The Boston Celtics and 4 Struggling Teams Who Are Sticking Around

Marcelo VillaFeatured Columnist IIIFebruary 2, 2012

The Boston Celtics and 4 Struggling Teams Who Are Sticking Around

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    As the halfway point of the 2012 NBA season quickly approaches, the Boston Celtics find themselves near the bottom half of the Eastern Conference standings, with a slim lead over the Milwaukee Bucks for the seventh playoff slot.

    With another half of the season left to go, there is still a lot of basketball to be played. This means that the Celtics cannot afford to lose games down the stretch and allow teams to sneak past them into the playoffs.

    The big three have looked average at times, but continue to carry the load in Boston.

    Scoring has been one of the biggest issues for the Celtics. They're averaging only 90.3 points per game in a conference with teams like the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat that can put up triple digits on any given night.

    Last season, the Celtics benefited from bench production with players like Glen Davis and Jeff Green. This season, however, Boston's only bench player worth noting is Brandon Bass and his 12 points-per-game average.

    If the Celtics want to compete with Miami and Chicago, then they are going to need to put up more points, and that starts with Jermaine O'Neal. As a starter, O'Neal should be averaging more than 5.9 points per game and should play more than a defensive role on this team.

    While the Celtics may be struggling now, it's safe to say they will play well enough to earn a postseason bid.

    But Boston isn't the only struggling team that will stick around this season. Here are four more.

1. New York Knicks

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    Before the season even started, the New York Knicks were projected as Eastern Conference front-runners who could easily challenge both Miami and Chicago. The addition of Tyson Chandler to the star tandem of Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony gave the Knicks one of the best frontcourts in the NBA.

    January was not good to the Knicks, however, as they managed to lose 11 of their last 17 games. Currently, New York is 8-13 and a game-and-a-half out of playoff contention.

    While injuries have hampered some of the starters, the Knicks do have the talent to stay in games.

    Head coach Mike D'Antoni is on the hot seat because of his team's lack of success, but the Knicks should start playing better and make a strong case for a postseason spot as the season comes to a close.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    The post-Lebron James era has been rough for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but rookie guard Kyrie Irving is making fans forget all about "King James" this season. Irving is the team's leading scorer, averaging 18.1 points per game, and he's getting offensive help from Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao.

    Cleveland is right on the cusp of a playoff spot, nipping at the heels of the Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. The biggest competition for the remaining playoff spot will most likely come from the Knicks, who are sitting directly behind Cleveland in the standings.

    The Cavaliers may not have a ton of firepower, but they still manage to average around 93.6 points per game, which is about how much they will need to compete with the high-scoring teams in the Eastern Conference.

    Don't count out Cleveland just yet because one slip up from Milwaukee or Boston will open the path for a playoff run. 

3. Memphis Grizzlies

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    When Zach Randolph went down early in the season with a knee injury, it seemed like the Memphis Grizzlies would be helpless without their leading scorer from last season.

    But, the starting five have rallied back and attempted to fill the gap on offense. Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley have all stepped up on offense, despite a subpar record.

    At 11-10, the Grizzlies are in a bit of a hole, but there's still time to make a run and try and fill one of the remaining playoff slots that may be left open toward the end of the season.

    Whether Randolph will return this season is still uncertain, but if he does, the Grizzlies would be a favorite to make a late push for the postseason.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Despite a 10-12 record, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been playing some great basketball against some of the Western Conference's better teams. The Timberwolves have wins over the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and, surprisingly, the Los Angeles Clippers.

    As usual, Kevin Love has been a force down low, and Ricky Rubio is doing what he does best by getting his teammates the ball.

    Bench production has been low, so the Timberwolves are going to need someone to step up if they want to stick around for the playoffs. If Minnesota's bench can help out Love and Rubio, then a late rally may be in store for the Timberwolves.