The ides of March is upon us and there are several NBA teams that have reason to beware, especially when it concerns their playoff fate. Teams around the league are beginning to lock up playoff spots, the East already has three such teams (Boston, Chicago, Miami) because it is still the weaker of the two conferences. Out West on San Antonio has secured a playoff bid as of March 15. These teams need not worry about their post season appearances. The ides of March did not only have serious connotations for Julius Caesar, it also marks just less than a month of the regular season left to play and when teams either rise or get murdered in a coup on the floor of the theater of Pompey. Towards the bottom of the standings is where we find the teams who are looking over their shoulders almost constantly. They hope to not be the ones to utter the words, “et tu playoffs? Then fall, (insert team name here)!”
In the Eastern Conference the jockeying for the final few playoff seeds has been taking a rather disastrous turn for all teams involved of late. The Philadelphia 76ers likely will not drop from their seventh seed anytime soon but their play of late has been marred by unenthusiastic and disinterested displays on the court which has led Doug Collins to use the word terrible when describing his team’s efforts. The Sixers have lost two in a row in stylish blowout and near blowout form (they were down 15 in the fourth quarter to the Jazz) after upsetting the coasting Celtics.
While the Sixers look to lockup the seventh seed, the eighth seed remains wide open. The Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, and Milwaukee Bucks are all vying to creep into the playoffs but none of them are by any means as constant as the northern star.
Indiana currently holds a slight advantage over Charlotte for the eighth seed despite the two team’s identical 28-38 records. This is thanks to having defeated the Bobcats all three times the teams have met this season. However, Indiana is currently on a skid which has allowed Charlotte and Milwaukee to think themselves worthy of a playoff bid. The Pacers have only won two of their last ten games, six of their last ten were on the road, and during that span the team has shot only 42.6 percent from the floor while giving up an average of 105.8 points. Indiana’s average total per game during this slump has been 97.2 points. This is not a recipe for success, especially when they only played two top-tier teams over their last ten, both road games, in Oklahoma City and Dallas.
The Pacers’ schedule is not laced with tough teams for the remainder of the season, however, they must face the New York Knickerbockers twice, the Celtics twice, and the Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Hornets, and Orlando Magic before the regular season draws to a close. Also in that span they must play the Bobcats and Bucks which may turn out to be Indiana’s most important games if they hope to stave off their immediate competition.
Since paul Silas took over for Larry Brown in Charlotte, the Bobcats have gone 19-19. This is a major reason for them being within reach of the playoffs. Over their last ten games they have gone 4-6, with all six of their losses coming in a row. All but one of those losses were at the hands of playoff bound teams. Against the Magic, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, and Bulls the Bobcats mustered an average of 80.6 points on approximately 41 percent shooting while surrendering 101.2 points per game in those five losses and allowing their opponent to shoot 48.9 percent. With numbers like these, Michael Jordan needs to decide if watching his team be swept in the first round is even worth it. This is a team that is primed and ready to be blown up this summer.
What more is there to say about the Bucks after that pathetic performance against the Celitcs where they only scored 56 points. Clearly, the ides of March arrived slightly early for the Bucks. If Milwaukee, and their anemic scoring, somehow makes its way into the playoffs, both the Pacers and Bobcats should spend next season in the D-League to reflect upon the embarrassment that they brought on the league.
It says a lot about the Eastern Conference that, statistically, the Cleveland Cavaliers are not yet out of the playoff chase. Statistically they could still mike it while in the West both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings are out. Now, realistically, the Cavs have no shot at making the playoffs but that should serve to temper the comments that the East is now the dominant conference.
The Western Conference is slightly more complicated, however, the teams currently sitting in the lower playoff spots may be the ones that ultimately make the playoffs. Right now, only four and half games separate the sixth seed and the eleventh seed and each of these teams (New Orleans, Portland, Memphis, Utah, Phoenix, and Houston) has a record of .500 or better. On top of that, each has won at least five of their last ten games as they know that not just making the playoffs, but playoff seeding is on the line.
Lower seeded Western Conference teams will likely fair somewhat better in the first round of the playoffs as opposed to their counterparts in the East. This is simply because the distribution of talent is not as top-heavy as it is in the Eastern Conference. This is why there has been a better likelihood of an upset in the West over the past several years.
The bottom tier of the Eastern Conference playoff picture has a long way to go if it is to ever become relevant. Teams slipping into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record bring nothing to the table. Sure there are some decent to good players on these teams but in a division that holds the Nets, Raptors, and Cavaliers there is no reason not to find a couple more wins during the season. Outside of the top four teams in the East, there is nothing but teams asking for handouts in the forms of wins. None will see the light of the second round. When beggars die, there are no comets seen.