NBA Teams in Desperate Need of a Hot Streak
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For a number of teams in the NBA, the margin for error these days is razor-thin. What once felt like a long and seemingly never-ending season is now in its final weeks, and the playoff picture in both conferences is slowly coming into focus.
Those franchises whose berth in the postseason is relatively secure will spend the next month or so trying to improve their seeding, and the ones fighting for an invitation to the NBA's version of the "Big Dance" can't afford to let their guard down for a single minute.
Strangely enough, the two hottest teams in the league (Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets ) are already well-positioned to cause havoc as high seeds in the playoffs.
Conversely, a quick look at the standings tells the story of those who would love nothing more than to duplicate the recent success of Miami and Denver.
5) Milwaukee Bucks
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Despite their erratic play over the past two weeks, the Milwaukee Bucks have all but locked up a playoff spot. That said, they'll need to rip off more than a few wins over the next month if they want to avoid a first-round date with the Miami Heat.
Then again, maybe the No. 8 seed isn't all that bad. After all, the Bucks beat the Heat by 19 points on Dec. 19 and took Miami to overtime back on Nov. 21. But while Milwaukee's ability to rebound the ball could give Miami fits in a seven-game series, no team—not even the Bucks—wants any part of the Heat right now.
4) Chicago Bulls
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The Chicago Bulls could clearly benefit from a hot streak after dropping six of their last eight games. And with Derrick Rose's return still up in the air, the Bulls desperately need to improve their playoff seeding, or else they may find themselves with a very unfavorable matchup in the opening round.
Chicago won't win much of anything unless they pick up their play on the offensive end of the court: The Bulls have scored 100 or more points just three times in their past 19 games. Their defense remains one of the league's best, however, and it may be enough to spur Chicago on a decent pre-playoff run.
3) Los Angeles Lakers
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The No. 6 and the No. 11 teams in the Western Conference are only separated by a handful of games, and the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Lakers find themselves squarely seated in the middle of the pack. Talent-wise, the Lakers are far and away better than the other five teams battling for the last three playoff spots, and they'll have the next month or so to prove that on the court.
There's no need yet for Mike D'Antoni to start worrying about his future, but there is very little margin for error at this point.
Now would be the perfect time for the Lakers to rip off a nice winning streak. The problem, however, is that the team plays its next four games on the road (all in the span of six days, no less). But with both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol back in the fold, Los Angeles should be able to right the ship before the second season begins.
If not, it'll be a long, strange offseason in Hollywood this summer.
2) Houston Rockets
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It is officially go time in the city of Houston: Rockets general manager Daryl Morey may have been one of the winners in the offseason, but his moves will be put under the microscope if his team doesn't make the postseason this year.
Fortunately for Morey, the Rockets play four of the next five games at home—a place where they have won more than two-thirds of their games this year. Outside of the Miami Heat and the Denver Nuggets, Houston may be the hottest team in the league right now.
Even so, they could use a few more wins in the short term in order to put some breathing room between themselves and the Los Angeles Lakers.
1) Portland Trail Blazers
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The Portland Trail Blazers have the league's most difficult schedule down the stretch, but it's now or never for a team that still has a puncher's chance of sneaking into the Western Conference playoffs.
Life would have been easier these days if the Trail Blazers hadn't lost seven games in a row in the middle of February. Recent losses to the New Orleans Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks aren't helping matters either.
It's an uphill climb to be sure, but with a home-friendly schedule from here on out—eight of Portland's final 13 games will be at the Rose Garden—it's far too early to count the Trail Blazers out.