By: Will Stevenson
With the end of the NBA regular season coming to an end, the actual basketball coverage continues to dwindle. We have teams at the top of the standings that are just hoping to get to the playoffs without any injuries, teams in the middle jockeying for home court, teams at the bottom still fighting to stay in the playoffs, and the teams trying kinda-sorta to keep their lottery pick. The teams who have no hopes of the playoffs are shutting down veteran players and giving those minutes to the young guys, while those coming up on free agency are showcasing for the offseason. Defense hasn’t been great this season, so those games between losing teams seems unwatchable to most casual NBA fans. The NBA isn’t like most sports as in they have a long season, so marquee matchups down the stretch don’t have the shine as they were suppose to have when the scheduling was being made. More than those who are in the playoffs, lets take a look at the teams we thought would be competing for a playoff spot this year.
- Hornets (32-40) 3 GB of the 8th seed
Kemba Walker has done all he can to keep the Hornets afloat this season. Even with the emergence of Cody Zeller and Frank Kamisky, the Hornets are still a team full of face cards: They can’t outright win with a spade, but they can get a book every now and then with a King of Clubs. Coach Clifford has been able to adjust to the NBA’s rising pace of play by adding more shooters and letting the big men go from the previous roster. The Hornets have one scorer, Kemba Walker, and with them being a below average defensive team, won’t cut it in today’s NBA. Let me not forget about the poor play of Nicholas Batum who is often injured and inconsistent of being a number two player on a given team. The Basketball Gods have awarded the Hornets with Kemba, but it seems as though everything else is just average: Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, Kaminsky, Zeller, Batum and Joseph Forte… I mean Jeremy Lamb.
2. Timberwolves (28-43) 6.5 GB of the 8th seed
50-32, that was pretty much the consensus after Tom Thibodeau was named the Head Coach in the offense. With the play of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach Lavine, we had high hopes the Wolves we become the Western Conference darlings, much like the Trailblazers last season. We must have forgotten about the ability to learn team defense and the fact their young stars are just that: Young. Even before the season started, Coach Thibs didn’t like his roster as rumors of old Bulls being traded to the Wolves circulated. Wiggins still hasn’t been able to match is on-ball defense with his offense, and the Wolves aren’t adapting to the 3pt barrage as the rest of the league as of yet.
3. Lakers (21-51) 2nd worst record in the league
New coach, new system, but the same players. The Lakers came out the gate average, but they played with energy, hustle, and ESPN showcase defense. After the injury to Russell, it all fell apart and the run to keep that Top 3 protected pick in this year’s draft was the only thing to shoot for. I didn’t think the Lakers would make a playoff run, but I imagined them winning 30-35 games this season. Maybe the Basketball Gods will punish the Lakers again and knock them out of the lottery this season. Only can only hope.
4. Pelicans (30-42) 5 GB of 8th seed
Anthony Davis. That’s pretty much the team in a nutshell, but after an offseason spending on mediocre role players, the Pelicans were looking to be a team of 3 and D. Jrue Holliday , Tyreke Evans, and Quincy Pondexter started out the season on the IR, and Buddy Heild was shooting like the Raptors in last year’s playoffs. Then, the Pelicans pulled off a ransom for Demarcus Cousins. They were 3GB of the 8th seed at that point, and they’ve been falling since. 30 games isn’t enough to say the “Fire and Ice” experiment failed, or to move Boogie in the offseason if they can’t extend him, or to fire Alvin Genty, but the Pelicans must figure out if they want to resign Holliday and keep the team they have for the next few seasons. Once, again, I’m hoping the Basketball Gods give the Pelicans a Top 3 pick. In that case, the Kings would lose out on the opportunity to have 2 lottery picks this season. Or maybe the Pelicans don’t deserve to have a lottery pick this year. I’m conflicted.
5. Blazers (33-38) 1.5 GB of the 8th seed
We see it all the time in sports. A team stays hot and overachieves during a season, and then they overcomplicate things in the offseason which makes the next season impossible to replicate. The Blazers were flying high as they lost in the second round to the Warriors last year. They have two guards that could score form any place on the floor, 3 and D winds, and athletic big men who could run the floor and make plays from the high post. It all went downhill with the explosion of the Salary Cap last summer. The Blazers needed to hit the salary floor and add players to a roster that seem pretty good, and young. They paid Mo Harkless, Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. Harkless is average, Crabbe is average, Evan Turner needs the ball to perform, and Festus hasn’t played a game this season. Offense is the trend this season, but if your guards can’t stop penetration and your bigs can’t defend the rim on a consistent basis, then a bad shooting night will result in multiple losses.
6. Bulls (34-39) 1.5 GB of the 8th seed
Breaking News: The Bulls have signed Rajon Rondo and Dwayne Wade. I knew it was downhill from there. After the Bulls let Noah go and traded Derrick Rose, I figured they would be going in a younger direction, even with Taj Gibson outplaying Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic at every turn. I figured, and I was wrong. The Bulls decided to go against conventional and analytical wisdom to pick up two over-thirty-non shooting-high usage players to their team. Even after the high 3pt percentage games to start out the season and a Wade game-winner, the Bulls fell back to earth as they should have. They ended up trading Gibson and McBuckets to the Thunder for Cameron Payne, and lost Wade to injury a few weeks ago. To no surprise, they’ve played better without him. Rondo’s play on the court hasn’t been the issue this year as he has played well off the bench. I don’t know what the Bulls will do this offseason, but I do not want to see them get swept by the Cavaliers if they make the playoffs. If by chance, the Kings get screwed in the lottery and they land outside the top 10, the Bulls will get that pick. I don’t know what the Basketball Gods will do this summer.
For these franchises, the season was full of hope back in October. Whether it was injury or inconsistent play, these teams will fin d themselves in the lottery if they don’t make a final push to be swept in the playoffs. If not, there’s always Tinder.