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NBA AM: Is It The End For Mark Jackson?

Is this the end of the line for Mark Jackson and the Warriors?… Houston isn’t planning for anything major, but will be ready… Some Sleepers emerging in the 2014 NBA Draft class.

Steve Kyler

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The Jackson Reaction:  When the Memphis Grizzlies decided to part ways with former head coach Lionel Hollins after a run to the Western Conference Finals last season, the move was met with disdain from almost everyone. How could the franchise justify dumping the coach that had turned the franchise from laughing stock into a contender?

The Golden State Warriors are looking at a similar situation with their head coach Mark Jackson. After logging back-to-back postseason runs and the first 50-win season since 1993, Jackson enters the offseason with rumors swirling that he will be out at some point.

Why would Golden State consider dumping Jackson? It starts with owner Joe Lacob. He was part of the Boston Celtics organization as a minority owner before partnering to buy the Warriors back in 2010. Lacob was part of the Celtics NBA Finals runs in 2008 and 2010, and rightly or wrongly, believes he knows what a championship team is supposed to look like. Lacob often comments on his time with the Celtics when talking about how he wants to build the Warriors.

This brings us back to Jackson. When the Warriors hired Jackson it was a bit of a head scratcher. Jackson had no head coaching experience and was fresh out of the broadcasting booth. It was a dare-to-be-great hire and surely Lacob was hoping to get the next Doc Rivers when he signed off on hiring Jackson.

While Jackson was a great motivator from the start, and his players responded well to him, there has been a lot of behind the scenes tensions. Jackson was involved in a blackmail scandal after his first year – a scandal that almost cost him his job then. He had run-ins with assistant coaches and staffers; while his team played well on the court, there was discord brewing off the court.

»In Related:Predicting The NBA’s Post-Season – 2nd Round

This season there was the much publicized mutiny involving assistant coach Brian Scalabrine, which lead to stories about issues on last season’s staff including celebrated assistant Mike Malone, now the head coach of the Sacramento Kings.

As the Warriors begin their offseason, there is a belief that ownership and many in the front office no longer view Jackson as that future Doc Rivers-type of coach. While Jackson has had some success, the manner in which he has run things in Golden State is not lining up with what ownership wants in terms of a blueprint.

Much like Memphis did last year, the Warriors seem like they may be headed towards a change at head coach, not because the coach is necessarily a bad coach, simply a bad fit for the bigger picture for the organization.

This is not uncommon in the NBA. Coaches are the easiest part of a team to change and we have seen historically that some great coaches get fired all the time, only to land somewhere else that may be a better fit and have success.

Rick Carlisle struggled to find his groove until he landed in Dallas. Terry Stotts had a couple of chances before finding success in Portland.

It’s easy to forget that Vinny Del Negro went to the playoffs every year of his four year coaching career and was let go by both teams he worked for and is not coaching today.

»In Related:Is The NBA Becoming Too Soft?

On court success isn’t always about the coach and in most of the situations mentioned, the teams got better after finding a better fitting coach. That’s where the Warriors find themselves today. Jackson is not a bad coach, but is he the coach that gets the Warriors to the NBA Finals with the talent the Warriors have?

Those are the questions that are being asked in the Bay Area and ultimately if Jackson is let go, it will be because the team doesn’t feel he can lead them to the promised land and that’s not necessarily all on Jackson. It just means he’s not the fit they had hoped he be when they dared to be great with him.

Rockets Holding Firm?:  Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey isn’t happy that his team’s season came to an abrupt end this weekend, but at the same time he likes what he has to work with going forward and says while his team will be aggressive, he is not expecting any major trades or changes.

In a wide ranging Q&A with Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Morey says he still has a lot of decisions to make, but will start making them after things settle down after an emotional postseason.

“Very disappointing we weren’t able to advance,” Morey said. “We continued growing as a team, getting more experience. I felt the West this year, really anybody could win it. That makes it sting a little more. That said, we took a big leap forward. I think we can take a big step forward again next year and put ourselves in even better position and with a better team. Obviously, there is a lot of work for myself, for the players, for everybody, to win the West.”

The Rockets have been linked to several free agents including New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Cleveland’s Luol Deng. Morey said he expects to be aggressive but isn’t sure anything major is going to happen.

»In Related: The NBA’s Best Postseason Duo.

“We’re always aggressive. We’ll always explore aggressive scenarios,” Morey said. “But I feel confident if those don’t emerge, we’re not far off. We need to get (the win total) into the high 50s if we’re going to be as good as we want to be. We need to improve our defense primarily. We were the youngest team in the league (in the postseason, fourth youngest and second least experienced in the regular season) and improving, so an addition or two are key. I feel confident we can make that step forward that we need to make.

“We made a big leap forward with the addition of Dwight (Howard) and the growth of our young players to get to the mid-50 range. I think we’ve got to take one more step forward. But I think the average NBA title team won 57 games, so we’re not far off.”

The Rockets have $56.98 million in salary commitments against what’s expected to be a $63 million salary cap in July. Morey says he feels like his team has options, especially if a max-level All-Star type of guy comes their way.

“I would always take a third All-Star guy, either from one of our guys improving or addition,” Morey said. “There’s no negative to adding an All-Star-level player. That said, I don’t feel it’s necessary. I do feel it’s my job to explore those things. I think (we’ll be helped by) our group playing more together after only a season together, plus a lot of young players that can take a step forward and improve. Plus we’ve got financial flexibility this year. We’re not limited to minimum-player additions.

“We have all our draft picks going forward to execute trades if necessary. We’ve got a lot of flexibility to improve. It’s my job to get that done and the players’ job to work on their games over the summer. The coaches are taking another look at our strategies and deciding what we’re going to do different next year to improve.”

There has been speculation that trading center Omer Asik or guard Jeremy Lin is something the Rockets would need to do this summer, however Morey said he doubted that was in the cards.

“I don’t expect something bigger like that to happen,” Morey said. “I could see where you would look to that if something bigger were to happen, but I don’t anticipate that.”

The Rockets have an interesting situation with forward Chandler Parson brewing. Parsons has a player option for next season worth $964,000. If the Rockets decline the option Parson he could become a restricted free agent. The question becomes do the Rockets exercise their option and risk Parson’s hitting unrestricted free agency in 2015 to preserve cap space for free agency this year, or do they go the restricted route this summer and lock him up going forward?

“We won’t know everything we need to know when we have to make a decision on Chandler’s (contract) option,” Morey said. “We have to make the best decision at the time we have to make it (June 29).”

The timing of Parsons’ option will occur before the Rockets have a chance to woo potential free agents, however most around the league are expecting Parson to have his option declined and the Rockets playing the restricted free agent game with Parson while also trying to make moves in the free agent market.

The Rockets are sitting on what is expected to be the 25th and 42nd picks in the 2014 NBA Draft and they should have some breathing room under the salary cap without making a lot salary dump type moves.

Five Lottery Sleepers:  The 2014 NBA Draft is roughly 52 days away, and with more and more teams ending their seasons, and the annual NBA Draft Combine set to kick off in Chicago next week, several player names are starting to surface in the discussions for those teams just outside the expected Top Six.

»In Related: Full 2014 NBA Mock Draft.

For months names like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum and Julius Randle have dominated the draft discussion, but there are a few names much lower on the Top 100 list, that are getting some love and attention as players that could climb significantly in the first round. Here are a few of them:

James Young – Kentucky – SG/SF – 6’7″

From the start of the NBA season, NBA executives gushed over Young’s potential at the next level and with teams starting to clamor to get him in for workouts, it’s becoming clear that Young could go significantly higher than most are projecting him and that a lottery level pick is not out of the question.

Young has been training out in LA with renowned trainer Rob McClanaghan, who has worked with the likes of Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Kevin Love.

NBA teams are allowed to conduct up to 18 personal interviews at the Draft Combine and word is Young may have an extremely full dance card as teams want to get a look.

They say it takes two interested teams to get a player drafted, when half the league wants to get after a player that usually means his stock is on the rise.

Kyle Anderson – UCLA – SF – 6’8″

Anderson’s mix of point guard skills and his length are making him attractive at the next level. He may not sneak into the lottery like James Young, but Anderson may not be around outside the Top 20. Word is a number of teams in the teens to 20s have Anderson high on their draft board and assuming he can back that up in workouts and interviews the 10-20 range seems likely.

The common thought on Anderson from NBA scouts and talent evaluators is that there has not been a prospect in some time that has Anderson’s mix of passing, shooting and rebounding and his athleticism looks to translate nicely at the next level.

Anderson looks like he’ll have a full dance card for interviews and workouts.

Adreian Payne – Michigan State – PF – 6’9″

Payne may not climb into the lottery, but he does look like a strong candidate to get drafted in the 20’s. His age is something of a limiting factor as teams tend to steer clear of older players, opting for young talent. However with Payne, a team gets a ready-to-play big man. Given how strong his season was, he has some admirers.

Payne’s name comes up a lot when you talk to teams in the playoff hunt that hold first round draft picks, the question is does someone a little higher up with multiple picks like a Chicago, opt for a guy that can play today over a guy that may need development time.

Rodney Hood – Duke – SF – 6’8″

Hood’s season at Duke was marred with up and down performances, however his trainers at IMG Academy say he’s one of the best pure shooters they have had on campus and that says a lot when you think about the likes of Kevin Martin, Jimmy Butler and Chauncey Billups having trained there.

As the workout process gets started, there is no doubt that a strong showing shooting the ball could boost Hood’s draft stock, simply because of the premium outside shooting demands in the draft process. Hood’s draft range could be anywhere from 12 to 25, meaning he’ll likely be in to see a number of teams in this process.

Cleanthony Early – Wichita State – SF – 6’8″

Every year there is a player that shows up big in the NCAA Tournament that gets a lot of love. Early is one of those guys this year. Most teams did not scout him as thoroughly as some of the other named guys in the draft process, so Early will have a chance to showcase a little in this process.

Several NBA teams have him on their draft board, so it will be up to him to show up big in this process. If he can live up to his hype, he could go a bit higher than expected.

Looking for more on the 2014 NBA Draft? Check out the In-Depth video breakdowns from our friends at Draft Express and the most recent Top 100 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings.

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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