Predicting Postseason Fate for Fringe Playoff NBA Teams
We are in the final few months of the NBA regular season and the playoff race is starting to heat up. At the top, the elite teams are jockeying for position atop their respective conferences, while at the bottom the Tankers are calculating their lottery chances.
The focus here will be on the most interesting race, and that is in the middle; the teams that are on the cusp of making the playoffs. The top 6 teams in both conferences seem relatively safe and thus I will concentrate on the final two spots and offer my opinions on their fate, whether they are playoff bound or not.
Detroit Pistons : In
Record: 29-30 (Currently 7thin East)
8-2 in their last 10 games, the Pistons have quietly been playing their best basketball of the season. They made some helpful complementary additions at the trade deadline and via the buyout market adding Thon Maker, Wayne Ellington and Svi Mykhailiuk, all of whom have contributed.
Detroit’s big three has also started to play better as of late. Blake Griffin, to be fair, has been good all year averaging 25.8 points per game, but it’s Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson that have come on strong of as late. The former was a statsheet-stuffer in February averaging 22.4 points, 16 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, while the latter upped his numbers to 19.4 points per game on 48.4% shooting.
The Pistons seem to be peaking at the right time, as Casey has found a nice balance in his rotations, finally finding the long-range shooting this team has sought for so long. Expect the Motor City to be part of the playoffs this season!
Charlotte Hornets: Out
Record: 28-32 (Currently 8thin East)
If the Hornets were serious about making the playoffs this season they needed to do something at the trade deadline. Kemba Walker has been fantastic all season long, but there simply isn’t enough talent around him. As such, the Hornets are yet again, stuck in mediocrity, without any clear vision of where their franchise is headed.
If the playoffs started today, the Hornets would (just barely) be in, however they have lost 6 of their 8 games and have one of the hardest remaining schedules in the NBA. Considering that they are 7-21 against .500-plus opponents, this does not bode well for the Hornets playoff hopes. Expect them to fade down the stretch and head home for an early off-season, yet again.
Orlando Magic: In
Record: 28-33 (Currently 9thin East)
There are so many things going in Magic’s favour. Like the Pistons, they have been on fire lately, playing their best ball of the season, winning 8 of their last 10 games including some very impressive wins at Toronto and at Milwaukee! They are on a six-year playoff drought and seem pretty desperate to get back in. They are the ninth-most efficient team in the NBA since the calendar flipped and they have the third easiest schedule in the NBA!
The decision to keep Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross past the deadline is looking a good one, as they have both continued to produce. Jonathan Isaac and Evan Fournier have been nice complementary pieces, but I do think the Magic will need to get Aaron Gordon back soon and on track, to solidify their path to the playoffs.
Miami Heat: Out
Record: 26-33 (Currently 10thin East)
What a disappointment! I have always respected Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade, but this team is a complete mess. They have the highest (!) payroll in the NBA and yet, are on the verge of not even making the playoffs!
Giving them a sliver of hope is the return of Goran Dragic, though after having been out so long I’m not sure how much of an impact he will have. The Heat have one of the hardest schedules down the stretch, including their upcoming three games versus the Warriors, Rockets and Nets. Should they lose all three of those games, look for this team to pack it in and prepare for the lottery.
Los Angeles Clippers: In
Record: 34-28 (Currently 7thin West)
It is baffling to me that the Clippers are currently 7thin the West. Forget the fact that before the season no one had them anywhere near the playoffs, but following their deadline moves, they are still somehow winning games! Focusing on the future, they traded away their top scorer and two other starters in exchange for some young pieces and if anything, it’s made them better!
Currently sitting two games above the cut-off zone and with the 4theasiest remaining schedule in the West, why won’t the Clippers make it? Doc Rivers has instilled an underdog persona into this team that has them playing inspired basketball. I think they make it!
San Antonio Spurs: Out
Record: 33-29 (Currently 8thin West)
Yes, I know the Spurs have made the playoffs for 21 straight seasons (the largest active streak in all pro-sports) and yes, I know this team is still coached by arguably the best coach of all time in Gregg Popovich, but all good things come to an end right? Call me crazy, but I just don’t see it this year with the Spurs.
The team has a) undergone so much turnover, b) lost their star point guard Dejounte Murray before the season and c) not played well! On offense, they lack the flow, spacing and shot-creation of all of successful Spurs teams of the past and on defense they are just disastrous. A few nights ago they allowed 130 points to the Knicks (!), only to allow 19 threes to the Nets, the night after. Look, it may be foolish of me to count them out and they may go on huge winning streak in the next month or so, but as of right now, I don’t see it!
Sacramento Kings: In
Record: 31-29 (Currently 9thin West)
The Sacramento Kings last qualified for the playoffs in 2005-06, the longest active playoff drought in the NBA and third largest in all of professional sports after the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Browns. Not only do I think the Kings playoff drought ends this year, but I think this team is on the verge of becoming a dynasty!
“I love their team and love what they are doing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “…Every time we play them it’s high energy and it’s beautiful basketball. They are tough to guard. They put a lot of pressure on you.”
Those are words of high praise and I could not agree more! The up-and-coming Kings have beaten the 76ers, Spurs and Thunder this past month, while also taking the Warriors to the wire. Post All-Star break they have made some line-up changes, inserting Marvin Bagley into the line-up and making him a focal point, a decision which has allowed him to thrive. De’Aaron Fox and especially Buddy Hield are hitting their stride at the right time and the run-and-gun style of play fits this roster perfectly. The Kings have the fourth easiest remaining schedule in the NBA; mark my words: the drought ends this year! Playoff basketball is returning the Sacramento!
Los Angeles Lakers: Out
Record: 29-31 (Currently 11thin West)
“At this point if you’re still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, then this is the wrong franchise to be a part of and you should just come in and be like, ‘Listen, I can’t do this,’” said James after the Lakers most recent loss against the Grizzlies last night.
I mean what is there to say? There are clearly numerous fractures and issues within this team. Luke Walton has lost the locker room, LeBron has lost the trust of his teammates, Magic Johnson has lost a lot of credibility, and quite frankly, I think the Lakers have lost hope in making the playoffs. Sure, they are still only three games out with 22 games remaining, but I think at this point, not even LeBron can overcome the deeply rooted problems within this team.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Out
Record: 29-31 (Currently 10thin West)
First off, let’s be thankful that Karl Anthony Towns is okay after a scary car accident. “I’m just blessed to be alive and talking right now,” Towns told reporters Monday. He came out playing inspired basketball last night, finishing with 34 points and 21 rebounds in a win over the Kings. Perhaps Towns’ car accident will give him and his team the added boost that propels them into playoff territory?
Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Though only three games out of 8thplace, the Timberwolves have too many teams that would need to surpass, and to make matters far more difficult, they have the second hardest remaining schedule in the NBA.