With each team having between 13 and 11 games remaining this season, it seems the last two playoff slots in each conference will be decided upon between four teams. Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards in the East; Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz in the West.
East: Pacers, Bulls, Pistons, Wizards
Who’s not involved: The Cavaliers have clinched their spot, and the Raptors are 1.5 games behind them. The 3-4-5-6 seeds will come down to the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets. It’s hard seeing one of them slip so far behind and find themselves battling to actually make the playoffs.
Current situation: Pacers are 7th (37-33 record), Bulls are 8th, 0.5 games behind (36-33), Pistons are 9th (37-34) and Wizards are 10th, 1.5 games behind the Bulls (35-35).
Form: Pacers are very up and down, currently with a win after two straight losses and have two wins in their last five games. Bulls have won three in a row and four of their last five. Pistons have won their last three games. Wizards are the hottest of them, winning five in a row.
Metrics: Pacers at +1.8 net rating, Pistons at -0.5, Wizards at -1.0, Bulls at -1.4.
So who makes it? It’s impossible to ignore the Wizards right now thanks to their lineup doing extremely well with Markieff Morris. However, the Bulls, with Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol healthy again, should be good enough to hold off the Pistons. The Pacers are difficult to trust, as the revelation of Paul George at the ‘4’ is no longer creating waves and advantages, especially when he’s shooting so poorly.
West: Blazers, Mavericks, Rockets, Jazz
Who’s not involved: The Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs have already clinched their playoff spots. The Los Angeles Clippers are still dreaming of third, the Memphis Grizzlies are probably not going to get home court advantage headed into another series with the Clippers, but aren’t going to fall below fifth probably.
Current situation: Blazers are 6th (36-35), Rockets are 7th (35-35, 0.5 games behind), Mavericks are 8th (35-35, 0.5 games behind), Jazz are 9th (34-36, one game behind Dallas and Houston).
Form: Blazers are on something of a slide, winning just three times in their last 10. Rockets have lost three of their last five. Mavericks have won just twice in their last nine games, and Chandler Parsons is probably out for the season. Jazz have bounced back with five wins in their last six games.
Metrics: Jazz at +0.7 net rating, Mavericks at +0.4, Blazers at 0, Rockets at -1.3.
So who makes it? I expected the Grizzlies to slide after their injuries, but they didn’t. Will Dallas fall apart now that Parsons is out? Very likely, but the Rockets don’t look like a team capable of keeping some sort of winning streak going. The Blazers rely too heavily on the shooting form of Lillard and McCollum. The Jazz? Their offense is ugly to watch sometimes, but their defense might be their wildcard, and what puts them in the postseason.