As the NBA season reaches the mid-way point, the standings in both conferences could not be more convoluted. The third and 13th seed in the East is separated by just five games. The West has seen a resurgence from the Spurs and Suns, and a fall from the Mavericks and Rockets. As the middle of the pack teams scrambles to make the playoffs, here are the teams believed to be playoff contenders and pretenders.
Golden State Warriors:
The Golden State Warriors have had a rollercoaster ride of a decade. An era that led to three rings and five finals appearances is finally coming to an end. Or so we thought. Steph Curry has been incredible this season, putting up MVP-like numbers once again. Curry is averaging 29.9 ppg on 61% eFG this season after missing last season to a broken hand.
With Steph Curry on the team, it is nearly impossible to imagine the Warriors missing the playoffs. The Warriors currently sit at the eighth seed in the West and will look to move up even further.
Similar to the Warriors, the Mavericks are being led by Luka Doncic who is also having an MVP-like season. Doncic is nearly averaging a triple-double this season, but the Mavs find themselves struggling to break .500. This is largely due to injuries, however, many teams have missed rotational players for extended periods of time.
This excuse does not work as well this season. A big issue with the Mavs has been defense, ranking 27th in the league in DRTG. However, the team has the means to adjust and improve on this end as the season goes on. Dallas will surely see themselves making the play-in games at the very least, and hope to solidify their place in the playoffs again this season.
Coming off an incredible finals run, the Miami Heat are 10th in the Eastern Conference at 12-17. Luckily for them, they’re only a handful of games out of the 3rd seed in the East, due to how balanced the East is this season. Much like Dallas, they find themselves dealing with injuries and a depleted roster, having 16 different starting lineups in 26 games.
The Heat, who are essentially the same roster as last season, will hope to have players like Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro healthy for the remainder of the season, as they should be able to string a few wins together and push into the playoff race.
New York Knicks:
Lo and behold, the Knicks are back… maybe. The Knicks are currently the 7th seed in the East at 14-16 and have the 3rd best defense in the league, led by coach Tom Thibodeaux. With a stifling defense and a potential all-star in Julius Randle, the Knicks look like a solid team, playing a grit and grind game, much to their coach’s reputation.
As long as the Knicks continue to lead the league in DeFG%, they should have no issue sliding into the playoffs. A playoff appearance for the Knicks this season would be their first since the 2014-15 season.
The Kings have had a season, much like their last. After winning seven out of eight games, Sacramento has now lost five straight. Although by the rule of averages, this could likely mean the Kings will end up right around the middle of the pack, this kind of wishy-washy play could become a detriment to their season. A long losing streak at the end of the season could see them slip out of a play-in spot.
The Grizzlies are 13-12 and have been dealing with injuries as well throughout the season. Their well-rounded play has helped carry them to the 9th seed so far, but the Grizzlies will likely slip. This is partly to schedule, but also other teams simply being more talented. Having to fight for spots with the Warriors and Mavericks will make it tough for the Grizzlies to make their way into a playoff spot.
The Bulls are the 9th seed in the East and have lost nine games this season by less than five points. Those nine games could very well have the Bulls in a much better position so far this season. However, this may just be the trend of the season for the Bulls. The Bulls could easily become playoff contenders with more defensive presence to prevent giving up leads at the end of games. Acquiring a player like Lonzo Ball to pair with Zach LaVine in the backcourt could be the difference between a playoff birth and the lottery for Chicago.
Led by LaMelo Ball, the Charlotte Hornets have proved to be a fun team on the rise. The acquisition of Gordon Hayward has also seemed positive so far this season. The Hornets are the 8th seed but still would have to fend off the likes of the Miami Heat to keep that spot. At the end of the day, the Heat have the talent and the experience to get it done. Charlotte, however, could very likely see themselves make the play-in.
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