NBA Playoff Odds: How All 30 Teams Stack Up Heading into Midseason Point

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2014

NBA Playoff Odds: How All 30 Teams Stack Up Heading into Midseason Point

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Incredibly, we've already reached the halfway mark of the 2013-14 NBA season, which means we've seen enough basketball to make iron-clad, stone-cold guarantees about each team's chances to make the playoffs.

    Or not.

    With only a few exceptions, the playoff picture is as murky today as it was back in October. So the best thing we can do is assign odds to each team's chances of finishing in its respective conference's top eight.

    Sure, there are a handful of teams that have done enough to this point to solidify their chances. But there are also a half-dozen squads whose chances to join the postseason dance are no better than a coin flip.

    Plus, almost everybody has a fighting chance in the East, where the line between the lottery and a playoff berth is practically nonexistent. Meanwhile, the West boasts something like 10 of the top 12 teams in the league but still has plenty of spots up for grabs.

    These odds are based on a combination of each team's performance to this point and their forecasts going forward. Age, injuries and the lingering potential to tank are all factors here, as is the chance for a second-half surge.

    There are a few teams we can safely rule out. The good news, though, is that just about everyone else is still very much in play. So before we embark on another 40-plus games, let's see where everybody stands at the midpoint of the 2013-14 campaign.

Utah Jazz: 50-1

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Gordon Hayward's Utah Jazz aren't the worst team in the league—far from it, actually. But because they're stuck in the Western Conference, the Jazz have some of the longest playoff odds in the field.

    Utah has a lot of intriguing young talent, clean books this summer and what appears to be a terrific young leader in Trey Burke. None of that matters this year, of course, as the Jazz are finding it impossible to generate efficient offense, especially with Hayward missing time because of a bad hip flexor.

    Oh, and their defense is probably the worst in the league.

    Nobody expected much from Utah this season, and the playoffs were never really a goal in the first place. Maybe that explains why, despite the struggles in Salt Lake City, morale is still pretty high.

    Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune offers this anecdote as evidence of the good vibes the Jazz are maintaining during a rough season: 

    "We need everybody and Gordon is a big key. We're waiting on him," said Jazz forward Jeremy Evans. Then, with his good friend Hayward standing nearby, Evans turned and smiled and said, "Get off vacation, baby."

    The Jazz won't be playing beyond game No. 82 this year, but they're OK with that.

Milwaukee Bucks: 40-1

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Unlike the Jazz, the Milwaukee Bucks genuinely believed themselves to be a postseason contender this year.

    They replaced Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings with Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo, a backcourt overhaul many expected would turn out to be a wash. With Larry Sanders newly paid, John Henson developing and Ersan Ilyasova coming off a solid season, there was reason to expect Milwaukee would follow up on last year's No. 8 seed with yet another trip to the playoffs.

    But everything has gone wrong.

    Mayo has gained weight and lost effectiveness, Sanders has been in the news for all the wrong reasons and the Bucks have the fewest wins in the NBA by a wide margin.

    Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo looks like a potential superstar, and Henson is proving to be the interior force Milwaukee hoped Sanders could be. So, there's some hope for the future.

    More immediately, though, Milwaukee is going nowhere—least of all the playoffs.

Orlando Magic: 35-1

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Doesn't it seem like the Orlando Magic should be better than they are?

    If you run down the roster, you see young, productive players all over the place. Center Nikola Vucevic is currently concussed, which has cost him nearly two weeks of action. But when healthy, he's as big of a double-double threat as there is in the league.

    Arron Afflalo is enjoying a career season, Victor Oladipo is showing flashes of brilliance as he works through a bumpy rookie year and veteran Jameer Nelson is steady at the point. When you consider the wide-open East, it's a little perplexing that Orlando isn't making any real noise.

    Then again, like most teams with their combination of youth and low expectations, postseason play isn't really part of the plan. So nobody's all that upset with the Magic's recent 10-game losing streak.

    Call it tanking if you want. Or maybe use the term "rebuilding" if it makes you more comfortable. Whatever label you want to use, the Magic are right where they want to be.

New Orleans Pelicans: 30-1

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    Four teams in, we already have our first "How can they be that low?!" entry.

    The New Orleans Pelicans would almost certainly be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but we'll be able to say that about almost every West team from here on out. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean much for New Orleans.

    Stuck out West, the Pellies are gradually slipping down the standings. Losers of eight in a row and fielding a defense that simply can't stop anybody, New Orleans' postseason chances are basically nonexistent at this point.

    Could the Pelicans recover to win 30 games? Sure. Perhaps 35? Yeah, if things break right.

    But seeing as it'll almost certainly take 43 or 44 wins to even sniff the playoffs out West, the Pelicans are already out of the running.

    On the bright side, they've got Anthony Davis. As building blocks go, he's hard to beat.

Los Angeles Lakers: 30-1

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    To put things in perspective, the Los Angeles Lakers are almost as bad as the Pelicans on defense, far worse on offense and have far more significant issues on the injury and age fronts. In addition, they don't seem interested in trying to improve themselves via a Pau Gasol trade. That means the awful roster they have is likely the one that'll finish the season.

    So, how is it that the Lakers actually have the same odds as New Orleans? Shouldn't they be even worse?

    Well, part of the reason is the Lakers could get both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash back at some point this season. It's also possible that Nash never plays again and Bryant is a shell of a shell of a shell of himself. (That's three shells, by the way.)

    Ultimately, L.A. has arguably the least raw talent of any roster in the NBA right now. Barring a handful of simultaneous miracles, it isn't going to be able to dig out of the multi-game hole that separates it from the No. 8 seed.

    If anything, that hole is only going to get deeper.

Philadelphia 76ers: 20-1

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    The Philadelphia 76ers are going to keep losing games during the second half of the year, but they'll continue to be pretty darn entertaining in the process.

    Nobody plays at a faster pace than Philly, nobody turns the ball over more frequently and nobody has a rookie as exciting as Michael-Carter Williams. All told, the Sixers are bad in the most enjoyable fashion possible.

    And then there's this, a very guarded admission that things could eventually be even more fun this season:

    After careful consideration and numerous discussions with our medical and performance teams, the consulting physician and rehabilitation staff, and Nerlens' representatives, some of the restrictions on Nerlens have been lifted and he is now able to participate in limited on-court work.

    That was general manager Sam Hinkie in an official team release. He doesn't sound anywhere close to saying rookie Nerlens Noel will play this year, but it's now actually possible.

    Expect excitement—not wins, and probably not a playoff berth—the rest of the way.

Sacramento Kings: 20-1

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    The Sacramento Kings are showing more promise than they have in a very long time.

    DeMarcus Cousins is finally using his immense talent to bully opponents inside, Rudy Gay looks like a different person since arriving in a trade and Isaiah Thomas appears to be a starting NBA point guard—on offense, anyway.

    Despite all that, the Kings are still a long shot to make the playoffs.

    Defensively, they're still awful. Cousins doesn't protect the rim, none of their shooting guards can stop anyone and there's still a critical miscommunication on virtually every possession.

    As you've probably gleaned by now, the West is no joke. So any team whose defense is, frankly, a joke has no shot to finish in the top eight.

    Sacramento has talent, and the new ownership group seems committed to building this franchise into something respectable. It's just not going to happen this year.

Boston Celtics: 3-1

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    David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    We've made a jump into another tier now, and the Boston Celtics are the first team in what might be called the "pretty decent shot" section of these odds.

    Brad Stevens' weird collection of overpriced veterans and dirt-cheap newbies have been ice-cold lately, losers of nine of their past 10 contests. Still, the C's are only a handful of games out of the No. 8 spot. With Rajon Rondo back in the mix, it's possible for them to play better than .500 ball during the second half.

    At the same time, Boston could still unload talent or keep Rondo's role so limited that he isn't able to have a major impact. Both of those things are in play as Danny Ainge and the front office do what they can to solidify good draft position.

    Don't bet the farm on these guys, but the Celtics are an intriguing club with a solid chance to climb the standings.

Charlotte Bobcats: 3-1

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Last week, the Charlotte Bobcats lost their 15th consecutive game to the Miami Heat. Fortunately, the rest of the East isn't nearly as good as the defending champs.

    That's why the Kitties have a fighting chance to make the playoffs this year.

    Head coach Steve Clifford has Charlotte playing solid defense and performing surprisingly well on the road (8-13 so far)—two components most playoff hopefuls need. Scoring has been a major issue for the Bobcats, though, and they currently rank 27th in the league with an offensive rating of 97.7, per NBA.com.

    Also a problem: Kemba Walker—heart and soul of the team—is due to miss as many as two weeks with a sprained ankle, according to USA Today.

    The recent return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will help temper the blow. But for a team that can't score to begin with, losing Walker for even a short period of time could prove to be disastrous.

    On the whole, though, Charlotte is in pretty good playoff shape.

Denver Nuggets: 3-1

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    The Denver Nuggets haven't looked much like the team that secured the No. 3 seed in last year's playoffs. Part of that is because the coaching staff, front office and roster are all substantially different.

    Instead of a fast-paced team that never loses home games, these Nuggets are slower and far more vulnerable at the Pepsi Center. Their nine home losses triple their total from all of 2012-13.

    There's no doubt Denver is worse than it was a year ago, but there's still plenty of hope for another playoff berth. The Nuggets' per-game differential is positive, making them the first team we've covered with that distinction.

    Plus, they've played respectably this year despite injuries to Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee. If .500 ball is Denver's basement, its ceiling with better health should be substantially higher.

    Again, though, the West is brutally tough. Even if the Nuggets get better, they still might not have enough to finish among the top eight.

Cleveland Cavaliers: 2-1

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    The Cleveland Cavaliers don't seem like a playoff team.

    They're not well-coached, don't appear to like each other very much and are one of the worst road teams in the NBA (5-17). In that sense, it might feel a little strange to see them have marginally better odds than East compatriots Boston and Charlotte.

    The difference for Cleveland is that it's fully committed to making the postseason.

    Luol Deng is in town to add some perimeter defense and a winning attitude, which should help shore up two of the Cavs' biggest weaknesses. It's going to be difficult to overcome Mike Brown's "leadership," and we may never see Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters work well together. But there's talent here.

    More than anything, Cleveland is sick and tired of being a failure. The clear, unmitigated desire to see its first playoff berth since LeBron James skipped town is a serious motivator.

    With so many other East teams lukewarm on the concept of success, there might be a window for the Cavaliers.

Detroit Pistons: 2-1

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    If the season ended today, the Detroit Pistons would be in the playoff picture. That distinguishes them from every other team we've covered to this point.

    Unfortunately, there are some real problems in the Motor City that could result in the Pistons slipping out of their current No. 7 spot.

    Per Grantland's Zach Lowe:

    The Pistons might be watchable again, but they're still bad, and they're bad in a very disturbing way: The Smith/Monroe/Drummond trio has been a complete flop on both ends of the floor. Opponents have outscored the Pistons by 7.4 points per 48 minutes in the 716 minutes the three bigs have played together, per NBA.com.

    Everybody saw the spacing issues coming a mile away with Detroit's roster this season. But horrible interior defense sure wasn't expected. With half a season in the books, it's fair to wonder whether the issues on this roster are correctable.

    With another Eastern Conference team likely to pull itself together eventually, the Pistons' playoff spot is far from guaranteed.

Memphis Grizzlies: 2-1

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Marc Gasol is back, and he brought the Memphis Grizzlies' playoff chances with him.

    Sans the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, the Grizzlies were scrambled on both ends. Nobody could protect the paint like Gasol, and his absence as an elbow facilitator on offense was just as significant.

    He can't fix everything about the Grizzlies, though. Memphis will still struggle to create good spacing, and shot-creators are few and far between on this roster. But Mike Conley and a surprisingly useful Courtney Lee will help.

    If the Grizz continue to get the kind of performance they've gotten from James Johnson and Ed Davis sustains his recent upswing, they could be the best bet of any team we've covered so far. On the other hand, if Gasol's knee bothers him at all in the second half, Memphis won't have much of a chance.

New York Knicks: 1-1

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    Even money, folks. Even money.

    That's where I'm pegging the New York Knicks' playoff odds.

    Look, there's no real reason to believe the Knicks are suddenly going to sort out the myriad on-court issues and/or the off-court circus that has marred their season to this point. Head coach Mike Woodson shows no signs of embracing small ball or going away from an isolation-heavy offense.

    Plus, the J.R. Smith situation seems irreparable.

    But the Eastern Conference is a tire fire, and the Knicks desperately want to avoid the embarrassment of missing out on the playoffs in a year where making them is so easy. If Detroit or any of the other current playoff teams slip, expect New York to capitalize.

    Remember, the Knicks had been playing relatively well before their recent three-game skid. And right now, they're still just a couple of games out of playoff position. They don't have to be good to make the postseason; they just have to be slightly better than the other immensely flawed competitors ahead of them.

    This feels like a 50-50 shot, doesn't it?

Phoenix Suns: 1-1

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Hope you liked the noncommittal nature of that last slide because we're in for a few more teams with 1-1 odds.

    Starting with the Knicks, there are a total of four clubs sitting right on the line between the playoffs and the lottery. That group includes everybody's favorite overachieving surprise, the Phoenix Suns.

    Minus Eric Bledsoe, who is out indefinitely following knee surgery, the Suns are a much less dangerous outfit. Goran Dragic is capable of handling things in the backcourt on his own, but losing another dynamic attacker like Bledsoe is really going to take the edge off the Suns offense.

    Right now, Phoenix is holding on to the No. 8 spot in the West. It has a solid chance to keep it.

    But would it be the worst thing in the world if the Suns quietly sank in the West?

    The fans have had a terrific half-season to enjoy, but slipping a little would ensure a lottery pick. And perhaps Bledsoe's injury will allow Phoenix to retain him for less than the maximum when he hits restricted free agency.

    Remember, the Suns didn't come into this season with expectations of any kind. They've been a great story so far, but missing the postseason might not be all bad.

Dallas Mavericks: 1-1

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    ESPN's John Hollinger-created playoff odds have the Dallas Mavericks' postseason chances at slightly better than 50 percent.

    That seems about right, as Dirk Nowitzki and co. profile as exactly the kind of team that could either ride its terrific offense to a postseason bid or see its playoff chances disappear as a result of atrocious defense.

    Per NBA.com, the Mavs boast the league's No. 5 offensive rating at 107.0 points per 100 possessions. Their defensive rating of 105.4 is a problem, though. And just six teams are more generous on that end of the floor.

    Monta Ellis has gradually come back to Earth after an inspired start, and his inability to play even half-decent D is a big reason why so many opposing shooting guards have been thoroughly enjoying their matchups with the Mavericks.

    It's probably fair to peg Dallas' odds as incrementally better than anybody we've covered so far. But really, the Mavs are right there with a handful of even-money squads that could go either way.

Minnesota Timberwolves: 1-1

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    There's no way to say this without it sounding like an insult, but here goes: The Minnesota Timberwolves are kind of like the West's version of the Cavaliers.

    They've got a star player in Kevin Love who may or may not be happy with his situation, much like Irving in Cleveland. In addition, said stars' individual excellence doesn't seem to lead to the number of wins you'd expect.

    There's also some infighting, general underachievement and a legacy of awful front-office decisions.

    Of course, since the Wolves are out West, they're also much better than the Cavaliers are. But you get the idea.

    Minnesota is currently behind both the Nuggets and the Grizzlies in the standings, but its playoff chances get a boost from a per-game differential that is fifth-best in the conference, per ESPN. As anyone who's seen a Wolves game knows, they've got a real knack for losing close contests.

    Expect their luck to even out in the second half. Close losses aren't a great measure of a team's overall quality. They can say a few things about chemistry and late-game execution, though, which is why it's still tough to give the Timberwolves a strong vote of confidence.

    Ultimately, I'm guessing they recover to make the dance. But morale could also go downhill in a hurry with a few more tight defeats, so 1-1 is as good as their odds can reasonably get right now.

Brooklyn Nets: 1-4

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Brooklyn Nets are our first team with a better than 50 percent chance of making the playoffs.

    I'll admit it; it felt weird to write that sentence.

    But how much worse could things really get for Brooklyn? The Nets have already lost Brook Lopez, haven't gotten much of anything from their splashy offseason acquisitions and have still somehow managed to win seven of their past 10 games.

    Deron Williams' chronic ankle problems are a concern. But there's so much veteran experience on this team that even if D-Will were to miss a protracted stretch, the playoffs would still be a safe bet.

    Nothing has gone right for the Nets, but they're in playoff position at this very moment. This is still a deep team with quality players, some of whom will eventually find their strides. That's much more than you can say for most of Brooklyn's competition.

    Really, it comes down to this question: Are there eight teams in this putrid Eastern Conference you'd pick to definitely finish ahead of the Nets?

    Didn't think so.

Chicago Bulls: 1-4

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The Chicago Bulls have always refused to go quietly.

    They fought through exhaustion and injury to make a deeper-than-expected playoff run last year, they survived Derrick Rose's second season-ending knee surgery earlier this season and now they're soldering on after trading Deng.

    If you want to wager against Tom Thibodeau's Bulls making the postseason, go right ahead. Just know that you won't get very good odds.

    Perhaps Chicago's front office will make another power play on Thibs, shipping out an expensive veteran to accelerate the rebuilding effort. Maybe it'll even try to trade him, a la Doc Rivers. Who knows?

    The Bulls are currently the No. 6 seed in the East, despite a sub-.500 record. They've been solid lately, though, winning seven of their last 10 contests.

    Frankly, there's just not a lot to say about the Bulls. They're disciplined, they're tough and they're hard to kill. Another big injury could knock them down a few pegs, and it's not clear if winning games is actually a good thing for them this year.

    But losing hasn't been a habit in Chicago for a while. This will be an interesting situation to watch over the next few weeks.

Toronto Raptors: 1-8

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    Based on the way they've played since trading Gay, the Toronto Raptors should probably have better than 1-8 odds to make a postseason appearance. After all, they're 14-7 since shipping the shot-happy small forward to the Kings and appear to have found some real chemistry lately.

    Barring a massive change in the standings, they should retain a firm hold on the Atlantic Division.

    The only reason Toronto's playoff odds aren't better is because there's still a slight chance that if something significant goes wrong—an injury to DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry, for example—it's still close enough to the mess at the bottom of the conference to make tanking an option.

    Toronto's reluctance to trade Lowry signals it's ready to pursue this whole "success" thing through the season, but the Raps aren't a championship team by a long shot. So if circumstances change in a way that makes bottoming out more feasible, I still think there's a chance we see them go that route.

    It's a slim chance, but it's there.

    Still, a strong likelihood of a playoff berth is pretty darn good for these Raptors.

Atlanta Hawks: 1-8

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    Their odds would be a heck of a lot better with a healthy Al Horford, but even without the criminally underrated big man, the Atlanta Hawks are highly likely to be a playoff team.

    Paul Millsap is a capable leader, Jeff Teague is solid, Kyle Korver continues to hit threes and the club's overall defense is slightly above average. Basically, Atlanta still has enough to separate itself from some of the more precariously positioned hopefuls in the East without Horford.

    New head coach Mike Budenholzer has the Hawks embracing the three-point line on offense (they rank fourth in the league with 25.4 triple tries per game), and they could still get contributions from their developing rookies before the season concludes.

    Atlanta's not a perfect team, but it's good enough to be the fourth- or fifth-best team in its conference pretty easily.

Washington Wizards: 1-8

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    If the Washington Wizards could ever get over the .500 mark, perhaps they'd go on a run that would cement their status as a playoff team.

    They've had three shots to get over that threshold this season but haven't been able to pull it off. Most recently, the Wizards fell to the Pistons on Jan. 18, wasting 34 points from John Wall in a disappointing defeat that dropped them back to 19-20 on the year.

    Per Michael Lee of The Washington Post, the streak of sub-mediocrity, extended by the loss against Detroit, is nearing historical territory:

    The Wizards figured the best strategy was simply to ignore their win-loss total, to not let their quest to get over the hump consume them. But the loss extended Wall's streak to 223 games without having a winning record, the third-longest stretch for a former No. 1 overall pick behind Maryland's Joe Smith (241) and Michael Olowokandi (227).

    With all that said, the Wizards are still a pretty safe playoff proposition. They're part of a three-team bunch with the Raptors and Hawks that should battle it out for the third-best record in the East.

    Wall and Bradley Beal are probably the best guard duo in the conference, and there's enough talent on the rest of the roster to make a real surge for home-court advantage.

Houston Rockets: 1-15

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    With the Houston Rockets, we've jumped up another tier. From here on out, it'd be downright foolish to wager against any of these teams making the postseason.

    Houston has amassed a 27-15 record despite playing without both Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley for stretches. Omer Asik is no longer a part of the team in any meaningful way, and James Harden has finally battled through a bothersome ankle that slowed him for much of the season's early going.

    It's tempting to isolate the Rockets' excellent offense as the sole source of their playoff certainty. But don't discount their improving D.

    Per NBA.com, Houston's defensive rating of 102.2 is stout enough to rank 10th in the NBA. Not only is that good enough to assure the Rockets of a playoff spot; it also makes them the first team we've covered so far with an outside shot at a championship.

    As this team's health improves, expect a surge. And if Houston can eventually get a helpful piece in exchange for Asik, watch out.

Golden State Warriors: 1-20

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    The Golden State Warriors' problems are obvious: They turn the ball over more than any other team in the league, they still can't seem to avoid trotting out a five-man bench unit that doesn't score and they're running Stephen Curry ragged.

    That was the bad news, in case it was unclear.

    The good news is that the Dubs have the league's fifth-best defense, a devastatingly effective starting lineup and excellent playoff odds.

    The only thing that could possibly keep the Warriors out of the postseason picture is a significant injury to Curry, Andre Iguodala or Andrew Bogut. In fact, it would probably take significant health issues for two of those players to really dampen the enthusiasm in Golden State.

    Every team is a significant injury or two away from a drastically altered fate, though, so it's no great revelation to point that out.

    Better recent play and a higher per-game differential gives the Dubs a narrow advantage over the Rockets, even though Houston sits above the Warriors in the standings. At this point, we're really just splitting hairs.

    Golden State is a near-lock to earn a second straight playoff spot.

Los Angeles Clippers: 1-25

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Chris Paul's absence hasn't killed the Los Angeles Clippers.

    In fact, the Clips have conducted themselves quite well without their best player, sandwiching understandable losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers around five consecutive victories.

    Darren Collison has been an admirable understudy, averaging 15 points and 6.1 assists on 53 percent shooting in eight starts on the season. He's no CP3, but he's been better than many expected.

    Los Angeles is taking care of business against teams it should beat while predictably struggling against elite competition, which is all it needs to do without Paul. It'll have to keep up its stellar play for a few more weeks, but even a significant swoon probably won't make the lottery a likely destination.

    With an upcoming six-game string against Eastern Conference foes, the Clippers aren't likely to have much trouble sustaining their solid run, even though all six are on the road (thanks a lot, Grammy Awards).

    Expect the Clips to keep on getting by just fine without Paul. Once he returns, they'll be right back on the fringe of title contention with the Rockets and Warriors.

Portland Trail Blazers: 1-35

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Welcome, everybody! We've officially entered the "no way they miss the playoffs" section of our little exercise.

    The first team in this final group is the Portland Trail Blazers, owners of the NBA's most powerful offense and a truly gaudy winning percentage. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, the Blazers have amassed enough victories to coast from here on in.

    A .500 second half would still give Portland a 52-30 record on the season. Based on the way it has played so far, 60 wins is very much in reach for this team.

    There's real concern about the Blazers' porous defense, which, combined with a core that doesn't have a whole lot of big-game experience, could result in a disappointingly early exit from the postseason. But while playoff success might be in doubt, the Trail Blazers' playoff presence is all but assured.

Oklahoma City Thunder: 1-40

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    MVP Award not pictured...yet.
    MVP Award not pictured...yet.Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Kevin Durant is proving to everybody that he's got his eyes fixed firmly on an MVP Award. And while he chases down the league's highest individual honor, KD is also keeping his Oklahoma City Thunder afloat while Russell Westbrook recovers from yet another knee surgery.

    Durant dropped a career-high 54 against the Warriors on Jan. 17, a scoring surge that capped a seven-game stretch in which he topped 30 points six times. Then, he pumped in 30 more in a comfortable win over the Kings on Jan. 19.

    Put simply, KD is playing the best ball of his career right now, and he's probably playing better than anybody else in the entire NBA. Teams with guys like him do not miss the playoffs.

    That's all there is to it.

San Antonio Spurs: 1-45

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Unless Gregg Popovich takes his brash tactic of resting perfectly healthy starters and extends it to every single game during the second half, the San Antonio Spurs are in no danger of missing the playoffs.

    Of course, even if Pop rested Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and every other player in his regular rotation, he'd still probably find a way to coach the remaining scraps to another 10 or 15 wins down the stretch.

    The Spurs have never missed the playoffs in Duncan's career, a run that spans nearly two decades and is absolutely going to continue this year. After missing out on a fifth title by mere seconds last season, these Spurs are as hungry as ever to add one more ring to their phenomenal run under Popovich.

    To get it, they'll have to go through three series with some combination of the Western Conference teams we've already covered and one of the two teams we'll get to in a moment. For what it's worth, you could make the case that this version of the Spurs is more prepared for that challenge than ever.

    San Antonio is insanely balanced—the only team in the NBA to currently rank in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

    So, yeah, I'd say the playoffs are a decent bet for these guys.

Miami Heat: 1-45

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    This year, more than ever, we're using the word "coasting" to describe what the two-time defending champion Miami Heat are doing. Probably because "loafing" sounds so much worse.

    Look, the Heat are confident in their ability to flip the proverbial switch in the playoffs, largely because they've done it so effectively in each of the past two postseasons. They know they just need to survive the regular-season slog in relatively good health.

    So Dwyane Wade will probably continue to miss the second game of back-to-back sets (despite finally playing on two straight nights for the first time all year recently), and LeBron James' minutes are only going to diminish in the second half.

    That's part of the plan in Miami.

    I suppose this is where we make obligatory mention of the Heat's .725 winning percentage and stranglehold on the No. 2 spot in the East, a pair of distinctions they've accumulated while coasting. Miami needs to win about 10 more games all year to assure itself of a playoff berth.

    Something tells me that won't be a problem.

Indiana Pacers: 1-50

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Luis Scola said it back in October. David West said it in November. Now, Paul George is saying it in January: The Indiana Pacers crave the No. 1 seed in the East.

    Right now, they're in possession of what they want. And as the Heat sail along, more interested in surviving than surging, the Pacers are going to continue widening their lead in the East.

    The combination of that singular desire for the top spot and the overall ineptitude of the Eastern Conference makes the Pacers—by far—the team most likely to make the playoffs this year.

    Try for a moment to envision the sequence of events that could potentially lead to Indiana missing the postseason. My imaginary scenario involves Godzilla laying waste to Indianapolis, Paul George giving up basketball in order to pursue his passion as a glow-in-the-dark uniform designer and the rest of the roster coming down with scurvy...or, I don't know, rickets maybe.

    I set Indy's odds at 1-50 in order to keep the overall numbers reasonable. But they might as well be 1-1,000,000,000.

    There's no way the Pacers miss the playoffs.