NBA PM: Are Playoff Teams Already Set?
Over the last few seasons, the NBA has been so competitive that it’s been difficult to know which teams would make the playoffs, let alone which match-ups might be forthcoming, until the final day of each season. In the Western Conference last year, for example, only three games separated the ninth-seeded Houston Rockets and the seventh-seeded Dallas Mavericks. The difference between having 25 losses on the season and 26 was the difference between having home court advantage in the West’s first round versus starting on the road. Every game was critical, right down to the final day of the season.
The 2010-11 season was very much the same, with three losses separating the West’s seventh seed and the sixth seed, and two wins spelling the difference between the second seed in the conference and the fourth seed. The East wasn’t nearly as close, but still, two wins meant the difference between making the playoffs with 37 wins (Indiana Pacers) and missing them with 35 (Milwaukee Bucks).
This year, barring a dramatic change of fortune or significant injury, it looks like that trend is going to be broken. Going into tonight’s schedule most teams have something like 28 games left on the season and we can already make an educated guess as to which teams will make the playoffs, and in some cases even which seeds they will hold.
Houston sits in the West’s eighth seed, winning 53.4 percent of their games. At this point it’s reasonable to say that’s what they are – a team that will win 53.4 percent of their games. The Rockets have 24 games left, so they are likely to win 13 of those. They have 14 at home and 10 away, nine against teams over .500 and 19 against fellow Western Conference teams. If the Rockets do win 13 of their remaining games, as anticipated, they would post 44 wins, so for the ninth-seeded Lakers to catch them they would need to win at least 44 games.
The Lakers are 28-29, that is 57 games in with 25 games to go. To get to 44 wins they would need to go 16-9 (.640) the rest of the way to get to 44 wins. They have 12 at home, 13 away, 12 against teams above .500 and 17 against West foes.
Is it possible that the Lakers could win 16 of their final 25 games? Sure. But it’s not who they have been to this point of the season. It seems more likely that the West’s playoff teams are the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets. It’s also extremely likely that the home court teams in the first round will be the Spurs, Thunder Grizzlies and Clippers.
The playoff picture in the East is a little less ambiguous, with the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks holding a four-game edge on the Raptors in ninth. Toronto has been better since the Rudy Gay trade, but even so they were in such a deep hole that it will be difficult for them to climb out. Using the same logic as we did in the West, the Bucks are on pace to win 39 games, roughly 48 percent of their 82-game total. For Toronto to edge out Milwaukee, then, they would need to win at least 39 games, which means they would have to finish the season by winning 16 of their final 26 games, and that’s highly unlikely.
So it seems safe to say the Eastern Conference playoff teams will be the Miami HEAT, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. The HEAT, Pacers, and Knicks will likely have home court in the first round while the Nets will have to hold off the Hawks and Bulls, both just a half-game behind, to start at home in the first round.
Are these numbers absolutely set in stone? Certainly not. Both the Lakers and the Raptors are playing their best ball of the season and both teams are 7-3 in their last ten. If they can continue that pace, the playoff picture could change slightly in both conferences. But the numbers are what they are, and by all indications we already have a pretty clear picture of what the playoffs are going to look like this season in terms of which teams will be participating.
Jason Kidd’s Impact on Carmelo Anthony
Much has been made of the change in New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony’s all-around game this season, with many suggesting his time with Team USA helped him realize the bigger picture. That is certainly true, but Jason Kidd’s impact as a teammate this season has also helped Anthony mature as a person and as a player. He talks about that impact in this video from All-Star Weekend in Houston:
The Annual Trade Deadline Hangover
More so than in previous seasons, when the trade deadline has featured a lot more player movement, there are a lot of NBA fans sitting at home feeling let down at this moment. For weeks – even months – they have been waiting to see what big moves their favorite teams might pull off at the deadline, fueled by countless anonymous “sources,” happily exaggerated and played up by their favorite media personalities.
No, the Houston Rockets didn’t land Zach Randolph, the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t land Kevin Garnett, the San Antonio Spurs didn’t get Al Jefferson, the Dallas Mavericks didn’t get Brandon Jennings, the Phoenix Suns didn’t get Josh Smith and the entire list of which teams actually did pull off trades is enough to make the most avid NBA fan yawn.
This is the time of year when NBA fans have a bad habit of taking their frustration out on the messengers. For example, our own Alex Kennedy took some heat from readers because the Suns didn’t land Smith, and Alex was among those who reported that such a deal was discussed.
Before you load up your proverbial gun to shoot the messenger, however, you have to understand what a trade rumor really is. First of all, 99 percent of trades discussed between teams never get beyond that first phone call to gauge interest. The Grizzlies call Phoenix and ask who they might be interested in. The Suns say they wouldn’t mind adding Rudy Gay. The Grizzlies don’t like what Phoenix has to offer and they politely decline.
If it ended there, there would be no false hopes and no one’s feelings would be hurt, but it doesn’t end there.
You see, someone associated with one of the teams has to leak that phone call to the media, meaning it becomes front page news in major outlets across the country, despite the fact that the talks went nowhere. The story lives on then and gets repeated over and over until Suns fans are just sure they’re getting Rudy Gay. But then Rudy gets traded to Toronto instead and a lot of people in Phoenix get all bent out of shape.
The truth is, a conversation happened. The truth, however, shouldn’t stop there, but it all too often does.
If this seems the least bit silly to you, as it does to me, then welcome to the ranks of the (few) NBA purists, who are more interested in fact than fantasy and care more about the game than about the ridiculous rumors and innuendos that threaten to make it more like reality TV than a sport.
Before you get all upset at those who report the rumors, however, keep in mind that you ask for them. Numbers don’t lie, and statistically HOOPSWORLD readers care much more about trade rumors than they do anything else. I can sit down and do a one-on-one interview with Kobe Bryant, the most popular and one of the smartest players on the planet, or I can make a couple of phone calls and find out about some trade that may or may not have been discussed and write about it. The second story will do 10 or maybe 20 times as many page views as the Bryant interview, which requires more work and more prep time. The second story will get me more Twitter followers, more retweets and more recognition across the industry – even if it turns out to be wrong, as it almost invariably will.
Don’t get me wrong, I like trades as much as the next guy – once they happen. Until they happen, however, I see rumors as little more than, well, rumors. Most of the time they are based on bad information, old information, or flat out misleading information from team sources who want to throw out a smoke screen.
So don’t shoot the messenger. You ask for trade rumors; actually, based on what you read, you positively demand trade rumors. As long as the rumors stories are what you click on the most, you can rest assured you will continue to get a steady diet of those as often as possible. Just remember, you get what you ask for.
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