The 2011-2012 NBA season will soon be coming to a close, as we have entered April and are now just about 15 games away from the end of the regular season. Some teams have already given up on their season, and some are just trying to rest their star players to be fresh for the playoffs.
However, the coming weeks may be very important for some losing teams. Most of the teams in the No. 1-4 seeds are safely in the playoffs, but now in the beginning of April playoff picture starts is becoming clearer.
Teams that don't currently own a playoff seed will need to step up their game, as well as possibly hope for some bumps and bruises for other teams as they try and fight their way into the playoffs. A No. 7 or No. 8 seed may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but just look at last year's Memphis Grizzlies, who beat the first-seeded Spurs in six games and then forced a seven-game series with the Thunder before eventually losing.
The odds are against most of them, but here are five NBA teams that have the best chance at fighting their way into the playoffs.
Current Record: 25-29
Current Seed: 12th in West
A month ago, the T-Wolves had a very significant chance at making the playoffs. They had developed great team chemistry and were on a roll, winning enough games to bring them to the ninth seed. However, after the injury to Ricky Rubio, this is a different team.
Minnesota is now 3-7 in their last 10 games, and they have not scored the ball as well as they usually do, with the exception of the 140-point game against the Thunder. Kevin Love has been absolutely phenomenal, putting up 40-point performances on a few occasions, but has still not been able to lead this team to victory without Rubio.
But although they have not found much success recently, the fact remains that they are just four games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They also have a fairly easy schedule, with the only difficult April games being against the Thunder, Clippers and Pacers. They have games against the Suns, Grizzlies, and two games against the Nuggets.
Those three teams are all just several games ahead in the standings. If they can win those crucial games and also win the easy ones, then they can crawl back into the eighth seed. But with so many teams ahead of them, it will be difficult.
Chance of Making the Playoffs: 15 percent
Current Record: 25-28
Current Seed: 11th in West
The Blazers are a great and deep team that would be a perfect addition to the playoffs. Nicholas Batum and Jamal Crawford are the best players on a very good bench that also consists of newly added players Jonny Flynn and J.J Hickson, and the starting lineup itself is full of great, talented players such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews.
The Blazers are a decent defensive team, giving up just 96 points a game, which is good for 15th in the league, and at the same time they score 97 points a game, which ranks12th in the NBA.
What is most concerning about the Blazers is that they struggle so much on the road. With a 7-19 road record, they have the second worst road record in the West. Their schedule has seven of their last 14 games on the road, which isn't too bad.
But what is concerning is looking at the teams they have to face on the road. In just one of their seven remaining road games do they face an opponent with a worse record than they have, and among the teams they play are the Mavs, Spurs, Grizzlies and Jazz.
With a fairly tough schedule, they'd be lucky to win three of those road games, and road losses could send them further down the standings. It certainly won't help them with such fierce competition for a playoff spot in the West.
Portland could make the playoffs, but a few things need to go their way. They need Felton to step up his game, they need to win those road games and they need the teams on their tail in the standings to give them a little room to breathe by losing some games.
Chance of Making the Playoffs: 25 percent
Current Record: 25-28
Current Seed: ninth in the East
Since acquiring Monta Ellis from the Warriors, the Bucks have looked like a better team. Originally, the deal looked as if it would have almost no impact on either team, but obviously the Bucks were trying to make a deal that could propel them into the playoffs.
They might get what they want, too. The team is 6-4 in their last 10 games and surprisingly, Jennings and Ellis have coexisted nicely.
One stat that has hurt the Bucks this year is rebounding. Before Bogut was traded Milwaukee was not a great rebounding team, and now without Bogut they are going to need forwards and centers to step up and grab as many boards as possible.
Currently, the team gives up almost 45 rebounds a game, which is 26th in the league. The team is also 17th in team rebounds and 19th in blocks. Considering they are 13-21 when they are out rebounded, it is essential that the team's big men step up.
What could propel Milwaukee into the playoffs is their easy schedule. Of the last 13 games of the season for the Bucks, just four are on the road. In addition to that, they do not face many good teams. Other than the Thunder and the surging Celtics, the only games that Milwaukee could lose are against the Knicks, Pacers and 76ers, and all three have had some recent struggles. On the bright side, they have the pleasure of playing the Nets, Bobcats, Wizards, Pistons and Raptors in April.
If the Bucks can win easy home games in April, then all they need is a current playoff seed to drop out of the playoff picture. That idea isn't two far-fetched. After all, Milwaukee is just two games behind New York, a team that just lost Amar'e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin to injury. The seventh seed Sixers have also struggled recently, going 4-6 in their past 10 games.
With a few wins, Milwaukee could definitely seize control of a playoff spot.
Chance of Making the Playoffs: 30 percent
Current Record 26-26
Current Seed: 10th in West
Don't count Steve Nash and the aging Phoenix Suns out of one last playoff run just yet, because after going 11-6 against some extremely difficult teams in March, the team is just two games out of the eighth seed, and 3.5 games out of the fifth seed. Steve Nash has been his usual great self, and playing second fiddle is Marcin Gortat, who is having a breakout year, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds a game.
After that, the team doesn't possess much talent, but having Nash is enough to keep them at a .500 record. Even with their recent hot streak, there are a few obstacles that the Suns could face before they are a playoff team.
First and foremost is the insanely hard schedule they face for the rest of the season. In their last 14 games of the season, 11 of those games are against above-.500 teams. The Suns are a decent 13-19 against winning teams, but that won't get them into the playoffs.
Also, this entire team is led by Steve Nash. Nash is the motor of the team, and without him they are almost talentless. The Suns are going to need the 38-year-old to maintain his current level of play. But that might be a problem. The condensed schedule may tire him, and as his 2010-2011 stats show, he is not indefatigable.
Last year, he averaged just 10 points and shot just 40 percent from the field post-All-Star break. This year, Nash is averaging 10.4 points post All-Star break. His three point shooting has dipped to 35 percent as well, but he is still connecting on field goals.
If he can lead the Suns to the playoffs just off of passing, it would be great, but if the team needs him to shoot late in games and he can't connect, then the Suns aren't going anywhere.
Finally, is the recent injury to Grant Hill. The veteran will most likely miss the remainder of the season, which is unfortunate as he is a big defender for them and also provides the locker room with veteran leadership and experience.
The Suns have gained a lot of momentum recently. They have such a tough schedule, but because they are only a few games behind five or six different teams, all they need is to hope one team goes through a rough patch. If that happens and Nash is able to keep going strong till the end of the season, the Suns should have no problem taking a playoff spot.
Chance of Making the Playoffs: 50 percent
Current Record: 27-26
Current Seed: ninth in the West
The Utah Jazz are so close to stealing a playoff spot, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. A bad patch may have hit the team at the exact wrong time, as the team is on a three-game losing streak and proved that their weakness is playing on the road. The Jazz dropped four of their five games this week, and all five were road games.
Hopefully, it shouldn't be too much of a problem given their upcoming schedule, but the Jazz need to win on the road. If a playoff team can't win road games, then they can't advance. An eighth seed will have just three of seven games at home, so it is impossible for a lower-seeded team to win a playoff series without winning at least one road game.
And as for the Jazz, they are 8-19 on the road, which is tied with the 15th-seeded Hornets. Making the playoffs is pointless if you can't win road games, and the Jazz need to start winning quickly.
A few other things need to happen if the Jazz want to make the playoffs. The most important thing the Jazz can do is try and get Devin Harris back to playing like he did as an All-Star with the New Jersey Nets a couple years back. Harris had his name floating around the trade block, but was never traded. The best thing Utah can do now is try and prep him for the final games of the season and possibly the playoffs.
The team is anchored by Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson down low, but they need Harris play like his old self and be able to lead this team through tough, close games. Right now, Harris doesn't look like he is capable of that.
Whether or not they can fix Harris, the Jazz need to regain their momentum quickly. This team is young and inexperienced and doesn't have many winning veterans, but someone needs to step up as a leader in April. Not only because they are fighting for a playoff spot but because the games they are playing are so crucial toward their postseason success.
They play the Suns twice, the Rockets, the Grizzlies and the Mavs. Those are all teams either slightly ahead or behind them in the standings. And three of the five games are at home. If the Jazz can win all of those crucial games, then they can potentially climb as high as the fifth or sixth seed and avoid facing the Thunder in the first round.
Improve defense, revitalize Devin Harris, win road games, and re-gain momentum. If the Jazz succeed in just a few of those things they can make the playoffs. If they can do all of them, we could be looking at a long playoff run for Utah.
Chances of Making the Playoffs: 60 percent