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NBA AM: Roberson On Entering NBA’s Defensive Elite

Andre Roberson speaks to Ben Dowsett about becoming one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.

Ben Dowsett

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When most people think of the best wing defenders in the game today, a few typical names deservedly pop up. Kawhi Leonard. Tony Allen. Paul George. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, if you’re just the right hint of NBA hipster.

Andre Roberson thinks he belongs on the list.

“Not to be cocky or anything, but I feel like I’m definitely one of the top defenders in the league right now,” Roberson told Basketball Insiders. “I do it a high level.”

Roberson feels the need to put a cockiness disclaimer in there, but he could be easily excused if he didn’t. Defensive numbers are a murky and imprecise science, but the ones we have available have consistently ranked Roberson right among those starrier defensive names.

The relevant figures here aren’t blocks or steals as much as they’re team metrics which reflect Roberson’s impact on the Thunder. Oklahoma City is nearly seven points per-100-possessions worse defensively when Roberson hits the bench compared to when he plays, per NBA.com, the same gap found between one of the league’s five best defenses and one of its five worst. Opponents draw fewer fouls and shoot fewer free throws while he plays, and his length on the perimeter is a big reason the Thunder’s three-point defense suffers when he sits.

These numbers can get noisy, especially with coach Billy Donovan’s substitution patterns, but ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus metric helps us contextualize by factoring for teammate and opponent context. Roberson is in the league’s top 40 by DRPM, one of just a handful of non-bigs with that distinction, and sixth among small forwards. RPM estimates he’s saved the Thunder over two points per-100-possessions, second on the team only to anchor Steven Adams. When factoring in the reality that big men are viewed more favorably by this metric, there’s a real case that Roberson has been the team’s most impactful defender.

Roberson is used to making this kind of impact. He’s been doing it since well before his NBA days.

“I always liked doing it growing up,” Roberson said. “My dad always taught me to play both sides of the game. I kind of gravitated towards the defensive end when I was getting overlooked in high school.”

That last bit might be the crux of his motivation. Plenty of pro athletes draw their fire from being passed over, and for Roberson, this started well before he hit the professional ranks. He was just a three-star high school recruit according to ESPN, listed as the 62nd ranked power forward in the country coming out of Karen Wagner High School outside of San Antonio. He watched guys around him draw rave reviews, and this was the best way he could think of to even the scales.

“I just wanted to show everybody I could still compete with those guys, and play on the same level as them,” Roberson told Basketball Insiders. “That was me going out there and having a chip on my shoulder, going out there trying to guard those guys. I guess that’s where I got it from, [and] I still hold it even to this day.”

That star-killer mindset never left, it turns out.

Roberson has become Donovan’s defensive trump card, a shutdown artist who spends long stretches making life difficult for top opposing ball-handlers. “He can guard point guards, he can guard two-guards, he can guard small forwards,” Donovan said. “He’s guarded just about everybody in the league.”

Roberson’s impressive wingspan (measured 6-foot-11 on his 6-foot-7 frame before he was drafted) helps him challenge quicker guards, and his strength honed from mostly playing the forward spots before the NBA helps him with the LeBron/George types. Quietly, he’s become one of the guys none of these stars wants to see.

“I don’t know why it don’t get noticed or people don’t pay attention to it,” said star Russell Westbrook. “But every night, he guards the other team’s best player and they don’t seem to do very well when he guards them (chuckles). He’s been doing it all season long.”

In two matchups, Roberson has held newly minted All-Star Gordon Hayward to 13-for-31 shooting. In a game against the Knicks, Roberson held Carmelo Anthony to 4-for-19. George went 7-for-20 against him recently during a really strong run of play, including just 2-for-9 from deep.

If the only Rockets games you’d seen this year were against the Thunder, you’d wonder how the hell James Harden got all this MVP buzz: Roberson has stifled him to the tune of an alarming 16-for-45 shooting in three matchups (barely 33 percent).

In a weird way, constantly being tasked with such a tough assignment makes things simpler for Roberson.

“For me, it’s kind of easier just knowing that the guy I’m guarding, most of the time the ball is gonna try to go to him,” Roberson told Basketall Insiders. “I just try to go out there and try to make it harder for him to kind of jump coverages a little bit, kind of take him out that sweet spot.”

Those star performances listed above might be isolated incidents on small samples, but season-long numbers paint a similar picture.

Roberson lands in the league’s top 10 for “field goal percentage difference allowed” among volume defenders, per SportVU – that is, the difference between a player’s normal field goal percentage on a given range of shots and his actual percentage when guarded by a particular defender, Roberson in this case. He shaves nearly five percentage points off the average shot taken when he’s the nearest defender.

In a lot of cases, these numbers are noisy and perhaps even unusable. The player who was the closest defender to a shot wasn’t necessarily the player “defending” the shooter through a possession, and the very idea that singular blame or praise can be given to one defender on a given shot doesn’t always hold for a theme as complex as NBA defense. With a bit of context, though, these conform with everything else we already know about Roberson.

For starters, his percentage isn’t heavily influenced by a big drop in opponent three-point percentage. Threes are the most variable shots in the game, and SportVU doesn’t care if you’re a foot away or six feet away – if you’re the closest defender, that shot goes on your dossier. Many of the inflated and unrealistic defensive figures we see from this data are heavily influenced by guys who just happened to be the closest defender for a lot of missed threes.

Roberson is the opposite. He’s affected opponent three-point percentage negatively (he’s affected shots from every distance range negatively), but a much lower percentage of his defended shots have been threes than many other volume wing defenders. Meanwhile, his percentages get even stingier as shooters move closer to the basket – or in other words, as we get closer to a range where these figures are reliable.

Guys see their percentages on shots within 10 feet of the hoop drop a full 7.5 percentage points when Roberson is checking them, one of the best rates in the league for wing defenders. Only a handful of non-bigs defend more shots at the rim every night, per SportVU, and of this handful, only three relative athletic freaks – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Al-Farouq Aminu – have posted a stingier percentage allowed. And remember, he’s doing it all while pretty much constantly checking the opponent’s top option, often a superstar.

Ask those close to him, and they’ll tell you Roberson has already had these skills in the bag for years. He’s had this role with Donovan since Billy came to town to replace Scott Brooks, and even held it for long periods with Brooks in town. Donovan has an interesting theoretical take on what his next step has been this year.

“Everybody offensively in the league is pretty much doing the same thing,” Donovan said. “But how you get there, and the movement, and how the floor starts to get moved, and how stuff gets disguised – [that’s] really the challenge.

“I think because of [Andre’s] experience playing in the league, his awareness in being able to read what’s getting ready to happen, what’s getting ready to take place when he may be in a vulnerable situation – he’s really, really good at that.”

The skills have always been there, but the outlines of one of the league’s smartest perimeter defenders have been forming for a while now. Roberson’s court sense has really improved, and it’s a perfect tandem with his slithery defensive nature; he gets the Thunder an extra possession or two a night by swooping in on unsuspecting big men from weird angles.

The difference between a great defender and merely a good one is often a split-second decision. Roberson’s feel for the little in-between moments that end up hopeless for most guys is part of what makes him so valuable defensively – watch him ride the middle and make a spot-on read in a spot where most guys lazily commit one way or the other and give up a wide open three.

A similar defender stylistically in Danny Green gets all the credit as the league’s preeminent transition stopper, but Roberson is nipping at his heels.

The effect on the team scheme has been the most noticeable result. Roberson has worked diligently with assistant coach Darko Rajakovic on the mental side of his game – watching film, learning opposing play calls and honing his three years of experience into a weapon.

“He’s already an amazing one-on-one [defender] – he was when he first came into the league,” Adams said of Roberson. “His steps are now really just helping everyone else on defense. He’s able to understand and read the plays, and understand, like, some plays that are just smoke screen. It helps me out a lot on pick-and-rolls.”

It’s easy to see what he means. See if you can catch the smart ways Roberson (#21 in white, top of the screen) influences this Utah Jazz possession:

First, he comes across to show Rudy Gobert a body as Gobert rolls away from the Thunder’s trap on ball-handler George Hill:

Just as quickly, though, Roberson spots the real action: Gobert is setting up to screen Roberson himself, allowing Roberson’s man, Hayward, to pop up and catch the ball on the curl:

Roberson reads the Gobert pick, and beats Hayward around the corner. Hayward smartly looks to reverse the screen with Gobert, but here’s Roberson’s slithery quality again – he stays attached to Hayward’s hip through the smallest of gaps.

By the time Hayward has jumped for Hill’s pass and landed, Roberson is right back in his grill:

Adams can rotate back to Gobert to prevent the lob, the Thunder’s help defenders can stay home on three-point shooters, and Hayward is stuck looking for a bailout.

“If he didn’t do that, the dude would be going downhill against me and that’d be tragic,” Adams said in his unique style. “Exactly what we don’t want.”

All over the court, Roberson just makes stuff easier for guys. A huge percentage of his steals seem to come in areas that lead to fast breaks – part of the Thunder’s life blood offensively. Oklahoma City picks up over two extra points off turnovers for every 36 minutes he spends on the court compared to off, and they add nearly four fast break points in the same time span.

His teammates rave about his team-first attitude, and his coach goes out of his way to note the finer details of his game which have improved. Roberson just keeps doing what he’s always been doing.

“I go out there, just try to give it all my energy and effort to the defensive end,” Roberson told Basketball Insiders. “The guys follow suit, they feed off the energy and it helps them.

“The same way it works with the crowd, you feed off the crowd. I try to be the crowd for my team.”

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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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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