Connect with us

NBA

What’s Left on the Schedule for Playoff Bubble Teams?

A close look at the teams still in the playoff hunt in the East and West.

John Zitzler

Published

on

As we inch closer and closer to the end of the regular season, we’re starting to see teams separate themselves from the pack. For the most part, we can project what teams will be playoff bound and what teams will have some extra time off to scout lottery picks. However, there are still a number teams whose playoff hopes hang in the balance. Over the next month and a half, we will see which of these teams rise to the occasion and which teams fold under the pressure.

With that said, let’s take a look at the teams in each conference that are vying for a playoff berth down the stretch.

Eastern Conference

Miami HEAT

Record: 25-33

Games Remaining: 24 (14 Home, 10 Away)

Games Remaining vs +.500 Opponents: 12

Despite being eight games below .500, the HEAT are currently in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They were aggressive at the trade deadline, landing arguably the biggest name moved in Goran Dragic. However, they also lost a key piece for the remainder of the season, as Chris Bosh will be out after doctors discovered blood clots in his lungs. The absence of Bosh clearly hurts their chances, even with the addition of Dragic, although the emergence of Hassan Whiteside will help lessen the blow of losing Bosh.

While Dragic is without a doubt an upgrade at the point guard position, the HEAT are still a work in progress. In their five games played with Dragic, the HEAT are just 2-3 and those two wins have been less than impressive coming against the Sixers and Magic. Eight of the HEAT’s next 10 games are at home before heading on a four-game trip, so it will crucial that they can string together a few wins over their next stretch of home games.

Indiana Pacers

Record: 25-34

Games Remaining: 23 (13 Home, 10 Away)

Games Remaining vs +.500 Opponents: 12

Even while playing without star wing Paul George for the entire season, the Pacers find themselves eighth in the Eastern Conference with only 23 games remaining. They have battled all year long despite playing shorthanded for long stretches and are starting to get hot at the right time. In fact, over their last 10 games, no team in the East has a better record than the Pacers’ 8-2 mark, which is why our own Joel Brigham recently wrote that Indiana could be a scary eight seed.

Their improved play as of late isn’t the only good news coming out of Indianapolis. In addition, Paul George may still take the court this year. It’s tough to predict how George would play after coming off such a significant injury, but at the very least his return should provide a morale boost during the last few weeks of the regular season. The Pacers will have the chance to really help their own cause over the next few weeks. They have two games against the Nets, one against the HEAT and one against the Hornets before the season wraps up. If they can take care of business in those contests and continue their strong play, holding onto the eight seed becomes a very realistic goal.

Brooklyn Nets

Record: 24-33

Games Remaining: 25 (16 Home, 9 Away)

Games Remaining vs +.500 Opponents: 13

With the talent on the Nets roster, combined with the history of success of coach Lionel Hollins, the Nets were expected to have little trouble making the playoffs in the East. That has not been the case. Deron Williams’ play has been spotty at best and fallen well short of his pay-grade. Likewise, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson have been inconsistent and that’s played a major role in the Nets’ disappointing season. Although the Nets haven’t been great thus far, they are still right in the thick of the race for one of the final playoff spots in the East.

If they hope to make to the postseason, they will have to play much better down the stretch at home. Up to this point, the Nets are just 10-15 at the Barclays Center. After being on the road since February 7, they return home tonight to take on the Warriors. This will be the first of their 16 remaining home games to close out the season, the most remaining home games of any team in the NBA. This is something that should really work in the Nets’ favor, even with their uninspiring home record thus far.

Charlotte Hornets

Record: 24-33

Games Remaining: 25 (12 Home, 13 Away)

Games Remaining vs +.500 Opponents: 11

The Hornets went out and made a splash this offseason when they signed Lance Stephenson. The addition of Stephenson to a young team coming off a playoff appearance made the Hornets one of the more intriguing teams in the East. Well, it’s safe to say that Stephenson hasn’t worked out in Charlotte nearly as well as the team had hoped. He has been absolutely atrocious shooting the ball, hitting just 36.5 percent from the field and 14.8 percent from three. In addition, Kemba Walker has missed 15 of the last 17 games and it’s no surprise the Hornets have struggled.

On the bright side, the Hornets’ remaining schedule includes 18 games against teams in the Eastern Conference. On the year, the Hornets have fared well in conference games – going 18-16. Walker is also getting close to returning, which should provide them with a nice lift. In his absence newly acquired guard Mo Williams has been playing exceptionally well, averaging 23.4 points and seven assists per game since joining the Hornets. The Hornets certainly have the talent to make a late push and will be a team to watch as the season wraps up.

Boston Celtics

Record: 23-34

Games Remaining: 25 (11 Home, 14 Away)

Games Remaining vs +.500 Opponents: 12

Surprisingly, the rebuilding Celtics still have a realistic shot at sneaking into the playoffs this season. They are just a game behind Indiana, Brooklyn and Charlotte even after trading away Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. The Celtics have gone 6-4 over their last 10, due in large part to the play of their recent acquisition Isaiah Thomas, who recently chatted with our own Alex Kennedy about the trade. The diminutive guard has provided instant offense off the bench for Brad Stevens’ club, averaging 21.8 points per game since joining the team. Although Thomas has given the team a boost, it’s hard to imagine the Celtics keeping up their improved play. They have 12 games remaining against teams above .500, which doesn’t bode well for their chances, especially considering they are just 6-23 against teams with a winning record thus far. While only one game back, the Celtics are still somewhat of a long-shot to make the postseason.

Detroit Pistons

Record: 23-36

Games Remaining: 23 (9 Home, 14 Away)

Games Remaining vs +.500 Opponents: 10

After finishing December with a record of 8-23, there wasn’t much hope for the Pistons. However, the departure of Josh Smith brought the team together and they have been much improved since. Unfortunately, their resurgence took a hit after losing Brandon Jennings for the season to an ACL injury. The Pistons were busy at the trade deadline, sending Jonas Jerebko, Luigi Datome, D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler packing and landing Reggie Jackson and Tayshaun Prince. The trade gives Jackson the chance to start on a regular basis, an opportunity he has been pining for.

Fourteen of the Pistons’ 23 remaining games will be played on the road, including seven of their next nine. They have been alright on the road thus far, going 11-16 in 27 games played. However, that stretch of road games includes four against Western Conference opponents. On the season, the Pistons are just 9-15 in out of conference games. How they play on the road over the next couple weeks will likely decide their playoff chances.

 

Western Conference

Oklahoma City Thunder

Record: 33-27

Games Remaining: 22 (14 Home, 8 Away)

Games Remaining vs +.500 Opponents:

This season certainly hasn’t gone as planned in OKC. The Thunder have been decimated by injuries for most of the year, yet have managed to climb back into the playoff picture. Kevin Durant has played in just 27 games thus far, and is currently sidelined with a foot injury. Russell Westbrook, who also missed time earlier in the season, was on a tear, putting up incredible numbers (31.2 points, 11.5 assists and 9.7 rebounds since the All-Star break). However, he suffered a facial fracture in last Friday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers. A timetable for his return hasn’t been provided and Westbrook will be reevaluated later this week.

It goes without saying, if the Thunder hope to hold onto the eight seed in the West they are going to need Westbrook and Durant healthy down the stretch. Durant has been going through light on-court workouts and appears to be getting closer to returning. Westbrook will almost surely miss the next few games, but after that it’s hard to project. The Thunder play 14 of their remaining 22 games at home, where they have a 19-8 record on the year, including five of their next six. This will certainly help their chances as they eagerly await the return of their stars.

New Orleans Pelicans

Record: 32-27

Games Remaining: 23 (11 Home, 12 Away)

Games Remaining vs +.500 Opponents: 14

Much like the Thunder, the Pelicans have also suffered crippling injuries over the last few weeks. Star forward Anthony Davis re-injured his right shoulder, which forced him to miss time prior to the All-Star break. This injury has kept Davis out since February 21. Not only have the Pelicans been without Davis in their frontcourt, but sharpshooter Ryan Anderson has been sidelined with a sprained knee. Davis was given a one-to-two week timetable to return at the time of his injury and Anderson a two-to-four week timetable. Jrue Holiday has also been out due to a leg injury and a timetable for his return is unknown.

You would think that without Davis, Holiday and Anderson the Pelicans would be in big trouble. Unexpectedly, they have won five straight and remain just a half game back of the Thunder for the eighth and final spot in the West. While the Pelicans have been great over their last five games, they will need their core players to make a final push for the eighth seed. Fortunately for them, the Thunder are in the same boat without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In the end, it may just come down to which team gets their key contributors back first.

Phoenix Suns

Record: 31-29

Games Remaining: 22 (11 Home, 11 Away)

Games Remaining vs +.500 Opponents: 15

The Suns went through a major shakeup at the trade deadline. Most notably, out went point guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas and in came young scoring guard Brandon Knight. Knights’ shooting numbers have dipped a bit since joining the Suns, but his ability to score from the perimeter should complement Eric Bledsoe nicely.

It will be an uphill battle for the Suns to jump both the Thunder and the Pelicans for the final spot in the West. They still have 15 games left against above .500 opponents, which will be a challenge, especially as they adjust to the roster changes. The Suns are just 12-19 in games against above .500 teams on the year. Even though the Thunder and Pelicans have been hit hard by injuries, the Suns’ inability to consistently beat winning teams makes it unlikely that they will make it to the postseason.

 

The East has a number of teams that are still in the playoff hunt, with a chance to make a move down the stretch. There hasn’t been one team that has been able to separate themselves from the pack thus far, but that may change in the coming weeks. The West on the other hand has a smaller pool of teams competing for one spot. Injuries will play a major factor in the chances of both the Pelicans and Thunder. Elsewhere, if the Suns want to return to the playoffs they will have to learn on the fly and prove they can beat some of the better teams in the NBA. No matter how things shake out, it will surely be exciting to watch.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

NBA Daily: What Should the Raptors Do at the Trade Deadline?

The Toronto Raptors are surging. Bobby Krivitsky examines whether they’ve been good enough to keep their current core intact or if they should take a different approach at the trade deadline.

Bobby Krivitsky

Published

on

After losing eight of their first 10 games to start the season, the Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 23 matchups, surging to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors had to quickly recharge during a truncated offseason, get acclimated to a new setting and adjust to Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher stepping into the void left by the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Despite all of that, they’re scoring the 10th-most points per 100 possessions, are 13th in defensive rating and have the ninth-best net rating in the NBA.

Through Toronto’s ups and downs this season, they’ve been able to count on Fred VanVleet. After signing a four-year, $85 million contract to remain with the Raptors, the fifth-year guard from Wichita State has once again taken his game to a higher level. He’s averaging 20 points, 6.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds — all career-bests — and eighth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per contest. It’s discomforting to imagine where this team would be if he had left.

Then there’s Pascal Siakam, who’s finally shaken off a rough second-round series against the Boston Celtics last postseason and thawed from an icy start to his 2020-21 campaign. Siakam is averaging 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. One of the main reasons for his turnaround has been Siakam’s growth as a facilitator: those 4.8 assists represent a career-best. And, with the Raptors shifting more towards small-ball, Siakam is thriving working off a screen from guards, spotting where the defense is vulnerable and taking advantage of it.

Another crucial component of Siakam’s improvement is him playing with more energy on the defensive end. Effort can only take a defender so far, but when that individual is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and has the strength, quickness and intelligence to guard positions one-through-five for varying amounts of time, doing so can have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

 

 

While Siakam’s production has more of an impact on the Raptors’ ceiling than any other player on the team, Kyle Lowry, alongside VanVleet, establishes Toronto’s floor. Lowry, who turns 35 in March, is averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season. He remains the heart and soul of the team. That makes it even more impressive that, despite losing him to a thumb injury during a Feb. 16 matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto went on to win that night and again two days later, stretching their winning streak to four games (including a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers).

One major change stemming from the Raptors playing small more often is Norman Powell entering the starting lineup. He’s started his last 17 games and is averaging a team-high 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. During that stretch, the sharpshooting Powell is also knocking down 44.4 percent of his 6.4 threes per game and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Toronto has won 10 of those 17 games.

Powell gives the Raptors more offensive firepower, allows them to play faster and, when they don’t have a traditional center on the floor, has made it easier for them to switch on defense. It’s an adjustment that’s worked so well for Toronto, even in Lowry’s absence, Baynes came off the bench while DeAndre’ Bembry joined the starting lineup.

So, with the Raptors finding their footing and the March 25 trade deadline inching closer, what’s Toronto’s best course of action? That decision revolves around their plan with Lowry.

Lowry, whose $30 million deal is set to expire after the season, is interested in playing at least two more seasons at a similar value, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Are the Raptors willing to meet those demands, paving the way for the franchise icon to spend the remainder of his career with them? Secondly, the Raptors aren’t a title contender right now, which could lead to the two sides working together to send Lowry to a team meeting that criteria by the trade deadline, which also happens to be his 35th birthday.

If it comes to that, Pompey listed the 76ers, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers as Lowry’s preferred destinations, noting the North Philadelphia native would like to return to his roots. For the Raptors to go through with trading the six-time All-Star, it would likely take multiple first-round picks and promising young players along with any contracts included for salary-matching purposes to be expiring after this season. 

Considering Toronto’s current place in the NBA’s hierarchy, if Lowry intends to leave for a title contender or the Raptors aren’t willing to meet his contractual demands, it’s clear what they should do at the deadline. Trading Lowry isn’t going to net Toronto the return necessary to vault them into the league’s top tier, but it would still figure to serve them better in the long term, even though the Raptors’ resurgence suggests if he’s still on the team after Mar. 25th, they’re once again going to be a difficult out in the playoffs, and they could go as far as the Eastern Conference Finals.

If they want to play the long game, it would also make sense for them to trade Powell, who has an $11.6 million player option he’s likely to decline in the offseason. Granted, he’ll be 28 next season, so it’s not as if re-signing him would be short-sighted.

There’s nothing wrong with preserving the possibility Lowry never dons another team’s jersey — and parting with a franchise icon is never easy. But trading Lowry may be the best bet for the franchise’s future, while it would neither change the fact that the team will someday retire his jersey, nor would it take away from his legacy. In fact, doing right by him and giving Lowry another opportunity to compete for a title may just be the best parting gift the Raptors could give him while also strengthening their own long-term outlook.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: Don’t Forget About Romeo Langford

Once a top-five high school recruit, Romeo Langford has yet to make an impact in his brief NBA career.

Dylan Thayer

Published

on

As a highly-touted high school prospect, Romeo Langford found himself at the fifth spot in the 2018 ESPN Top 100. His play earned him a spot in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game among big-name recruits such as Zion Williamson, and after a very successful high school career, the five-star shooting guard decided to take his talents to Indiana over both Kansas and Vanderbilt. 

Langford’s time as an Indiana Hoosier was short-lived as he only spent one year with the team before declaring for the draft. He played in thirty-two games despite tearing a ligament in his thumb. His shooting percentages reflected this injury as he shot a meager 27.2 percent from three and 44.8 percent from the field, per Sports-Reference. Both of these percentages were not reflective of the electric, efficient scorer he was at New Albany High School. 

Selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, there was a lot to be excited about. For starters, the Celtics were able to draft a player just inside the lottery who many thought would be a top-five pick before the 2018-19 NCAA season. They were also able to get a resilient player that grinded through his injury and was still able to pace the BIG 10 in freshman scoring with 16.5 points per game. The potential with a healthy Langford is there, and that’s what led to him being a Boston Celtic.

During a 2019 interview with Boston.com, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens spoke highly of their rookie. 

“If they would have been more on the national radar, and he would have not hurt his thumb, he probably would have been even more discussed,” Stevens said at the Celtics practice facility. “He’s a guy we were all well aware of before his first game at IU.”

If it was not clear by this quote, big things were expected from the former Indiana Mr. Basketball. 

Unfortunately, his first season on the Celtics was not much of one to write home about. Across 32 games, he managed to average only 2.5 points with 1.3 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game, often finding himself with Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

This should not be a big indicator of how things will end up for Langford though – as flourishing Charlotte Hornets star Terry Rozier was also an afterthought off the Celtics’ bench in his first season, even though many people saw his future potential. In a Feb. 7th matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Langford made the most of a starting opportunity, dropping 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point range, and 3 blocks. Later, he would then undergo season-ending surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament of his right wrist during the team’s playoff run in the bubble.

As the 2020-21 season heads towards the All-Star break, Langford has yet to suit up as he still is recovering from surgery. But according to a report by NESN, Langford should be healthy enough to return following the pause. 

This then leaves the question: where does Langford fit on the Celtics roster, if at all? Amidst a disappointing start to the season, many fans and people around the Celtics have begun to sound the alarm. When the owner even comes out to 98.5 The Sports Hub and acknowledges the fact that the young Eastern Conference finalists are not currently a contender, there should be plenty of reason to panic.

The Celtics’ troubles have been all over the place this season, but the one that seems to be the most glaring is the lack of explosive scoring outside of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. There has been some great play off the bench by Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams, but players like Grant Williams, Jeff Teague and Semi Ojeleye have struggled to be consistent factors. 

As the Celtics continue to look for splashes in the trade market, there is a lot of uncertainty around Langford’s future as the team now seems to lack tradable assets outside of the core. 

Despite his long injury, Langford is still a much more desirable piece than Javonte Green or Grant Williams. Moving on from Jeff Teague may be a route that the Celtics opt to take as well because he has failed to make much of an impact off of the bench, and this would open up playing time to test out a 100 percent healthy Langford. 

Langford could bring a great burst of energy off the bench for the Celtics if healthy, and so exciting to see how he fits alongside the outstanding rookie point guard in Pritchard. With Langford on the second unit, it would open up the floor for Tatum as he would have another solid scorer to kick the ball out to. 

Could Langford end up being the guy that fixes the bench scoring problem for the Celtics? Only time will tell, but based on his high school and collegiate careers, he very well might be 𑁋 if he’s still on the team past the deadline.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: Luke Walton’s Uncertain Future

Could this be it for Luke Walton in Sacramento? David Yapkowitz examines.

David Yapkowitz

Published

on

There’s one big question surrounding the Sacramento Kings this season: what, exactly, will become of head coach Luke Walton? Walton, in the second year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2019, has often headlined the group of coaches that are thought most likely to be let go next.

Brought in by the previous regime, Sacramento’s situation has changed considerably since they brought in Walton. Former general manager Vlade Divac has since stepped down and been replaced with Monte McNair. And, often, new management will look to build their team, coaching staff included, in their own mold — that’s nothing really against the current personnel, just that different voices sometimes have different visions and want to construct a team within that vision.

If the team plays well, the new management team may be inclined to ride it out with the current staff. In a somewhat recent example, when Masai Ujiri first took over in the Toronto Raptors front office, the Raptors started surging in the standings and Ujiri held on to Dwane Casey for a while before ultimately replacing him with Nick Nurse. Casey had been hired by former executive Bryan Colangelo.

The Kings are in an interesting scenario in that, despite being a perennial bottom-dweller, expectations have existed for the team for over a decade now, the main expectation being that they would eventually improve beyond that bottom-feeder status. Now, that expectation may be more warranted than ever, as Sacramento has some seriously talented pieces in place, including franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox and Rookie of the Year contender Tyrese Haliburton.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Kings looked like they might actually be turning things around. On a four-game win streak, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, they looked like a different team.

Since then, unfortunately, they’ve reverted to the Kings of old. Now, they’re on an eight-game losing streak, their first such skid since 2019.

There are plenty of good teams in the Western Conference and, because of that, at least a couple of them are going to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Of course, it can be hard to fault teams that show consistent effort and improvement. But that just hasn’t been the Kings, for quite some time now.

The main area of concern for the Kings where they haven’t shown real improvement is on the defensive end. They were already among the bottom half of the league on that end before their most recent skid, while it’s been significantly worse during their last eight games.

It’s always a possibility to bring in a defensive-minded assistant to help with that end, much like Sacramento tried to do on offense this past offseason. To spark the team on that end of the court, the Kings added Alvin Gentry to Walton’s staff and for the most part, it’s worked out: Sacramento is 12th in the league in scoring, up from 22nd last season. They’re also shooting better from three-point range while playing at a quicker pace.

But in order to win in this league, you need to do it on both ends. And that’s something the Kings haven’t shown the ability to do.

Sacramento is allowing 119.6 points per game, dead last in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 118.7 is also last. And, at this point, simply adding an assistant might not do the trick; at this point, it might just be easier (and more effective) for management to simply cut ties with Walton and set up a new staff under a new head coach.

Walton’s popularity and potential as a head coach first piqued during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors. When he stepped in for Steve Kerr, who took leave from the team to recover from back surgery, Walton guided the team to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record upon Kerr’s return. While the Warriors were in their second of what would be five-straight runs to the NBA Finals and had a strong foundation already in place, Walton’s involvement in the feat can’t be discounted, while it opened the league’s eyes as to his potential as a head coach.

But later, during Walton’s years as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team showed slight, if minimal improvement each year at best. In fact, those Lakers were similar to these Kings in that they were a young team with no real experience just trying to get better. And, obviously, it’s much easier to look good when you already have an established unit.

Coaching in the NBA is a tough and often thankless job. When things go right, they get little credit. When they go wrong, the blame lies almost squarely on their head. As with players, sometimes a coaching situation just isn’t the right fit for either party; maybe this Kings’ roster just isn’t built to maximize Walton’s system.

That said, in this particular case, it would probably be best for the Kings to ride the current situation out. Sacramento has shown some improvement from last season and Walton deserves some credit for that. He’s shown constant faith and trust in his rookie, Haliburton, while he has Fox playing at a near All-Star level and Richaun Holmes looking like one of the NBA’s best in the painted area (and an absolute steal, given his contract).

Going forward, it’s worth rolling the dice and seeing if they can’t end this skid and get back to their strong play earlier in the year. Further, it might not be that great an idea to make such a radical structural change halfway through the season when your team might still have a realistic shot at the postseason.

That said, should the team continue to struggle, then it would be wise to revisit the matter in the offseason. If they do, it wouldn’t be much of a reach if McNair decides that two years is enough and that he wants to bring in a head coach of his own choosing.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

ZigZagSport - Best Online Sportsbook & Casino

Advertisement
American Casino Guide
NJ Casino
NJ Casino

NBA Team Salaries

Advertisement

CloseUp360

Insiders On Twitter

NBA On Twitter

Trending Now