s winning percentage has increased dramatically upon his arrival. The Sun’s have needed a high-level point guard since Steve Nash retired and Chris Paul was the ideal fit for the rising stars of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
From not making the playoffs since 2010, nor having a winning record for the last 6 seasons, the fact that the Suns are 40-16 and are second in the West is what separates them from any other team that’s been playing better than expected. Monty Williams should be in the running for Coach of the Year and depending on the health of teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, the Suns may have a chance of making it to the Western Conference Finals if CP3 is running point.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s been double the amount of teams that have fallen short to what most NBA experts predicted prior to the season. Only two weeks ago were the Boston Celtics the 8th seed in the East and struggling to stay above .500. The Orlando Magic traded away the three players that kept them in the playoffs over the last two seasons and are now 20-games below .500. Since one of the worst trades of all time, the Houston Rockets have been the epitome of a disappointing team. Earlier in the season they went on a dismal 20-game losing streak and are riding a five game losing streak, which will more than likely increase.
The list of under performing teams goes on, but the Toronto Raptors are who stands out the most. Since Kawhi Leonard went home to LA to play for the Clippers, the Raptors simply haven’t been the same team. They still managed to put on a decent playoff run in the Bubble down in Orlando, sweeping the Brooklyn Nets and bringing the Boston Celtics to a Game 7 that they lost in, but this season has shown a total flop in direction in comparison to how they’ve been playing over the past several years.
Not to say that the Toronto Raptors were predicted to win the East or for that matter, be a top three team in the Conference, but to be ten games under .500 with a record of 24-34, and being positioned as the last seed in the play-in game is quite embarrassing. This team has what it takes to be in the top five in the East if they can play together consistently, especially if OG Anunoby improves his game and Pascal Siakam stays healthy, but it appears that head coach Nick Nurse has had a difficult time stringing things together without the support of key players like Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, and the obvious one, Kawi Leonard playing elsewhere.
After the All-Star break, the Toronto Raptors went ice cold, going 1-9 entering the next ten games, which included a 9-game losing streak. Speaking of losing streaks, the Houston Rockets snapped their 20-game losing streak last month to none other than the Toronto Raptors on March 22, beating them by 18 points. To say the Raptors want to forget about this year is an understatement, but they still have a core set of guys for the future that will be able to contend for years to come.
I believe the Norman Powell trade to the Trail Blazers for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood is underrated and the Raptors are sure winners of the exchange, but they need to either draft or trade for another point guard regardless of if Kyle Lowry stays after this season. Nevertheless, the Toronto Raptors season is over and although there’s still a month of basketball left to play, I don’t see another team underperforming more than they have all season.