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NBA AM: 20-Year Age Limit Is Coming

There were a lot of things to learn at 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference — The NBA is headed towards a 20-year-old age restriction… The Wheel Draft could happen… Stan Van Gundy and Phil Jackson won’t be coaching… Making trades in the NBA is hard to pull off.

Steve Kyler

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Six Things To Know From Sloan:  Every year in early March, some of the smartest people in sports gather in Boston for what’s become one of the biggest informational conferences in sports. The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has become more than just “Dorkapalooza” as it’s been affectionately dubbed; it’s become a gathering point for some of the most compelling debates in sports.

This year’s conference featured plenty of debate on the virtues and values of analytical data across all sports, but it also featured a lot of conversation about many other topics and here are the six that really hit home:

“Two And Through” Is On Deck:  Currently the NBA has a rule that prohibits players from entering the NBA until they are 19 years old or one year removed from their high school graduating class. New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said numerous times that increasing that age limit to 20 years old and two years removed from high school is a top agenda item for him once the NBA Players’ Association hires a replacement director. During the last round of labor talks, the NBA pushed hard for a 20-year age restriction only to agree to table that topic in efforts to get the 2011 NBA lockout lifted.

Silver was asked by acclaimed writer Malcolm Gladwell during a one-on-one panel discussion, that hypothetically, if he could make any change in the league and that change would be wholly endorsed and approved by both the players and the owners, what would he change? With a few moments of deliberation, the Commissioner said changing the age limit.

Of all the things he could consider changing, the age limit was the top item in his mind.

Now for all of you that get upset at the notion of an age limit, understand that no one is trying to restrict entry into the NBA because of on-court ability. What they are most concerned about is bringing players into the NBA that are not mentally, emotionally or professionally prepared for everything that is demanded of players off the court.

»In Related: The Latest 2014 NBA Mock Draft

The belief from the NBA’s side is that the longer a player is in school, the more prepared they will be to be successful in the NBA on many levels. There is value in fans knowing who players being drafted are. There is value in giving teams more time to scrutinize and understand players. There is value in having players more prepared for the pressure and expectations of being an NBA player.

Silver was asked his thoughts on the idea of compensating college players and if the NBA should have a role in that given that they want to enact rules that would keep more players in school longer. Silver said he thought the NBA should play a role in that discussion, not in terms of cash payments to players, but possibly helping provide insurance and health care coverage programs for players who stay in school.

Silver admitted that college is not for everyone, using the analogy that no one told Bill Gates he couldn’t quit school to start Microsoft, but pointed to the idea that players have options outside of college such as the NBA’s Development League or the chance to play abroad or in prep school programs.

It’s absolutely clear that Commissioner Silver is gunning for a 20-year age limit and whether you like it or not “two and through” will be replacing “one and done” in the not so distant future.

The Wheel Has Legs:  Several weeks ago, Zach Lowe of Grantland revealed a proposal sent to the NBA from the Boston Celtics that would massively alter the process in which NBA draft picks are awarded.

Wheel_DraftDubbed “The Wheel” system, the proposed draft process would award draft picks at a fixed and balanced position over a 30-year span. There would be certainty to where every team picks, every year. When teams are trading picks they would be able to accurately extract value knowing exactly what position the pick traded will be.

The system in short awards the top overall pick to every franchise at least once every 30 years. The system would ensure every franchise has a pick in the top six every five years.

The wheel system was the brain-child of Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren and actually has a lot of support from within the NBA. As Zarren pointed out this weekend, the current document that covers all of the traded draft picks and their various protection scenarios is 70-pages in length. His hope is to simplify that process, remove wins and losses from the equation and create a format that can be planned around, rather than the arbitrary and random system that’s in place now.

»In Related: All Of The Traded NBA Draft Picks

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at first glance he really thought Zarren had solved the problem, but as the NBA passed the proposal around for feedback, a number of teams expressed concerns that because incoming players and their agents would know exactly what teams were picking where that some players might forgo the draft and stay in school in efforts to control where they were drafted and that some franchises might lose out on players because of the transparent certainty the “The Wheel” would provide.

As quirky as the wheel system sounded in December when it was revealed, this week it’s clear that Zarren’s Wheel system might get a lot more consideration, especially with the top three selections still being done via a smaller lottery system, something Zarren said was a tweak submitted to counter other teams concerns.

Don’t dismiss the wheel. It wouldn’t be possible to implement for almost eight years because of all the future picks that have been traded and the protections some of those trades carry but it is something the NBA is looking at among many other scenarios to remove the “incentive” to lose games that the current system seems to be fostering.

Stan And Phil Won’t Be Coaching:  You can cross Stan Van Gundy and Phil Jackson off your coaching wish list. Both former coaches said this weekend that coaching in the NBA next season was highly unlikely.

Jackson said that he does not expect to ever coach again, while Van Gundy said that he has promised his family some stability while his children finish high school.

Van Gundy admitted to Basketball Insiders that he wanted to coach again and that he’d listen to situations, but that unless his family signed off on a situation he would not be up-rooting his kids again. Van Gundy’s youngest is 14-years old, so he’s planning to be out of coaching until all of his kids graduate. Van Gundy and his family still reside in Orlando, which has led to speculation that Van Gundy at some point in the future could be a candidate to return to the Magic, which according to Magic sources is not even a discussion point. So for now, you can cross Van Gundy off the wish list. He says he’s having fun calling college basketball games and doing media, admitting he has a lot more respect for the job media members have now that he’s on that side of it.

The buzz around Phil Jackson is that several teams have Jackson at the top of their Team President list. Jackson served as an adviser to Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores this past summer and there are some that believe Jackson could be tapped by Gores to run the show in Detroit once current team president Joe Dumars’ contract expires this summer.

One league source openly questioned whether Jackson would consider the Cleveland Cavaliers, as they are expected to look for a proven championship pedigree leader for their team this summer.

Phil’s days of roaming the sidelines seem to be over, the question now becomes who can entice Jackson into their front office – that seems to be what’s next for Jackson.

The NBA Wants More:  The Sloan Conference is about data. And while most of us think about data in terms of information gathered from the game, the NBA is gathering data from every aspect of its business; mountains of data to be exact. The problem with all of this data is that no one really knows what to do with it yet.

On the basketball side, the NBA has partnered with STATS, Inc. to install cameras in every venue to gather and track spatial data. The problem is all this “SportVu” data is going into systems and no one has written really intuitive tools to extract and manipulate that data to its optimal level. During one panel discussion, Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren openly recruited User Interface developers in the middle of the panel. This was common throughout the weekend.

There is a lot of data being collected, but the tools to refine that data into useful dashboards and easy to consume tools still does not exist.

The NBA seems to have an unquenchable thirst for data, but even more so they are looking for ways to refine that data into useful tools.

The Basketball Operations side of the business is a little further down the road on what some called “rudimentary” tool sets. The business side, which is gleaning amazing information from its data, still has a ways to go.

So if you are looking for a job in the NBA and you are not a 6’3 point guard with a killer crossover, you might want to consider database user interface design classes, because it seems every team is hiring one these days.

Cracking The Chemistry Code:  As important as advanced analytics are in sports and as much as teams are learning from seeing their teams in hyper advanced ways, the tool no one has developed and every team is searching for is the chemistry tool. Sports teams across all disciplines have become really good at breaking down athletic performance and creating interesting predictive analysis tools. But the one thing teams still can’t beat is how teams come together and function effectively as a group.

A number of advanced statistical and psychology based companies like Sports Aptitude have been working to marry advanced stat data to advanced psychology data, to create tools to help teams understand how identity and select players will fit into their specific needs and culture.

The problem is that no one has been able to pull it off in a way that everyone buys into.

»In Related: Head-To-Head: Do Players Owe Their Teams Loyalty?

As teams continue to look for answers in the data, the question they really want to be able to get to is how to identify and quantify team chemistry; that’s the Holy Grail of advanced analytics that every team is looking for.

Making A Deal Isn’t Sexy:  There was a great panel discussion on negotiating deals that was moderated by a Harvard professor Deepak Malhotra and featured Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers.

Both GMs talked about their own personal struggles in getting deals done in the NBA and both told stories of how they approached transactions this summer.

There was the expected lack of trust, which both admitted was common, in talking with other teams. Both characterized the NBA trade process as making a lot of frustrating calls. There was almost a used car salesman type vibe to some of their frustrations.

In peeking behind the curtain in a really candid and open way, it became really clear that consummating a deal in the NBA isn’t as sexy and calculated as you might think. It absolutely is a lot of salesmanship and in some situations completely about luck and timing.

Myers recalled the process of signing forward Andre Iguodala this summer, and how he had to find a way to off-load $24 million in guaranteed salary in order to create the cap space to land Iguodala. Morey laughed at his peer’s struggles saying he thought the Warriors had a zero percent change of pulling off the deal. Myers said he called every team in the league and was almost to the point where it wouldn’t happen, saying he’d agreed to a noon deadline with Iguodala’s agent and at nine that morning did not have a deal. It was a last ditch call to the Utah Jazz and an off-the-cuff offer of cash in the deal that ultimately got the trade done.

Listening to Myers explain the process, it was really clear that as polished and experienced as Myers is as an executive, pulling off the trade that allowed the team to land Iguodala was as much about timing and luck as anything else.

Another point that Myers made was how much pressure there was on him and his staff to make the deal. Ownership wanted Iguodala and was not going to walk away because the situation was complicated.

Many times in sports we view the general manager as the “buck stops here” guy, when in reality he tends to answer to someone else, who may or may not understand how everything works.

Morey characterized his owner as very hands on and aggressive, Myers did much of the same with his owner.

Myers also commented on how the external pressure does impact the process, commenting about how transactions are immediately graded and scrutinized in the media, admitting that many times team simply don’t know how a transaction or an addition is going to work out.

There tends to be this belief among fans that trades are easy to make and that teams know exactly what they are doing when they make them. In listening to Morey and Myers talk about their process, it was pretty clear that not everything is done in a massively calculated way and sometimes trying to make a deal is a shot in the dark. That’s likely why so many details of trades get out into the media, because like all sales type transactions, you do have to make calls if you want to make sales.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Path Back to the NBA Finals

In the wake of Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Bobby Krivitsky examines the Los Angeles Lakers’ path back to the NBA Finals.

Bobby Krivitsky

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It’s been 15 games since a high ankle sprain sidelined LeBron James. 

With the Western Conference standings congested and Anthony Davis already out due to a right calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the threat of a fall that would require their participation in the play-in tournament.

However, the Lakers have fought admirably in the absence of their two stars, going seven and eight. As a result, their fall in the standings has been painless, going from third at the time of James’ injury to now occupying fifth place in the West.

The primary reason the Lakers have been able to tread water without their two stars is they’ve remained stingy on defense. Since James’ injury, they have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. That’s despite facing four teams who rank in the top five in offensive rating and six of the categories’ top-10 members.

Right now, the Lakers are 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with a 4.5-game cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks, who are seventh in the conference. That should be a large enough gap to keep Los Angeles out of the play-in tournament, but the two teams are going to converge for a two-game series starting Thursday. For the Lakers, getting swept would re-open the possibility of having to compete in the play-in tournament.

Fortunately for them, even splitting that series would make it unlikely the Mavericks finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings. And help might be on the way for the Lakers: Davis may soon rejoin the lineup, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning there’s a distinct possibility he’s active for at least one of those two matchups. As for James, he’s on track to return in three weeks.

While Los Angeles’ stars are getting closer to making their returns, the Denver Nuggets got dealt a more severe blow when Jamal Murray tore his ACL in a recent game against the Golden State Warriors. Denver is 10-2 since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and looked the part of a legitimate title contender prior to Murray’s injury. 

Denver is fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Los Angeles. But even if the Nuggets have home-court advantage, they’re the preferable opening-round opponent, not just for Los Angeles, but any team with a legitimate chance at the fourth or fifth seed.

Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s the place in the Western Conference pecking order where they’re most likely to finish this season. So long as the Nuggets don’t freefall in Murray’s absence, Los Angeles will likely start the playoffs against an opponent that’s gone from having the potential to present the greatest challenge to the defending champions’ quest to get back to the Finals to becoming a desirable first-round matchup.

After that, the Lakers may have to get past the Utah Jazz and or the Los Angeles Clippers to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. The former has the best record in the league this season, but locking horns with the defending champions in a best of seven series is a far more challenging and potentially rewarding proving ground.

The Jazz have a deep, reliable rotation, they have the best net rating in the NBA, they’re in the top five in points for and against per 100 possessions, and they’re attempting the most threes per game, but also rank in the top five in three-point shooting percentage. However, the Lakers would have the two best players in a series against Utah. Usually, an opponent doesn’t overcome that disadvantage.  

As for the Clippers, Rajon Rondo has quickly proven to be an impactful acquisition. Los Angeles is seven and one with him in the lineup, generating the highest net rating in the league during that span. Last season, the Lakers saw first-hand how impactful playoff Rondo can be. Now, the Clippers are hoping he can bring structure to their offense, something they sorely lacked last postseason and was at the forefront of them blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Doing so would go a long way towards maximizing the production of a team that has the talent to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

If this is the year the battle of LA takes place in the postseason, it figures to be a slugfest. Still, the Clippers have their doubters after last year’s meltdown in the playoffs. There’s also a large contingency who are skeptical about how far the Jazz can go in the postseason, given their lack of a top-tier superstar. Despite the validity of those concerns, both teams can beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. That no longer appears to be the case for the Nuggets, which is a shame for them and people who want to see the best possible matchups in the playoffs. But Murray’s injury, as unfortunate an occurrence as it is, makes it easier for the Lakers to get through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and have a chance to claim an 18th championship, which would break their tie with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.

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NBA AM: The Play-In Game – West

With the season winding down, Ariel Pacheco takes a look at how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Western Conference.

Ariel Pacheco

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With the regular season’s end in sight, teams are making their last push to make the playoffs in what has been a condensed season. But the new play-in tournament is providing more teams than ever a chance at a coveted playoff spot.

Here is what the new play-in tournament will look like: Teams that finish with the Nos 7 and 8 seeds will face off against each other. The winner of this game will be No. 7. The Nos. 9 and 10 seeds will also play and the winner will play the loser of the first game. The winner of this game will be the No. 8 seed. 

The play-in tournament provides intrigue and adds pressure on teams in both conferences to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in altogether. The Western Conference, in particular, is shaping up to have a rather exciting finish. There are a number of teams who could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives in this year’s tournament – all below in tiers.

Teams Likely To Avoid Play-In

Portland Trail Blazers (32-24)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 11

The Trail Blazers are currently the sixth seed in the West meaning, for now, they are safe from the play-in tournament. However, they are just two games above the Mavericks from possibly dropping down a place. They’re the team most likely to secure that sixth seed because they have more talent than the teams below them – hello, Dame – and they also have an elite offense. However, the defensive concerns are very real and if they were to slip, it would likely be because of their struggles on that side of the ball.

Likely Play-In Teams

Dallas Mavericks

Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 5
Games Against West: 8

On paper, the Mavs have a really easy schedule as the season winds down. They have just five games against teams over .500 and two against the Los Angeles Lakers, who may be without their two stars for those games. However, they are just 10-12 this season against sub .500 teams and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings. There’s still a pretty good chance they get the sixth seed and avoid the play-in, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them in it as well.

Memphis Grizzlies
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 7
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 12

The Grizzlies are often overlooked, but they are about as well-coached as any other team in the NBA. It is likely they will be in the play-in game, but don’t be surprised if they are able to sneak into the sixth seed. They lost last year’s play-in game in the Bubble to the Blazers, so they do have experience in this type of setting. They may be getting Jaren Jackson Jr. back soon which should help. 

Golden State Warriors
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 6
Games Against West: 13

The Warriors are getting just other-worldly performances from Stephen Curry on an almost nightly basis at this point. However, they continue to struggle to win games, in large part due to the struggles when he sits on the bench. Their schedule is pretty light to close the season, which bolsters their chances. The talent on this team isn’t great, but Curry’s play should be enough to get them in the play-in tournament. 

San Antonio Spurs
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 7

The Spurs have struggled of late, especially after the All-Star break. Their defense has dropped off badly, but if there’s any reason to be positive, it’s that they are still coached by Gregg Popovich and their young guys continue to show improvement. They have been really good on the road this season and a majority of their games are on the road. It won’t be easy, but the Spurs should find themselves in the play-in tournament.

Outside Looking In

New Orleans Pelicans
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 9
Games Against West: 11

The Pelicans have been hit with the injury bug of late, but their inconsistent play this season continues to be a huge problem. Their defense continues to bleed three-pointers and while point Zion Williamson has worked, there just isn’t enough shooting to maximize him just yet. It seems unlikely the Pelicans make a late-season run to the play-in game.

Sacramento Kings

Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 14

The Kings are the least likely team to make the play-in tournament. Their defense is still problematic and they just recently ended their 9-game losing streak. It’ll take a huge late-season push and the Kings just haven’t shown that they are capable of putting it all together for a long enough stretch. 

The play-in tournament adds a new layer of competition that will bring excitement at the end of the season. Be sure to check out how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Eastern Conference.

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NBA

NBA Daily: The Play-In Game — East

With the play-in tournament just around the corner, Matt John previews who in the Eastern Conference might qualify for it.

Matt John

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It’s official: we’re entering the regular season’s endgame. Every game from here on out will have much bigger consequences, a statement even truer in 2021 than perhaps any other season thanks to the NBA’s new play-in tournament.

If you’re not familiar, the play-in tournament will consist of two matchups within each conference. The seventh and eighth seeds of both conferences will face off against one another, while the ninth and 10th seeds shall do the same. The winner of the seven-eight matchup will take their conference’s seventh seed, while the winner of the nine-10 game will face the aforementioned match’s loser for the eighth and final spot in the postseason. It’ll serve as a nice appetizer before the playoffs get underway.

So, now that we have 15 games left give or take, it’s time to get a full scope of who we’re most likely to see in this year’s play-in, starting with the Eastern Conference. There’s really no need to go over teams that have all but clinched their playoff spots like Philadelphia, Brooklyn, or Milwaukee. Just like there’s no need to mention teams that are way too out of a reach for a playoff spot like Detroit and Orlando.

But that does leave ten teams in the Eastern Conference that we could potentially see in the play-in. At first glance, it would sound ridiculous to say that Boston and Cleveland could be in the play-in seeing how they are separated by ten and a half games, but Boston is only two and a half games ahead of Miami for that seventh seed while Cleveland is only three games behind Chicago for the tenth seed.

The best way to evaluate is to divide these into tiers. One for playoff teams who are likely to avoid the play-in, one for teams that are most likely to be in the play-in, and those that are likely to miss out on the play-in.

Likely to Avoid

Atlanta Hawks (30-26)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Six
Games Against East: 13

Replacing Lloyd Pierce with Nate McMillan proved to be a genius move by Atlanta’s front office, as the Hawks have won 16 of their last 23 games. They may have had that stretch where they lost four of five, but that was on a West Coast Trip. Seeing how almost 75 percent of their remaining games will be at home, it’s hard to see Atlanta collapsing. They may be decimated by injuries right now, but the schedule seems a little too easy for them to blow this.

Boston Celtics (31-26)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Four
Games Against East: 10

Much like Atlanta, Boston’s really hit their stride over the past few weeks. Getting healthy and making a few roster changes have helped them rediscover the team that started out so well at the beginning of the season. It’s hard seeing Boston folding down the stretch primarily because they won’t be facing too many strong opponents from here until the regular season’s end. Given their recent strong play, don’t expect an appearance at the play-in tournament.

Likely Play-In Teams

New York Knicks (30-27)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: Six

Give credit where credit is due. The Knickerbockers are not going away. They’ve stayed the course when many thought this was going to be another wasted year for them. They’ve given no reason to indicate that they’re stopping now. The reason they’re not as sure of a thing as Atlanta or Boston is because, over this last stretch, they’re going to face off against several Western Conference contenders looking for the highest seeding possible. As tough as that’s going to be, the Knicks are going to make each one of them earn those wins, guaranteed.

Miami HEAT (28-28)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East: 11

It’s been difficult to get a read on the reigning Eastern Conference champions. They go on stretches that basically even out each other. After starting out 11-17, they win 12 of their next 13, then follow that up by losing their next six games, then win six of their next seven, then finally and most recently, they lose their next three games. No one really knows what Miami’s ceiling is right now. Odds are, the HEAT will probably be in the play-in. It’s just a matter of where. Also, why have we still not gotten any updates on Victor Oladipo?

Charlotte Hornets (27-28)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: 13

What’s happened to the Hornets over the past few weeks is just straight up not fair. If LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward were playing, they’d solidly be in the same tier as Boston and Atlanta. With their squad fully healthy, Charlotte’s a playoff team, but being down their two best players definitely takes them down a peg. They deserve props that they haven’t rolled over since losing those two, but sadly they’re nowhere near as good as they were with their whole squad. Their schedule is easy enough that it shouldn’t knock them out of the play-in. If LaMelo and Hayward are back by then, then it’s hard not seeing the Hornets get into the postseason.

Indiana Pacers (26-29)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East Teams: 11

It hasn’t been talked about enough how injuries have really shaken up Indiana’s season. TJ Warren’s foot injury was a substantial season-long setback and Caris Levert’s cancer, as miraculous of a story as that was, was another prolonged absence. Overall, Indiana’s injuries have led to a rather underachieving season compared to past results. Luckily their schedule for the rest of the season shouldn’t be too tough, so making the play-in seems realistic.

Outside Looking In

*One of these teams will get the play-in as the 10th seed.

Toronto Raptors (23-34)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: Seven

That’s right, the same Raptors, who only weeks ago were in serious talks to trade Kyle Lowry to the highest bidder, have suddenly found themselves in the fight for the final spot for the play-in. It’s not that they’ve suddenly turned it all around. It’s that the competition is too weak for them to bow out completely. Their schedule may allow them to go all-in on the tank, but maybe one last hurrah with the franchise’s greatest player isn’t the worst way to go.

Chicago Bulls (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Seven
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: 16

Good news: Nikola Vucevic looks like he’s fitting in splendidly. Bad news: The team has been on a downward spiral since his (and others) acquisition. Chicago has only won four of their last 13 games since the trade deadline and their remaining schedule is not going to be a breeze. On paper, they should be a shoo-in for the 10th seed, but the roster holes right now appear to be too glaring for Chicago to take the next step. If they don’t at the very least make the play-in, that’s not going to be a good look after all the moves they made.

Washington Wizards (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Five
Games Against East Teams: 10

Remember when Washington was one of the worst teams in the league record-wise? And how they managed to only slightly improve themselves over the course of the season? Well, apparently that was enough to get them into the conversation for the play-in because, lo and behold, they’re now tied with Chicago for that 10th seed. It gets better too. They only face two tough challenges from here on out – Lakers and Bucks – but after that, it’s honestly easy enough that they might be the favorite to get that last play-in spot.

Cleveland Cavaliers (20-36)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams over .500: Six
Games Against East Teams: 12

This sounds the most ludicrous seeing how the Cavs are currently the East’s 13th seed, but being three games behind Chicago while facing only six teams over .500 gives them a fighting chance. If the Cavaliers are actually able to get the play-in, that’s a big stepping stone for their future. It’s an accomplishment to build off of in an era with no LeBron James to speak of, which they haven’t been able to do since Friends was on the air.

As you can see, the play-in has, in a way, brought a new dimension to the NBA season. In any previous season (excluding the last one) no one would bat an eye at the 10 through 13 seeds. Their season at this point would be all but done and no one would care, but because of the possibility of going to a play-in tournament, teams suddenly have the chance to make something of what usually would have been a lost season.

Some teams may get annoyed by it because their time is coming to a close and there’s no need to delay the inevitable. For others, the play-in signifies that it could just be the beginning.

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