The Race for the NBA’s Eighth Seeds
Every year, teams at the bottom of the playoff picture scramble to steal away a seventh or eighth seed in their respective conference, but inevitably there are teams that just can’t quite sneak in there. This year, of course, won’t be any different, and there’s an extra bit of attention on these races with the high-profile Los Angeles Lakers part of the rat race.
However it ends up, here’s a look at the teams on the bubble in both conferences:
(Hollinger Playoff Odds use the Hollinger Power Rankings and computer simulations to project end-of-season outcomes).
The Eastern Conference
Milwaukee Bucks (26-28, 61.8% Hollinger Playoff Odds)
Of the three teams with any sort of shot at nailing down the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks are certainly in the driver’s seat. They’re currently three and a half games up on the 76ers and four games up on the Raptors with only a touch over a quarter of a season left to play. They also have more home games remaining than the other two teams listed below, and only half of their remaining games are against teams with a record over .500. The addition of J.J. Redick certainly won’t hurt anything for the final stretch, but the fact that they’ve already got a decent lead to work with bodes well for their shot at securing a playoff spot. Put simply, the Sixers and Raptors have a lot of catching up to do.
Philadelphia 76ers (22-31, 7.0% Hollinger Playoff Odds)
Unfortunately for the Sixers, they have by far the most challenging remaining schedule of the three teams vying for the eighth seed. Only 11 of their final 29 games are at home, and 17 of them are against teams with a winning record. Toss in Thaddeus Young’s lingering injury and the fact that they still have no idea whether or not Andrew Bynum will play this season, and Philadelphia appears to have one serious mess on their hands. Their playoff hopes aren’t helped by the fact that they’ve lost five of their last six (including three precious home games), so taking all that into consideration, a 7.0% Hollinger Playoff Odds could even be considered a little generous.
Toronto Raptors (23-33, 32.1% Hollinger Playoff Odds)
Since acquiring Rudy Gay, the Raptors are moving in the exact opposite direction of the Sixers, winning six of their last seven, and that trade, combined with the return of Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas to the lineup, has made a huge difference in turning this roster around. The question at this point is whether all these wins are too little too late, because catching the Bucks really is going to be challenging. The good news is that only 12 of their remaining 26 games are against teams with a record over .500, and they’re obviously trending the right way to make a strong run to finish out the year.
The Western Conference
Houston Rockets (31-27, 96.9% Hollinger Playoff Odds)
The Rockets are currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference, two and a half games up on the Lakers, but when breaking down the team’s remaining schedule, it quickly becomes pretty clear why the Hollinger simulations came out so well for them. Only nine of their final 24 games are against teams with a winning record, and 14 of those games are also going to take place in Houston. Not only do the next two teams have more challenging remaining schedules, but they’re playing catch-up with a team who should have things pretty easy from here on out. Of course, the Rockets did lose their most recent game to the Wizards, so anything really is possible here.
Los Angeles Lakers (28-29, 31.0% Hollinger Playoff Odds)
Whether you love or hate the Lakers, it’s hard to imagine the playoffs without them. The Lakers have missed the playoffs exactly twice since 1976, so the expectations for this organization to make the postseason, especially with one of the best on-paper rosters ever assembled, are pretty astronomical. The odds, however, aren’t necessarily with them. Kobe Bryant has guaranteed they’ll get in, and their remaining schedule isn’t particularly challenging, but they’ll need a bit of a collapse from either Houston or Utah to have their shot at keeping their postseason hopes alive.
Dallas Mavericks (25-30, 16.5% Hollinger Playoff Odds)
If straits are dire for the Lakers, they’re even more so for the Mavericks, who currently sit five games below .500 and have the hardest schedule of any team with a shot at making the postseason. Their loss on Sunday against the Lakers was a pretty big setback, and time is running out for them to keep themselves relevant the remainder of the season.
There are, of course, other teams with an outside shot at a playoff spot. The Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons, for example, still have not been mathematically eliminated from the postseason, but nobody in their right mind thinks either of those teams will make it. Still, there’s plenty of wiggle room at the bottom of these playoff pictures, and plenty of time for things to get shaken up.
How do you think the final playoff picture will play out? Hit up the comment section below and let us know your postseason seeding.