What's the Point in Barely Making the NBA Playoffs?
We wonder why NBA teams try to make the playoffs when they seem like they have no chance of winning there.
Only a few teams have a legitimate shot of winning the championship, so why should teams even waste anyone's time when we know mediocre squads that barely make the postseason can't compete with the likes of, say, this year's Miami Heat?
Some cling to aspirations for the postseason because they were ravaged with injuries throughout the season and really are better than their records indicate.
Take the 2010-11 Memphis Grizzlies for example. They barely made the playoffs as the eighth seed with a 46-36 record—three games above the ninth-seeded Houston Rockets. But the Grizzlies didn't have Rudy Gay for the second half of the season and still upset the first-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
Memphis also took the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games. The Grizzlies have used that experience to stand poised for another possible great playoff run this season.
Are the beat-up Lakers that team this year?
Sometimes, luck may play a huge factor. Last season, the Philadelphia 76ers were the eighth seed at 35-31 in a shortened campaign, four games above the ninth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. On paper, it didn't seem like they stood a chance against the mighty Chicago Bulls, but then Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the closing seconds of Game 1.
The Sixers took advantage of the banged-up Bulls to upset them in six games. Philly then took the Boston Celtics to seven games before losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Had the Sixers stayed healthy (e.g. Andrew Bynum) this season, who knows how far they would've gotten?
Some teams can use the experience and provide hope that the squad is on the rise, but if they had been a middling team for years, like the Bucks, what's really the point?
There is no worse position than being in the middle of the road. Such teams aren't good enough to upset anybody and they're likely going to get a pick in the middle of the first round where chances are slim to get a franchise-changing superstar.
Look at the Atlanta Hawks. Even though they are a playoff fixture, they're not good enough to win the title, but not bad enough to get a high draft pick either. Atlanta is stuck in the middle unless it blows up the whole team.
As for teams with rich tradition like the Celtics and the Lakers, who are struggling to stay afloat in the playoff race, their endgames are completely different. It's championship or bust for them so most of their fan base will see them as a failure if they don't win it all. It's not like the Charlotte Bobcats, who want to sniff a playoff berth simply because they haven't made the postseason very often. Each franchise has different expectations, unfair or not.
The Celtics and Lakers are both prime free-agent landing spots and as long as they have players like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, they always feel they have a chance to win. It may be a different story by the time those players are gone, but you can bet some stars may want to play for those franchises.
Of course, we can't forget the other reason why teams and owners want to make the postseason—the additional revenue. Additional revenue, however, doesn't necessarily translate into NBA championships, as the Atlanta Hawks well know.
So what's in it for teams that barely make the playoffs? It depends.
Squads like the Golden State Warriors in 2007 want to make it because their fans have suffered long enough. But teams like the Portland Trail Blazers, which are still in the playoff picture, probably shouldn't try so hard because they consistently get eliminated in the first round.
On the other hand, teams with superstars like the Lakers are the classic "teams nobody wants to face in the playoffs."
You can basically tell which teams shouldn't be wasting their time based on their team make-up. It's always a slippery slope, though; most fans want to see their teams do well (e.g. make the postseason) but, sometimes, franchises don't know when the timing is right to take a step back in order to take two or three steps forward. Yes, it would be nice to make the playoffs every season (like the San Antonio Spurs have in the last 16 seasons) but, sometimes, for a legitimate shot at the championship, going backwards may be a necessity.
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