Each year, there are always “bubble teams” in the NBA playoff races. These teams represent the seventh or eighth seeds, but are holding on by a thread. These bubble teams include teams that are on the outside looking in.
This year is no different in the Eastern Conference. Let’s take a look at the bubble teams, along with their chances of making the playoffs.
Many scribes wrote off the Boston Celtics immediately following the news of Rajon Rondo’s season-ending injury, which wasn’t and still isn’t such a baffling prophecy. The Celtics ran their offense through Rondo, and their roster currently doesn’t consist of any viable alternatives that can replace his playmaking abilities over a longer stretch of games. Thus, the skepticism regarding Boston’s chances of hanging onto the eighth seed.
The Celtics’ dwindling playoff chances will eventually turn for the better or worse and February could be the month that fuels a swing in their record. They have a total of 12 games on the slate and as it stands now, seven of those teams have winning records. That tally doesn’t include two matchups against the “resurgent” Los Angeles Lakers either.
Avery Bradley–Rondo’s replacement–thrived in Rondo’s absence last year, showing offensive and mainly defensive potential. This performance had pundits labeling him as the Celtics’ savior, of course, before Rondo’s injury was announced. In three games with the starting point guard spot to himself this year, however, Bradley is averaging just 8.7 points and 1.3 assists.
Still, the Celtics are 3-0, but a close win against the Miami Heat (mainly fueled off emotion), a blowout win over the Sacramento Kings and win over the Orlando Magic isn’t much of a sample size.
Moreover, Jared Sullinger was ruled out for the remainder of the season on Friday with a back injury that will force him to undergo surgery. He was rapidly evolving into one of Boston’s best rebounders, which was key for a Celtics frontcourt that lacks size and in turn, rebounding.
So, with two injuries to two of their key players, it’s looking more and more likely that general manager Danny Ainge will blow this roster up and look ahead to the future. If that’s the case, then the Celtics won’t be expected to make the playoffs and it’s unlikely that they will.
Chances: 40 percent
The Philadelphia 76ers haven’t had much of an encore act after taking the NBA by storm last season. But, their playoff hopes are still high, as they’re 20-26, trailing the Celtics by only three games for the eighth seed.
Soon, the Sixers may overtake the Celtics, though. Jrue Holiday’s 2013 coming out party (averaging 23.4 points, 9.2 assists over his last nine games) has kept them in contention. Better yet, Holiday will get some much need help when Andrew Bynum returns to action, which may come sooner than you might think.
Multiple reports confirm that Bynum is still targeting a return right after the All-Star break. The Miami Herald reports that Bynum’s knees received a second set of Synvisc injections on Jan. 31, enabling him to resume workouts. The article notes that these injections should relieve the pain in his balky knees for up to six months, which would carry him well past season’s end.
In the meantime, the Sixers simply need to continue to tread water until Bynum makes his much awaited debut. Simultaneously, the Celtics will probably begin to down-spiral, Holiday will continue his torrid streak and the Sixers will have a clear path to the eighth seed. The timing is seemingly perfect, that is if Bynum’s projected return date is somewhat accurate.
You’d be crazy to count out the 76ers, though.
Chances: 75 percent
The Milwaukee Bucks are still barely hanging onto the seventh seed and it will be interesting to see whether management decides to stick with the current group or trade one of their guards–Monta Ellis or Brandon Jennings.
Like any team barely clinging onto a playoff spot, the key is to hang on. Yeah, “duh.” The thing is, the Bucks, 76ers and Celtics don’t have the luxury of a top seed, where losing isn’t the end all be all in terms of their playoff hopes.
Most middle-of-the-pack teams stay in the hunt because they beat lousy teams. This gives a team some room to endure losses to the cream of the crop and still stick around in the playoff chase.
The Bucks have been a bit better than average against below .500 teams, going 12-8. But in context with what the elite teams do against scrap teams, the Bucks’ record is a lot bleaker; the Heat are 19-1 against teams with losing records and the New York Knicks are 20-3.
Milwaukee has a small window of opportunity over the next week or so to improve that record and, of course, their overall record. They will face the Magic, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and 76ers before playing two games against the Brooklyn Nets and one against the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets. Mixed in are games with the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks.
So, I’d say that beating the sub-500 teams will be key for the Bucks. No, it won’t decide their season, but the road ahead isn’t much brighter. Fortunately, they probably won’t have to deal with the Celtics riding their tail for much longer.
Chances: 60 percent
Long Shots: Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors
Of the two, the Pistons have a greater chance of sneaking in to the playoffs. Yes, even with the Toronto Raptors’ addition of Rudy Gay.
Regardless, the Pistons and Raptors don’t control their own destiny. For either of these squads to make the playoffs, collapses from the Celtics, Bucks and Sixers need to happen. And to think that all three of those teams are going to completely crumple is a bit preposterous.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, ESPN.COM and NBA.COM.
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