With the All-Star break come and gone, the playoff picture is finally beginning to become clear. There are teams where it’s obvious that they will make the postseason, no one is getting between the Bucks and the Eastern Conference Finals anytime soon. On the other hand, there are some teams that are currently “in the playoffs” that won’t be there by the time April comes around. These five teams have the best chance of raining on someone’s playoff parade.
Wizards: The Washington Wizards are currently four and a half games out of the playoffs in the east, making them the ninth-ranked team. Right now it looks as though with a very strong push they could claim the number eight seed in their conference. The push would rely heavily on the leadership abilities of Bradley Beal. He can’t do it on his own though and is going to need Rui Hachimura and David Bertans to step up in big ways to make this final playoff push possible. Right now, FiveThirtyEight gives them only a 9% chance of making the playoffs. In order to do this, they will need to battle some of the toughest teams in the league and walk away with wins. Over the next 29 games they face the Bucks three times, the Celtics and Sixers twice, and the Raptors, Rockets, and Heat once each.
Bulls: The Chicago Bulls are five and a half games behind the Orlando Magic. As is technically the case with any team that is close to the playoffs, with a strong push they could find themselves fighting to be the last team in. This push would rely on the shooting and leadership abilities of Zach LaVine who is the centerpiece of the team right now. It would also help if they either moved to a three-guard lineup and inserted Colby White instead of Otto Porter Jr. or started White at the point and moved LaVine to the shooting guard position instead of Tomas Satornasky who is giving them very little in his nearly 29 minutes on the floor. If they do this they will take full advantage of what FiveThirtyEight says is a 4% chance that they make it to the playoffs.
Pelicans: With the Pelicans three games out of eighth place, they are starting to shed some light on their playoff potential. They are chasing division rival Memphis Grizzlies for the last spot in the playoffs. The season got off to a slow start but with the recent return of rookie phenomenon Zion Williamson, who has averaged 22.1 points a game and an 8-3 record since his return the future looks bright. No one has had a breakout season for the Pelicans like Brandon Ingram though. The first time All-Star has carried the team averaging 24.9 points a game. According to an analysis from the NBA, the Pelicans have the easiest schedule remaining in the league, and in comparison, the Grizzlies have the toughest. The New Orleans Pelicans have everything in their favor to make a strong push for the playoffs and is one of our sleeper teams.
Spurs: The San Antonio Spurs sit just three and a half games back behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Gregg Popovich has been head coach of the Spurs since 1996 and has led the team to 22 consecutive postseason appearances since then. The Spurs took a plummet in the Western Conference standings when they lost 8 of the previous 11 games. Just last season the Spurs started 11-14 but went 37-20 to finish the season strong and make the playoffs. With players like DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray rallying the team, they need to bring the intensity to all the remaining games is the reason they are a sleeper team. This team is no stranger to coming from behind or proving the haters wrong.
Blazers: They currently sit at ninth in the west with a record of 26-32. They’re a high scoring offense with takeover stars, especially in the playoffs, in Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum. Their roster includes Carmelo Anthon, Trevor Ariza, Zach Collins (who is out until March), and Hassan Whiteside who helps with rim protection and can get boards. Whiteside also leads the league in blocks with 3.02 and is in third in rebounds with 14.1. Lillard, their best player, is averaging 29.5 points, 7.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.0 steals in 37.0 minutes per game this season. CJ McCollum can drop upwards of 20 points a game and play solid defense. For them to make the playoffs, Trevor Ariza needs to start putting up points like he did against the Heat, dropping 21 to help get the win. Carmelo Anthony can’t go from 20 points a game to the next game only 5. He needs to be consistent. Once March rolls by, Zach Collins returns from his shoulder injury and that’ll help give the Blazers a strong defense.