All the cool kids are either predicting how the trade deadline will finish up, or whether or not the New Orleans Pelicans can catch the Denver Nuggets and grab the eighth seed, but I ain’t bout that life. This is a forecast of how the race for the last three seeds in the East will finish – Cleveland, Toronto, Boston, Washington and Atlanta are going to the post-season but after that it’s a raffle. Let’s sift through the candidates and throw in a highlight or two along the way.
The Pacers lost six straight heading into the All-Star break but are 3 games clear of the ninth-placed Milwaukee Bucks. Paul George remains an elite player, but his name has been bandied around in plenty of trade discussions. PG13 is tracking towards career-high true shooting and effective field goal percentage numbers, and the jungle drums are beating loudly that they might get Brook Lopez from Brooklyn. If that happens, and they can add BroLo to George and Myles Turner (seriously, is this kid the most under-appreciated young gun in the league? Plenty of talk about Nikola, Giannis and co but Myles ranks fourth in blocks while being a nightly double-double threat and he is yet to turn 21! Monta Ellis OWES Myles big time, while the second best player ever might think twice before venturing into the paint again when Turner is in town.
If they were to miss the playoffs after acquiring Lopez, it would be an unmitigated disaster but even if they remain as is, they figure to be a very tough first-round out. The Pacers will finish sixth.
Dwyane Wade must be wishing he hadn’t returned home, because the Bulls are as close to irrelevant as they have been in a long, long time. Despite leading the league in attendance, Rajon Rondo has been a failure and the noise surrounding Jimmy Butler being traded just won’t dissipate. If Boston offer the ‘Brooklyn pick’, and it remains unprotected, plus they throw in two of Jay Crowder, Jaelen Brown, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley for Butler and Taj Gibson, who says no? That trade would put a fork in the Bulls for this season, but let’s assume they don’t make this move. They should win enough games to finish at 0.500 and sneak into the seventh or eighth seed, and if they did they would PRAY they play a Toronto side against which they have won 11 straight games! Is that the weirdest stat you have heard today, that Chicago have beaten the Raptors eleven times in a row?!? Surely it is? Anyway, Butler and Wade should be enough to get a playoff spot but it might be too much to expect a prolonged playoff run. All bets are off if Butler is traded, as the Bulls will drop off the pace.
Stan Van Gundy is an angry little man at the best of times, but his frustrations with this inconsistent Pistons team have been out there for all to see. Reports that they are taking calls on Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond are shocking in some ways, but understandable in others. The Pistons are a middle of the road side going nowhere; Jackson ranks 21st from the bottom of the defensive efficiency list of all players who average more than 25 minutes a game, and ranks 28th from the bottom of the same offensive efficiency list. The only players to rank lower than Jackson in both statistical categories are Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson (youngsters on a bad team), and Bojan Bogdanovic (a chucker who plays no defense). Jackson is as big a waste of money as there is in the league, all things considered. If he stays, the Pistons miss the playoffs. They are unlikely to get a decent offer for either Jackson or Drummond, but questions must be answered of Van Gundy and this team if they regress and miss the playoffs. They will come ninth for mine.
If Jabari Parker hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury, the Bucks get the eight seed. Let’s get that out of the way straight up. The freak that is Giannis Antetokounmpo will find it hard to surpass his pre All-Star form, and he is headed towards being just the third player since steals and blocks were accurately recorded to average 23 points, 1.8 steals and 2.0 blocks per game. When he learns to shoot, all bets are off because he can do a few things reasonably well…
In that last clip the dude just hangs in the air and almost looks like he dunks it by accident! But for now he needs to drag Greg Monroe, Michael Beasley, Matthew Dellavedova and half of Khris Middleton along with him and hope for some luck to reach the playoffs. While nothing would be better to see Giannis go head to head with LeBron, Kyle, John or Isaiah I think he falls just short. Of course, Beasley has shown shades of the talent that saw him drafted second overall not so long ago and Monroe is one of the better bench players in the world. Hell, if 28 year old rookie Thon Maker can develop alongside Giannis and crew then this side could make the playoffs! Fear the Deer!
It’s not a cool pick, but this side makes the playoffs barring any tanking trades. Goran Dragic is a beast, and a motivated beast. Hassan Whiteside is far from motivated, having gotten paid in the last off-season but he is good for 20-15 and a handful of blocks most nights by simply taking the floor. They have some of the most putrid rotation players in the league, but the Powder Brothers in Tyler and James Johnson are two of the most rounded, effective role players in the league. James Johnson in particular is playing his way towards a massive contract in the coming off-season, and can play four positions which is such a massive boost for this team. The x-factor is the only NBA player to own his own island, Dion Waiters. Long known as an irrationally confident chucker, he is averaging career-high numbers in points and three-point shooting and is the perfect fit in an otherwise pedestrian offensive team. If Miami can keep the aforementioned players fit, they take the eight seed and would be a really tough out if Whiteside is motivated. Fair effort for a team that looked to be openly tanking, until a recent 13-game winning streak lead to a change in approach!
Out of respect we will mention the Hornets who have quite honestly been putrid this season. A team with Kemba Walker and Nicholas Batum shouldn’t be sitting four games out of the playoffs at just 24-32, but they headed into the break as losers of nine of their last ten games and will need a major turnaround to get into the playoffs. The ongoing absence of Cody Zeller has been significant, but there is an abundance of talent on this team and to see them go backwards reflects poorly on coach Steve Clifford and the team. They rank ninth in points scored but just 16th in offensive rating, and are seventh in defensive rating and ninth in points conceded but are just 7-20 against teams above 0.500. With 12 such games among their last 26, the chances of them turning around this abysmal statistic seem unlikely.
As for the other contenders, they deserve a line each..
New York Knicks
F*ck Melo, f*ck D.Rose, just give Kristaps the damn ball and play Willy alongside him!
Shut down Embiid and shelve Simmons, but give Dario and Nerlens as much burn as you can! Oh, and trade away Okafor.
The only team with a more shit-for-brains front office than this one is Sacramento. Do you think long-suffering fans want to build around Aaron Gordon?!?
First in pace and third-last in points conceded…at least they are fun to watch, right? If they trade away BroLo they become as unwatchable as the Kings.
Written by Steven Paice