Making the NBA playoffs shouldn't be taken for granted by teams who managed to get in the season prior. In fact, a number of squads that cruised into the playoffs last season will have to fight tooth and nail in order to get back there again.
Last year's NBA champion Dallas Mavericks seem to be struggling, and their new acquisitions haven't paid off.
The Chris Paul trade and an injury to Zach Randolph have ended the New Orleans Hornets' and Memphis Grizzlies' playoff hopes.
Even traditional powerhouses in the Eastern Conference like the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks will have trouble making the playoffs with the way that both teams have been playing.
The New Orleans Hornets have some nice young pieces, and after a draft or two, this team could become a serious contender.
The team is already capable of pulling off some upsets, and with a deep rotation, the Hornets could end up with a decent record.
However, after Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans' playoff hopes were squandered.
The Hornets have started the season off impressively, although they sit at just 3-6, but with recent news that the team's best player, Eric Gordon, is out a few weeks with swelling in his knee, New Orleans would need a miracle in order to achieve a playoff berth.
The Memphis Grizzlies managed to sneak into the playoffs last year as the No. 8 seed and pulled off an upset over the top-ranked San Antonio Spurs.
The Grizzlies now have their prolific scorer and athlete back in Rudy Gay (who missed last season), but after Zach Randolph went down with a medial collateral ligament tear, the team realized just how much they needed his scoring and rebounding presence.
Memphis has lost its last three games without getting to 100 points in any of the contests, and without Randolph, the team will continue to struggle.
Randolph is out at least a month-and-a-half, and in a shortened season, Randolph won't be back in time to help save the Grizzlies' season.
With the injury to Manu Ginobili, the Dallas Mavericks do have a chance of taking the Southwest Division and getting back into the playoffs, but it would be more because of a San Antonio Spurs' collapse than the Mavericks coming alive.
The Mavericks lost a few crucial pieces to their roster this season, and two players are missed the most.
It has been hard to make up for J.J. Barea's speed and scoring off of the bench, and Tyson Chandler's presence in the paint is noticeably absent.
Dallas' three acquisitions have been underwhelming, too.
Vince Carter is only shooting .382 percent from the field (but he is averaging over 14 points a game), and Lamar Odom is performing even worse with his .280 field goal percentage and just 5.8 points per game.
The best pickup has actually been Delonte West, who is shooting .435 percent from the field but has been horrible from deep with a .181 three-point percentage. West's efforts aren't enough to take the team back to the playoffs though.
In order for the team to surge, all three players need to produce.
Still, of the three Western Conference teams listed, the Mavericks have the best chance of continuing to play when the regular season is over, but looking at the team, it's a long shot.
The Boston Celtics have started off the season poorly. The Celtics are 4-4, but it is more who they beat and not their record that is concerning.
Boston's four victories have come against the New Jersey Nets, Detroit Pistons and the Washington Wizards (twice).
The team is getting older, too. Rajon Rondo is the only starter under 33 years old, but the Dallas Mavericks won a championship with an older roster, and the San Antonio Spurs are always contenders with an aging team. So, in a short, 66-game season age is not the primary concern, but how the Celtics are playing is.
Boston is still solid at defense, but is 21st in scoring and surprisingly 28th in rebounding.
The team also lost Jeff Green for the year who was traded last season for Kendrick Perkins. Green's absence has hurt the team's depth and limited its scoring potential (although Green didn't flourish with the Celtics last season, he is extremely versatile).
The Eastern Conference isn't loaded with competition, but the Celtics will probably be battling it out with the New York Knicks for one of the two final playoff spots.
As stated, I fully expect the Boston Celtics or the New York Knicks to squeeze into the seventh and eighth spots, but one of the two could be headed home directly after the regular season.
The Knicks haven't played horribly this season, but they aren't providing much evidence that they could make the playoffs either.
New York is 5-4 and beat the Celtics on opening day, but have a series of unimpressive wins. Their losses came against subpar teams as well.
The Knicks have lost to the Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Bobcats and Golden State Warriors already this season (and to a solid Los Angeles Lakers team).
The team is decent on both offense and defense (their defense isn't good, but it has slightly improved with Tyson Chandler). They are 10th in scoring and 18th in opponents' points per game.
Baron Davis has yet to play and could provide a boost to the team, but that will be determined in just over a month when he can return to the floor.
The Knicks should make the playoffs, but with other teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers emerging, if they do get in, they will be at the bottom.