The Cleveland Cavaliers are in fire sale mode right now, or they may as well be.
The reigning Eastern Conference Champions currently sport a 10-41 record, which is good for the worst record in the entire league. The Cavs have already made a few moves, trading away the likes of Kyle Korver and George Hill for future assets. Things are more than likely to continue to trend downwards for Cleveland, so they may as well cut their losses now while they still can.
Outside of Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr and Ante Zizic, no one on the squad should be off limits. Luckily for general manager Koby Altman, the Cavaliers at least have a better salary cap situation than they did back when LeBron was in town.
Kevin Love instantly comes to mind, but he’s been out for almost the entire season. There should be plenty of interested suitors for JR Smith, but only because his contract next season is guaranteed for a little less than $4 million. The same could be said for Alec Burks and Rodney Hood and their expiring contracts.
In a market where teams are trying to conserve their cap space, odds are Jordan Clarkson, John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova are staying put at least until next season.
Then there’s Tristan Thompson.
Ever since he agreed to a five-year, $82 million extension back in 2015, Thompson has received much scorn for having one of the worst contracts in the NBA. Three years have since been shed off that deal. With only two years left, Thompson, while still being overpaid at almost $17.5 million a year and $18.5 million the next, can be a useful cog on a playoff team.
Since LeBron’s departure, Thompson is having himself quite the renaissance. Thompson is currently averaging 11.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.8 steals, all of which are either career-highs or the best he’s had since before LeBron came back to “The Land.” Now, a rise in numbers is to be expected because his role was due to expand with King James out of the picture, but still – Thompson has played well enough that teams should at least consider trading for him.
The 11.1 rebounds he averages is good for 11th in the league, with his offensive rebounding numbers of 4.4 per game are good for fourth in the league. Thompson may not be worth the money he is getting paid, but what he does well on the court, he does very well.
His playoff experience also could help a team who is trying to do some damage in the postseason. Thompson played a very important role on the Cavaliers’ four consecutive trips to the finals, including winning a title. If these increased numbers are not a mirage, then Thompson could be even more impactful for a playoff team than he ever was for the Cavaliers.
The concerns surrounding what Thompson can do and how much he is getting paid to do are valid. Paying over $17 million for a guy whose lone specialty is rebounding would not look like the brightest move. Thankfully, rebounding is not Tristan Thompson’s lone specialty.
Remember how Kendrick Perkins’ one elite skill in the NBA was being able to stop Dwight Howard one-on-one? Think of the same with Thompson, only with his Dwight Howard being Al Horford.
Coming into last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, Thompson was struggling to find minutes in Cleveland’s rotations. He only averaged 14.5 minutes in Cleveland’s first series against Indiana – with most of them coming from the 35 minutes he played in Game 7 – then averaged 17.3 minutes in their second series against Toronto – with most of them coming from the 26 minutes he played in Game 1.
Then, Game 1 of the Conference Finals happened. It didn’t go well for Cleveland, to say the least. Boston steamrolled them from beginning to end, winning 108-83, with Horford leading the way. Big Al was matched up with Kevin Love at center, and he took all the advantage he could out of it.
Horford finished with a stat line of 20 points, six assists, four rebounds, two blocks, shot 8/11 from the field including 2.4 from three and was plus-17. In that time, he held Love to 17 points on 5/14 shooting including 1-for-4 from three and was minus-13.
From that point onward, Thompson was inserted into the starting lineup as the center. That wound up making all the difference in the series. Horford never came close to that dominant for the rest of the series. With Thompson at center, Horford averaged 12.4 points on 42.4 percent shooting including 28.6 percent from three.
Perhaps Thompson’s re-insertion into the starting lineup just happened to coincide with Horford’s decreased numbers. A few statistics provided by old friend Ben Dowsett would say otherwise.
Final Al Horford per-36-minute numbers for the series…
With Tristan Thompson ON COURT (173 mins): 8.7 pts, 7.1 reb, 3.1 asts, 33% FG, 22% 3P, Celtics -6.2 NetRtg
With Tristan Thompson OFF COURT (76 mins): 25.1 pts, 9.0 rebs, 3.8 asts, 67% FG, 44% 3P, Celtics +23.8 NetRtg
— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) May 28, 2018
Also, before that series against the Cavaliers, Horford was averaging 17 points on 53 percent shooting including 36 percent from three his previous two playoff series. The Celtics were a plus-19 overall with Horford in those series. The Celtics were a plus-13.1 with Horford on the court against Cleveland, but that is still a steep drop-off.
Horford’s struggles against Thompson have been the case for the past couple of seasons. Although last season’s conference finals are the most indicative evidence of Thompson shutting down Horford, data from previous playoff matchups show more of the same.
You may be thinking, ‘Well, so what? Why is it so important that Thompson has proven he can shut down Horford in a playoff series?’ The answer to that is simple: Because Al Horford is the one guy who the Celtics need at his best in order to succeed.
This writer already penned an article detailing why Horford was the Celtics’ most important player. He won’t grab you with his stats, but his three-point shooting and defensive versatility create so many matchup problems for their opponents. This season, Al has struggled a bit – which is one of the under-the-radar reasons why Boston has disappointed so far – but now he’s starting to look like the Horford from last season.
In his last five games, Al has averaged 18.8 points and 8.8 rebounds on 66.1 percent shooting, including 47.1 percent from three, and the Celtics have been plus-5.4 with him on the court. If he has regained his form from last season, expect him to have his best stuff when the playoffs come around. When he does, that’s where having Tristan Thompson could really help.
Sure, the Celtics haven’t exactly looked as good as anticipated, but they’re still making the playoffs anyway as long as they don’t suffer any untimely injuries before the postseason. The lowest they’ll probably wind up with is the fifth seed. Who knows how they’ll look when the playoffs start?
This limits interested parties because Horford plays in the East, and the Western Conference have bigger, Golden State Warrior-sized problems to worry about. For the Eastern Conference, there are teams who do have players on contracts that could match up in a Tristan Thompson trade without sacrificing cap flexibility.
Toronto fits the mold. The Raptors have Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles and Fred VanVleet among others who they could trade for Tristan Thompson. Toronto has been better than Boston, but what could really insure them beating the Celtics in a hypothetical playoff series is having Thompson to stop Horford in his tracks.
Brooklyn also fits the mold. They have Allen Crabbe’s contract alone to match up with Thompson’s contract. They have been on a tear as of late, and things should only get better when Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris Levert return from injury. Those two coming back should also reduce Crabbe’s minutes. The Nets are already standing out as the team no one wants to face in the postseason. If they get Thompson, that would certainly frighten the team that basically ruined them.
What hurts Thompson’s value at the moment is that he is currently nursing a foot injury that’s bothered him through most of the season. He won’t be back until after the trade deadline passes, which means trading for him would be risky. Then again, winning a championship requires taking risks. Acquiring Thompson could provide many rewards.
Let’s rewind it back to Kendrick Perkins. The Perk experiment may have failed in OKC, but he still played a big role in them reaching the NBA Finals in 2012. That same low-post defense that worked so well against Howard played a role in limiting Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Tim Duncan. That doesn’t justify how much they paid him in that time, but he still did his part on their run to the Finals.
It’s the same thing with Thompson. Even if his defense is geared more towards stopping Horford specifically, that can make a huge difference in a playoff series. Even with all their struggles, the Celtics are not to be trifled with come playoff time. Thompson would be there to prevent trifling of any kind.
If Thompson proves valuable against Horford yet again in the playoffs, then he’d be worth every penny.
NBA Daily: Five Storylines to Watch Down the Stretch
Shane Rhodes breaks down five storylines to keep an eye on as we approach the postseason.
The NBA was as active as ever prior to All-Star Break. Multiple trades (some of the blockbuster variety) were made as Anthony Davis rumors swirled, players butted heads with the media, and buyouts were made. There was news abound.
And there should be even more to come with teams prepped for the stretch run.
The last push toward the postseason has always been a tense one, for teams in and teams out alike. But what could be the biggest stories as we head into the last weeks of the regular season?
The Eastern Conference Arms Race
The battle for Eastern Conference supremacy has shown to be a hard fought one.
With LeBron James gone, there has been power-vacuum in the East, with multiple teams vying for the spot of best in the Conference. The Milwaukee Bucks have had the upper hand for much of the season – and should be considered the favorite to end the regular season in the top spot – but just 7.5 games separate them from the fifth-seed Boston Celtics, with the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers sandwiched in between.
While the NBA as a whole may seem cut and dry – the Golden State Warriors and everyone else – the East is not so simple. The Bucks, Celtics, Pacers, Raptors and 76ers all have talented rosters, but there is, effectively a deadlock between them. No one roster in this group is significantly more talented than another and no one team has shown that they can get the better of the other four on a consistent basis; every game between them has been competitive, and that should only reach another level as they square off against for the right to go to the NBA Finals.
Aside from the postseason positioning, the stretch-run for these individual teams could prove crucial to their offseason. Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are all expected to hit the market and, if their respective teams fade, the chances of retaining their services may fade as well.
The Competitive Postseason Bubble
There are a number of teams, both Eastern and Western Conference, that have found themselves on the post-break postseason bubble.
In the East, just five games separate the sixth-seed Brooklyn Nets and the 11-seed Washington Wizards. While it may not be the cream of the crop going at it every night, these last few games will almost certainly be more competitive as players watch the standings and teams look to make up ground and push their seasons onward through April.
Out West, it’s more of the same.
Just four games separate the fifth-seed Houston Rockets and the 10-seed Los Angeles Lakers. Likewise, an uptick in competitive energy should be expected. However, there may be a bit more fireworks out West, as the Sacramento Kings, who have surprised everyone this season, look for their first postseason-berth since 2006. Meanwhile, the Lakers, in their first season with James, may miss the postseason altogether after they were pegged as a near-lock before the season.
The Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers all present their own interesting scenarios as well.
Regardless of the final outcome in either Conference, expect an exciting, if not frantic, end to the regular season.
The Three-Man Race for the MVP
Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Paul George have each put forth superhuman effort this season. In a neck-and-neck race for the Most Valuable Player award, these three have proven to be invaluable to their respective teams and shown on a nightly basis that they belong among the NBA elite.
But, only one of them can win the award. So, who will take home the hardware?
Each player has made a compelling case so far; what Antetokounmpo does for the Bucks — and what he does to the box score (27.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, six assists per game) — on a nightly basis is self-explanatory; James Harden has willed the Houston Rockets into the postseason picture with some historic scoring numbers; and Paul George has shown that he is one of the best two-way players in the NBA and shouldered the load in Oklahoma City as Russell Westbrook has struggled.
As teams inch closer to the postseason, most will take the opportunity to rest their stars. If anyone of these players fades down the stretch — whether it be because of rest, fatigue or otherwise — the others could almost certainly use it to their advantage. If none of them slow down, however, the race between Antetokounmpo, Harden and George could prove one of the tightest we’ve ever seen.
The Anthony Davis Situation
The New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Anthony Davis doesn’t want to continue his career in New Orleans, but he does want to continue playing this season. However, the Pelicans have the right to protect themselves from a potential Davis injury, one that could irreparably damage his trade value and New Orleans’ future. Meanwhile, the NBA will almost certainly not want Davis, a premier player, languishing on the bench.
So, where do things go from here? Well, they get pretty awkward.
The Pelicans, Davis and the NBA need to come together in agreement on the best path forward for all parties involved and, with a handful of games remaining, they don’t have long to do so. At the very least, expect Davis to play far fewer minutes than he is accustomed to as the Pelicans look to minimize any and all injury risks.
The Battle for Zion
Not every team has the chance to make the postseason. But, with a generational talent like Zion Williamson on the line, not every team wants to make the postseason this year.
The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have wallowed near the bottom of the NBA barrel for the entire season, all with their eyes fixed on Tuesday, May 14: the NBA Draft Lottery. While the NBA instituted a new lottery system to discourage tanking — the bottom three teams share the best chance at the top pick — it hasn’t stopped these teams from losing as many games as possible in a bid to make Williamson the first player off the board in the 2019 NBA Draft.
In a weird, backward way, it could be fun to watch these five teams “compete” for the bottom three spots and, eventually, the rights to Williamson.
As we inch closer to the postseason, don’t expect the NBA to wind down. While it may not seem as eventful trade season, these last few weeks of the regular season have a chance to be some of the most eventful of the entire year.
NBA Daily: Examining the Eastern Conference Contenders
Matt John takes a look at the four titans who will be fighting for the Eastern Conference crown this May.
The day after the trade deadline passed, LeBron James had some interesting things to say about the arms race that was going down between the Eastern Conference titans.
“They know they ain’t gotta go through Cleveland anymore,” James said. “Everybody in the East thinks they can get to the Finals because they ain’t gotta go through me.”
It’s notable that the Lakers are currently toeing the line between making the playoffs and playing the lottery odds. That does, however, beg the question: What if LeBron stayed in Cleveland?
Now if that had happened, then a lot of things would probably be different for the Cavaliers right now. There’s no telling if they would have kept the pick the Nets owed them, or if they would be playing Kyle Korver, George Hill, and J.R. Smith right now.
It would have added another intriguing wrinkle to what has been the tightest formerly-five-currently-four-man race going on at the top of the Eastern Conference in quite some time. Whether you agree that Cleveland would still be the frontrunner in the East with James, there doesn’t really appear to be a clear-cut favorite to represent the East anymore. Plenty of fans and analysts would give their takes on who stands out among the pack, but there’s no consensus pick.
In a sense, LeBron’s kind of right. He was a tyrant – or a “King” if you will – that set the bar year-in and year-out for the past decade. It gave his rivals motivation to play at one hundred percent, though it made the East a little predictable. With LeBron gone, the suspense as to who will take his throne makes it all the more fun.
The season is now coming down the home stretch. With less than 25 games left, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston will fight tooth and nail to get home court advantage over each other. Who has the edge? Well, let’s take a look.
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .465 (27th overall)
Record against competitors: 5-2
They finally did it. After years of looking as incredible as they were inconsistent, the Bucks have hit a breakthrough. It turns out all they needed was to put the right personnel around the Greek Freak (i.e. floor spacers and impact defenders). Oh, and a coach who could bring all of the notable talent together. The pieces are now fitting into place for the Bucks. Giannis is now going full-throttle with a supporting cast who only make Milwaukee all the harder to stop. Their league-leading point differential (9.6) tops the league by a fair margin, which indicates that this may not only be a fluke but the first sign of the glorious future we all believed the Bucks had.
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo – If it weren’t for James Harden putting up legendary numbers, Giannis would be the frontrunner for MVP. So much has been said about him that there’s not much to be added, so let’s leave it at this. Many have said if he starts hitting threes, he’ll be unstoppable. When you see his dominance in the paint – he’s shooting 77.3 percent in the paint – it makes you wonder if he really has to.
X-Factor: Eric Bledsoe – He’s had a nice bounce-back after a rocky half-season in Milwaukee. The record still stands that he was outplayed by Terry Rozier in his first playoff action as a starter. If the Bucks are to maintain their success in the postseason, Bledsoe must avoid a repeat performance from last postseason.
Unsung Hero: Malcolm Brogdon – People can scoff all they want at Brogdon’s Rookie of the Year Award. The fact is, the Bucks absolutely need him. They are +7.1 with him on the court, good for second behind, well, who do you think?
Pivotal Question: Will the supporting cast (including Coach Bud) keep it up in the playoffs?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .450 (30th overall)
Record against competitors: 6-5
Do you know what’s odd about the Raptors? Going by net rating, they’ve actually taken a step back this season. Last season, the Raptors had the second best offensive rating (113.8) and the fifth best defensive rating (105.9). This season, they have the seventh-best offensive rating (113) and the eighth best defensive rating (107.4). Yet somehow, the genuine belief is that this is the best team they’ve ever assembled. With Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin added to the team, the Raptors have made it clear that they’re not messing around.
MVP: Kawhi Leonard – Remember when Kevin Durant implied that Kawhi was a system player for the Spurs? Maybe that’s why Kawhi wanted out because he’s proven that notion wrong. He hasn’t skipped a beat in Canada and has even averaged career-highs both in scoring and rebounding average. He’d be an MVP candidate if he hadn’t missed 16 games.
X-Factor: Kyle Lowry – If Leonard is going to be the alpha dog of this team, he needs a second-in-command. Lowry’s numbers have dipped, but he’s got the experience. He’s folded in the playoffs before. Perhaps with less pressure, he can step up his game.
Unsung Hero: Serge Ibaka – With everything else that’s gone right for Toronto, Ibaka’s full acclimation to the center position has given him new life offensively. He’s putting up some of the best scoring, rebounding, and assist averages he’s had either ever or in years.
Pivotal Question: Will Nick Nurse get the team finally past its long-lived playoff demons?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .486 (21st Overall)
Record against competitors: 1-7
We have seen three iterations of the Sixers this season. One with Dario Saric and Robert Covington, one that added Jimmy Butler, then one that added primarily Tobias Harris among others. That’s a lot of talent to integrate in such a short time. Lucky for them, by adding Butler and Harris, the Sixers have the most talented starting five in the East. The Process is now at 100 percent capacity. They may have holes, but their Warriors-esque talent level may make it so that it won’t be a problem.
MVP: Joel Embiid – At age 24, Embiid has now taken his first steps into superstardom. 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists along with 1.9 blocks is sure to Joel among the ranks of the league’s top centers. Perhaps what’s most encouraging is that, before this recent knee ailment, Embiid has only missed five games.
X-Factor: The Bench – The Sixers also loaded up the second unit by adding Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis III. By doing so, they really are committing to positionless basketball. It honestly could work if they use it to the best advantage they could.
Unsung Hero: Jimmy Butler – Butler’s fit with the Sixers hasn’t been smooth, but, even with the decreased scoring numbers, Butler is quietly putting up some of the most efficient percentages he’s ever had this season, both from three and the field itself.
Pivotal Question: Will they be able to stop any elite point guards?
Strength of Remaining Schedule: .516 (10th Overall)
Record against competitors: 6-3
The Celtics are somehow a team that’s played badly enough that they’re a disappointment yet played well enough that people shouldn’t give up on them. After a mediocre start, most of the results that have come from the Celtics have been positive. That’s come with some frustrating losses, but the team has been resilient after every bad stretch they’ve had. A common characteristic of Brad Stevens teams is that they play at their best as the season approaches its end. With their guys finally getting past their injury issues, we may see more of the same in the best way yet.
MVP: Kyrie Irving – Kyrie’s chaotic free agency plans have gotten in the way of what’s been a great season for him. He’s put up his usual scoring numbers, but his passing, rebounding and defense have been the best they’ve ever been. The Celtics have proven their fine without him. They’re still better off having him on the court.
X-Factor: Gordon Hayward – It’s been reported to death by now that Hayward’s made some encouraging process in recent weeks. Let’s leave it at this – if he is 100 percent by the playoffs, that makes the Celtics so much scarier. People forget just how good Gordon Hayward was merely two years ago.
Unsung Hero: Al Horford – After the last Celtics-Sixers game, many believe Horford is going to be a matchup problem for Embiid. Correction: Horford’s skillset and IQ make him a matchup problem for everyone.
Pivotal Question: Will they find a consistent rhythm by the season’s end?
Some of you are probably going to be outraged that Indiana is not included on this list, and for good reason. They still are the third-seeded team in the East, they’ve just recently had a six-game winning streak snapped, and they have one of the league’s best defenses.
With all due respect, it’s pretty simple. No Victor Oladipo, no contest. The Pacers are still one of the most well-liked and well-rounded teams in the league. It doesn’t change the fact that in the playoffs, having star power gives a huge advantage. Without Oladipo, Indiana is completely deprived of it.
If it’s any comfort, with a fully healthy Oladipo next season, they are more than worthy of being put with this group.
Here’s to hoping that by next year, this group will stay the same when he does.
NBA Daily: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?
As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.
Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.
For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?
The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.
Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.
What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.
Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.
While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.
Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.
One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.
As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.
The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.
Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”
Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.
As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.
Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.
Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.
But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.