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NBA Bubble Teams

   by Bryan Leonard - 03/18/2006

It’s never too late. Never too late to start talking about playoff positions, unless you happen to be on the NBA playoff bubble. That’s the point of the season we’re in now, and it’s important from a handicapping perspective to take this into account as you analyze the NBA.

The regular season is winding down. Teams coming down the stretch fit into three categories: Likely to make the playoffs, on the playoff bubble and those completely out of it. Some teams, like Orlando, Seattle and Charlotte, are out of it and are already looking to next season, playing more kids with numerous lineup changes. That was the main reason Orlando traded for Darko Milicic; they’re already thinking about next year. Other teams are in the playoffs, it’s merely a question of seeding. Then there are those teams in the Twilight Zone, hovering around .500 and on that playoff bubble. This is the time of the season to play close attention to those teams right around the eighth and final playoff spot.

The East is a fascinating race right now. Indiana, Washington, Philadelphia and Milwaukee are all around .500 and currently in the 5, 6, 7, and 8th playoff spots. Those teams are by no means in great shape to even make the playoffs, however. We all witnessed the second half fold of the Cavaliers a year ago, going from excellent shape of making the playoffs to the NBA lottery, wondering what the hell happened! Any kind of a late season fold by those four teams and they could be out.

This is why there is so much importance to every game and every slump now and over the next month. Teams like Chicago and Boston are not in good shape right now, but they are still within striking distance. I read a quote from Paul Pierce today where he was talking about playing hard and making a run as a team. The Celtics are currently on a 10-4 spread run. So they are playing better, more competitive, which shows up against the spread. Their playoff bubble situation needs to be factored into your handicapping analysis, along with situations, trends and other angles.

In the West, the Lakers and Kings are in a duel for the No. 7 and 8 playoff slots. But LA has hit a skid, losing several games they felt they should have won. The Kings, on the other hand, were talking playoffs a month ago when Ron Artest came aboard, and they are playing with great passion, on a 12-3 straight up and 13-2-1 spread run. They are not only in position to control their destiny, but playing great basketball. The Kings are a good example of why it’s important to look at how a team is doing over the last two weeks, rather than the whole season. The Kings may be a .500 team in the standings, but they have been far from it the last two months.

And nipping at their heals are Utah, New Orleans and Houston, clubs that are below .500, but still with a shot at the postseason. Of course, it takes more than motivation to make a run. It takes good health, something the Rockets don’t have now with Tracy McGrady’s back problems. And it takes talent and consistency, something the Hornets might be running short on. After overachieving all season, New Orleans is on an 0-6 SU/ATS run. The point is, all factors must be taken into account now – including the shadowy demarcation line known as the playoff bubble.

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