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NBA Teams Who Are Stumbling into the NBA Playoffs

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2013

NBA Teams Who Are Stumbling into the NBA Playoffs

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    With every NBA team coming around the bend with fewer than 10 games left on the schedule before the start of the playoffs, quite a few teams are getting caught on a few hang-ups as they try to coast on into the playoffs.

    Whether it be an injury to a star player, good old-fashioned laziness, an issue between teammates or even a player and his head coach, something always comes along to slip up a team or two en route to the playoffs.

    Strangely enough, it seems like nearly half of the playoff-bound teams are getting their sleeves caught on a loose nail or their belt loops caught on a door handle.

    Things are getting rough almost as often as they are smoothing out around the league.

    Most teams have had rough stretches that could easily just be the result of the long season, while others are in much more dire situations.

    So who is in trouble, and who shouldn't worry about their hiccoughs? Let's take a gander.

San Antoino Spurs

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    Record: 56-20

    Last 20 Games: 12-8

    Major Hang-Up: Injuries

    The San Antonio Spurs have played their own game all year long, and they'll continue to do so from here on out and deep into the playoffs.

    Gregg Popovich doesn't seem to care too much about getting the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, so they won't kill themselves down the stretch to compete with the Oklahoma City Thunder—unless they see some value in it.

    What's going to become a problem is the injuries that have started to pile on.

    Tony Parker may have shin tendonitis, which might be more serious than just the sore shins he's listed as having now.

    On top of that, they've got Manu Ginobili out for another few weeks, and Stephen Jackson dealing with a sprained ankle.

    We've seen them work through injuries, but doing that in the playoffs is a much larger struggle.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Record: 36-39

    Last 20 Games: 9-11

    Major Hang-Up: Bad Basketball

    When you've got two guards shooting below 42 percent (one of which is shooting below 40 percent) who both look to shoot the ball at least a dozen times per game, odds are, bad basketball is going to rear its ugly head too often.

    J.J. Redick hasn't come in and put together the stellar shooting stretch that the Milwaukee Bucks would have hoped, and he's not exactly fitting into the offense like the corner piece to a puzzle.

    The worst part is that, while their offense has stayed rather steady in their up-and-down foolishness, the defense has been unexpectedly poor in the past 20 games. They've gone from giving up 100 points per game to 105 points in the past 20.

    Additionally, Brandon Jennings has feuded with the entire city of Milwaukee, something that could be weighing heavily on the backs of the rest of the team.

Denver Nuggets

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    Record: 52-24

    Last 20 Games: 18-2

    Major Hang-Up: Injuries

    Only one thing could make a person look at an 18-2 stretch and say "Whoa, these dudes are stumbling into the playoffs." The Denver Nuggets have been amazing in their past 20, losing games to just the New Orleans Hornets and the San Antonio Spurs, but it's impossible to look past their injuries.

    The team has thrived in the past month, continuing to score, force turnovers and play the same brand of ball the Nuggets have played for the duration of the season.

    At the end of March, Ty Lawson went down, tearing the plantar fascia in his right foot (he'll presumably play in the playoffs), and now, they're going to be without Danilo Gallinari for the remainder of the season after a torn ACL (per the Associated Press, h/t ESPN).

    It's not a stumbling block in that the Nuggets have started losing games, it's a stumbling block in that they now have a major adjustment to make with the playoffs just eight games away.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Record: 42-35

    Last 20 Games: 9-11

    Major Hang-Up: Lapses

    Using the term "lapses" to sum up the Atlanta Hawks' problems over the past month or so is a genuinely necessary way to say that they're having troubles everywhere.

    While their offense is continuing to be decent, they're getting shots at inopportune times from Josh Smith (which seems to be an occurring problem, does it not?), defensively, they're not on the same plane they've been for the duration of the season, and there seems to be a realization settling in that they're not going to be making any splash in the playoffs.

    Defense has been their biggest issue. While they've been a decent defensive team for the duration of the season, over the last 20 games, they're giving up nearly 100 points per game.

    For a group that doesn't exactly have the ability to explode on offense, that can be a problem.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Record: 40-36

    Last 20 Games: 13-7

    Major Hang-Up: Injuries

    Much like the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Lakers have played some of their best basketball over the course of the past few months, but recent developments are going to give them a bit of a hang-up down the stretch.

    The Lakers are had a fine past 20 games, breaking .500 and sending them into sole possession of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference (albeit by a single game in the loss column) and making them look like a real team of basketball players for the first time all season.

    Of course, much like it's been over the course of the entire season, Los Angeles has injuries that will have to be dealt with.

    Metta World Peace tore cartilage in his left knee which will keep him out of the lineup well into the playoffs, and now, Steve Nash is trying to get back on his feet after a bevy of injuries cropped up on him at the wrong time.

    Los Angeles will have to deal with this just as Denver will, although Denver is doing no more than jostling, while the Los Angeles Lakers are fighting for their lives.

Boston Celtics

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    Record: 39-37

    Last 20 Games: 10-10

    Major Hang-Up: Injuries

    The Boston Celtics have been met with a mixture of old injuries finally becoming detrimental and new injuries taking a bigger toll than would be expected.

    Paul Pierce has been going back-and-forth with his ankle for a few games now, and Kevin Garnett still hasn't returned after injuring his ankle a few weeks back.

    With the complete lack of big men, Boston has relied on the likes of Chris Wilcox, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and even Shavlik Randolph for big minutes at the center spot. None of them have the same edge that Garnett has—or even the tenacity that Jared Sullinger has displayed.

    Green hasn't stepped up in quite the way the Celtics had hoped, although he has had some rather stellar games (43 against the Miami Heat seems to stick out in my mind). They just need the consistent leadership that hasn't come with injuries to their star players.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Record: 50-26

    Last 20 Games: 11-9

    Major Hang-Up: Laziness

    If there's a team that has done nothing but coast over the course of the past month, then they're taking notes from what the Los Angeles Clippers have done since the beginning of March.

    Offensively, they've been doing fine, but in a way that totally changes their pace and style of play. They're shooting 2.5 more three-pointers per game, upping their offensive output by just over a point per game since the beginning of March.

    They've been settling more, meaning they had games in which they'll explode and hit a ton of three-pointers, and others where the shots don't fall and they don't seem to care much.

    The result has been an offense that strays away from the paint and shoots more three-pointers, while still relying on Chris Paul to create it all.

    Defensively has been the biggest change. Teams are scoring three more points per game in the past 20 games than they were in the first five months as they've shot better from the three-point line and the field in general.

    These small changes don't seem like much, but they represent a bit of a lapse in intensity that has been extremely evident with this team over the past month.

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