Welcome back to our weekly look through the NBA, examining how the standings are starting to shape up as we reach the 35 game mark in the season. Since there is so much time left in the season and things can change quickly, it is safer to start eliminating teams from contention so we can start to focus on the contenders going forward.
The East has to be considered the best conference. The East is currently producing more teams in contention than the West, and it's not even close. Three games separate the twelfth seed from the playoff race, and we have seen teams alternate positions in the standings daily as they take turn with winning streaks. One thing should be taken into consideration - the 8th seed in the East is far from a desirable potion. With the Cavs separating themselves from the pack as they get healthier, contending teams could consider the 8th seed to not be a desirable spot and either attempt to avoid the playoffs to instead hit the lottery.
Current Playoff Teams
Detroit - Going 6-4 over their last ten games, the Pistons are starting to trend up. Brandon Jennings has returned to the roster after recovery from knee injury, and has provided the boost off the bench to extend this roster to the next level. Jennings is a natural scorer, and paired with an already solid core of players (Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond who should be an All-Star, KCP), this should be a team continuing to rise. They recently beat the Celtics and Magic, but do have a Western Conference run coming up that could determine where they stand.
Boston - At this point, it is not if this team will make a move, it is when. Can we just get Markieff Morris on this team now and let them continue to trend up? They have a collection of parts, but simply need more go-to talent for scoring and in crunch time. With draft picks, favorable salaries, and a desirable destination, Boston should be able to nab a talent looking to move. Ryan Anderson? Kevin Martin? The list goes on.
Who can be Eliminated?
Orlando, New York, Charlotte and Washington can still stand to go on a run and move into the top 8. Out of these teams, New York is the only one not on a prolonged losing streak at this point, but all have had their moments so far this season. It seems to be too early to rule any of them out.
We can however, rule out the Milwaukee Bucks from contention at this point. I will save my words and let Deadspin do most of the talking here. Personally, I think it's sad that a collection of talent this good can look this bad. Once they fix their outside shooting issue and trade some of their parts for parts that might fit better, I believe they can get back on track. The core is too good with Jabari Parker and the Greek Freak to think they are too far off.
The West is quite a mess. After the 6th seed, the West is filled with teams under .500 and trying to find their identity. Identifying playoff contenders is a losing agenda, as the top three seeds in the West represent tough matchups for most franchises. Watching teams in the West decide to stay in contention or start to sell off parts will be increasing interesting, as I could see a team like Utah still consider a trade to rebuild even though they will find themselves in the 8th spot by default.
Current Playoff Teams
Houston - Will they be good? Won't they be good? Will they continue to be "meh?' They will make a trade - mostly because they have the pieces to, and partly because they have a GM that almost needs to in order to keep his job. They are prime to overpay for a talent seen as a game changer. I firmly believe they will continue to be a .500 team, even with a trade in the future. That will solidly get them into the playoffs, but could put them facing the Thunder or Clippers in the first round, which would be a horrible match up for them.
Utah - I want this team to be better. Most of their reason is because they are not healthy, missing their big talent in the middle in Rudy Gobert. He is inline to return in the middle of January, and by then they should be set to improve their talent by finding a seller on the market to find a new piece to their puzzle. They currently are slotted to face the Warriors in the first round, which nobody in Oakland is excited to see. It brings shades of New Orleans last year - talent that could put it together at any moment.
Who can be Eliminated?
Phoenix has been previously considered out of contention, who did more to justify that this week going 1-9 in their last 10. Denver continues to fall, leaving only the Kings and Portland out of that list with a chance. Sacramento will continue to be pertinent because they have so much talent, but I believe at this point Portland should and would consider another selling off of talent this year to rebuild. They did most of their rebuilding in the offseason, and actually have a huge collection of cheap talent with a look to the future. They are a Trade Machine nightmare - very few bad contracts aside from Gerald Henderson. They could potentially take on a huge contract for more draft picks, so picture them loving a team like Houston who is looking to get under the cap. But otherwise, I believe we can eliminate from the playoff race, and we will all be worse off knowing that Damian Lillard will not be shooting crazy threes in the postseason.
Around the League
- The trade deadline approaches... we have yet to see any big deals come down the line aside from Ish Smith which was more of a mercy deal than a strategy deal. Who is the next big player to move? I believe more teams than usual are still trying to find out what they have before throwing in the towel. The Pelicans announced that they are unlikely to trade Ryan Anderson this season, which is crazy. Maybe teams are not being honest about the direction of their franchises.
- The Warriors have even entered trade talks to continue to get better, as they have just enough contracts and pieces to add another scorer to the second unit. They are like other teams - just enough pieces out on the injury list to not quite know about what they have. January and February are so big for their competition level with games coming against the Spurs and Thunder.
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