NBA

NBA Playoff Odds: Latest Team Predictions for the Season's Final Month

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 8, 2014

NBA Playoff Odds: Latest Team Predictions for the Season's Final Month

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    The NBA is a game of runs.

    Spurts can take place within games, as we see with remarkable frequency. On March 7, for example, the Dallas Mavericks went up 30 points on the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half, only to let Rip City come back and tie the game.

    But stretches of remarkable play also take place over the course of the season. Those winning and losing streaks are what boost teams up and down in the standings as they grapple for the coveted playoff spots in both conferences.

    As we move deeper into the final third of the 2013-14 season, a handful of teams have emerged as clear-cut locks for the postseason field. On the flip side, a bunch of squads don't have a prayer of reaching the promised land until next season (at the earliest).

    But for the teams in between, everything is up in the air.

    The standings are jam-packed in both conferences, so let's make sense of the jumbled-up playoff puzzle.

The 'Sorry, but You Might as Well Be Eliminated' Group

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    Milwaukee Bucks: 0 Percent Chance

    This season hasn't been even close to what general manager John Hammond hoped for, as the collection of young talent and veteran players was supposed to keep the Bucks at least in contention for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

    Well, so much for that.

    Things have gone from bad to worse for the team with the NBA's worst record, and O.J. Mayo losing his cool and punching Greg Stiemsma on Friday night served as a microcosm for the season.

     

    Philadelphia 76ers: 0 Percent Chance

    Thaddeus Young, Michael Carter-Williams...and I'm done.

    After that, it gets difficult to find NBA talent on the Philly roster. Sure, Byron Mullens, Eric Maynor and James Anderson might find homes on other squads, but it's not like any NBA team wants them to fill large roles.

    This team was bad before the trade deadline, and now it's way worse.

     

    Los Angeles Lakers: 0 Percent Chance

    You're looking at a team that has completely quit on its coach and has allowed five different opponents to score at least 130 points during the 2013-14 season.

    Giving up 142 points to the Los Angeles Clippers is bad enough, but following that up by allowing the ice-cold Denver Nuggets to post 134 of their own and dropping to the very bottom of the Western Conference?

    Well, that's just unacceptable.

     

    Utah Jazz: 0 Percent Chance

    There have been positive developments throughout the season, but lately the Utah Jazz have moved into full-fledged tanking mode. With a 21-41 record, they still have a serious shot at earning the best lottery odds in the Western Conference.

    Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and the rest of the young players in Salt Lake City might be imbued with potential, but the future isn't bright for everyone. Tyrone Corbin should be enjoying what seems likely to be his final season as head coach.

     

    Sacramento Kings: 0 Percent Chance

    This Kings unit has talent. There's no doubt about that, given the presence of DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and a host of young players.

    But nothing has come together, and Sacramento still sits nearly 15 games shy of the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. New owner Vivek Ranadive has ensured there's excitement and hope for the future, but there's none remaining for the rest of the season.

The 'You're Telling Me There's a Chance?' Group

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    Orlando Magic: 1 Percent Chance

    What if Victor Oladipo and Arron Afflalo really start clicking? What if Tobias Harris plays like he did when first arriving in Orlando? What if Nikola Vucevic dominates the post night in and night out?

    It's a long shot, but the Magic at least have enough talent that a single-digit deficit in the playoff race doesn't appear completely impossible to close—just almost certainly impossible. Not that they want to make the postseason, of course.

     

    New Orleans Pelicans: 1 Percent Chance

    The Pelicans are essentially the Western Conference version of the Magic.

    The roster has a great deal of talent—more established talent than Orlando, in fact—but nothing has clicked during the 2013-14 campaign. It's highly unlikely that will change immediately, and an 11.5-game gap between them and the No. 8 seed makes it even more likely that the playoffs are just a distant pipe dream.

     

    Denver Nuggets: 2 Percent Chance

    This team was awful without Ty Lawson.

    However, the dominant point guard is back, and he just steered the Nuggets to a 134-point outing against the Los Angeles Lakers. That still counts as a 120-point game against a normal team, right?

    Nine games are a lot to come back from, but this was a borderline playoff contender when Lawson was at the helm before his rib injury knocked him out of action.

     

    Boston Celtics: 3 Percent Chance

    Rajon Rondo is back.

    That's about the only reason for hope in Beantown, but anything can happen in the Eastern Conference. The C's are only down six games to the current No. 8 seed, although earning that final postseason berth would involve a cease-fire in the tanking race and jumping past three other teams.

New York Knicks: 20 Percent Chance

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    Carmelo Anthony's face says it all.

    This team has been the laughingstock of the NBA throughout the 2013-14 campaign, and that's unlikely to change during the stretch run. There haven't been any signs of an upcoming turnaround, even if fans get a little excited after a win over the Utah Jazz gave the Knicks consecutive wins for only the fourth time this season.

    Mike Woodson told The Associated Press via NBA.com's Adam Zagoria after putting the clamps on Utah's struggling offense, "The last two games we had no choice [but to win]. Time is somewhat running out and every game is important."

    The clock hasn't struck midnight quite yet, but it's already moved well past 11 o'clock.

    'Melo continues to enjoy a fantastic individual season, but the lackluster supporting cast offers little hope. Even if Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire all turn it on during the final trimester of the year, it'll be too little, too late.

    New York is 4.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks in the "race" for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, but that might as well be a yawning chasm.

    When earning consecutive wins has been a major struggle all year, and the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers both sit between New York and Atlanta, only one Aerosmith song can sum up how the Knicks should feel about the postseason.

    Yes, that would be "Dream On."

Minnesota Timberwolves: 25 Percent Chance

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    Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

    You can also read that 25 percent chance as the odds that Kevin Love remains content wearing a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform.

    That's a topic for another time, but it's worth giving a cursory mention to the potential unhappiness of the team's best player if he fails to earn a playoff berth yet again.

    This talented team got off to a hot start and quickly fell back to earth. Now it sits a literal handful of games behind the current No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for the 'Wolves, there are a lot of teams in the mix for that final postseason berth.

    Minnesota has actually been better than its record would indicate.

    According to Basketball-Reference, the team's points scored and allowed lead to a Pythagorean record of 38-23, which would leave Minnesota as the No. 9 team in the Association. Not the Western Conference, but the NBA as a whole.

    However, a 31-30 record is the reality, and actual record tends to carry more weight in the playoff race than a Pythagorean one.

    It's clear the 'Wolves have enough talent to surpass the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks, but it's too late in the season to count on that.

Detroit Pistons: 43 Percent Chance

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Big changes are coming for the Detroit Pistons this offseason. Or at least they should.

    The three-headed frontcourt monster of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith continues to come up lame, and most of the blame can be doled out in heaping portions to the man you see up above. "Smoove's" time at the 3 has been an absolute disaster, as he's shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 23 percent beyond the arc.

    Let's put that in perspective.

    Basketball-Reference shows that heading into this season, no player had ever shot 23 percent or worse from downtown while taking more than 2.2 attempts per game. Tony Wroten and Smith are both on pace to break that ignominious record this season, but while the former is lofting up 2.7 triples per game, Smith is taking 3.3.

    If that doesn't sum up the Pistons' season, I don't know what does.

    Strange fits and poor decision-making have been at the root of the problems. Not even a tremendous amount of pure talent can overcome that.

    Detroit still has a solid chance to sneak into the playoffs, seeing as it's only three games behind the Atlanta Hawks and sitting at No. 9 in the Eastern Conference. But it's not like the Pistons would do anything other than get swept if they got there.

Cleveland Cavaliers: 45 Percent Chance

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are an interesting bunch.

    They've done everything possible to make the playoffs this season, signing Jarrett Jack to a big contract during the offseason and trading for both Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng before the deadline. But they're still only at No. 10 in the Eastern Conference.

    That said, they've had a better record over their last 10 games (4-6) than the Detroit Pistons or Atlanta Hawks, lending credibility to any claims that they could still earn a playoff berth. Kyrie Irving is finally rolling and showing leadership, and the new pieces ensure there's enough talent to make a little noise.

    The early-season dysfunction is behind Cleveland, but it is still trying to pick up the pieces. And the Cavs have to do so quickly, as time is running short for them to jump past the Pistons and Hawks.

    For a team that struggles to play above .500 ball, a 3.5-game deficit is a lot to overcome.

    But hey, at least things have been going better lately. It's just too bad that "better" is a 4-6 record over the past 10 outings.

Dallas Mavericks: 45 Percent Chance

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    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

    The Dallas Mavericks are the first team on this list to have a postseason berth if the season were to end right now.

    But that doesn't mean they're odds-on favorites to make the playoffs.

    It's easy to feel good about the Mavs right now. They're coming off a victorious outing against the Portland Trail Blazers—one that included staving off a furious rally that saw Rip City tie up the game after being down by 30 points.

    However, this is the worst of the three teams that are separated by just one game in the Western Conference standings.

    The Memphis Grizzlies have been rolling ever since Marc Gasol returned to the lineup, and the Phoenix Suns have looked significantly more dangerous. Plus, they're about to get Eric Bledsoe back, which will only help them remain locked into a playoff berth.

    Defense remains the biggest problem for Dallas.

    While the offense is quite potent, Basketball-Reference shows that the Mavericks have allowed 108.6 points per 100 possessions, which ranks No. 23 among the Association's 30 teams. The rest of the season will be filled with de facto playoff games, and defense only becomes more important in those situations.

    Kudos to Dallas for a fantastic season—one that saw Rick Carlisle cement his status as one of the best coaches in basketball—but this team should be concerned about its ability to finish above No. 9 in the standings.

Atlanta Hawks: 47 Percent Chance

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Jeff Teague isn't the only thing that is looking down for the Atlanta Hawks.

    Everything is, especially after Kyle Korver's record-breaking streak of games with a made three-pointer came to a screeching halt. That had been one of the lone positive points in Hotlanta throughout the 2014 portion of the 2013-14 season.

    Over their last 10 games, the Hawks have gone just 1-9. They've lost five games in a row, although four of them came against legitimate playoff teams. Even more problematic is the unfortunate fact that many of the games haven't seemed close.

    Losing Al Horford knocked this team out of the competition for the No. 3 seed, but the injury imp wasn't done with the Hawks. It feels like everyone has been hurt for large portions of the season, and coach Mike Budenholzer hasn't been able to pick up the pieces.

    That said, there are two bright spots for the Hawks.

    First, they have a three-game lead on the lottery-bound portion of the Eastern Conference. When everyone is well below .500, that's a big gap.

    Second, first-time All-Star Paul Millsap returned to the lineup against the Golden State Warriors and looked fairly decent. He's still shaking off the rust, but let's not forget that Atlanta is 1-5 when he sits and 25-29 when he plays.

Memphis Grizzlies: 53 Percent Chance

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    Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

    The Memphis Grizzlies have cooled off a bit, but they've still left a striking impression during the second half of the season.

    Dave Joerger seems to have figured things out on the sideline, finally allowing the team to slow things down and play the grind-it-out style that caused the Grizz to thrive last year. Marc Gasol is healthy and making a huge impact, and Mike Conley continues to assert himself as one of the more underrated point guards in the game.

    Memphis may be a game back of the Dallas Mavericks, but it's hard to bet against it surpassing Dirk Nowitzki and Co. by the end of the year. After all, the Grizz caught up a game over the last 10 outings, and they're only getting better as the season progresses.

    They are finally boasting an elite defense that is holding opponents to just 105 points per 100 possessions. Per Basketball-Reference, that's the No. 11 mark in the Association, but they've been trending up lately.

    No one wants to face Memphis in the Western Conference playoffs. The tough-as-nails mentality, suffocating defense and wealth of quality players trump the lack of shooting ability, and all that's left is, well, actually making those playoffs.

Charlotte Bobcats: 75 Percent Chance

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    Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

    Let's give credit to the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Although they allowed both Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James to break past the 60-point barrier, those were aberrations. If you want to take away prestige for those gaudy outings, you might need to remember that the 'Cats also held Kevin Durant to 28 points on 24 shots and prevented Paul George from dropping more than a pair of points during their respective March contests.

    Charlotte has an elite defense. Yes, even though it has allowed superstars to explode for career highs.

    Basketball-Reference shows that only five teams have held the opposition to fewer points per possession, and Charlotte has remained right near the top of that leaderboard throughout the season. Even Al Jefferson is starting to look like an asset on the less glamorous end of the court.

    Defense might not win championships for the Bobcats, but it'll at least get them into the playoffs.

    Right now, Charlotte has a five-game lead on the Detroit Pistons and the rest of the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

    Good luck closing that.

Brooklyn Nets: 80 Percent Chance

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    Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

    The putrid start to the 2013-14 proceedings seems like it took place ages ago.

    Even without Brook Lopez, the Brooklyn Nets have finally begun looking like the team they were expected to be heading into the year. Well, maybe not quite that good, but they've at least been a bona fide playoff squad.

    Then again, there are nights where they just look awful.

    One such night came on Friday, when the Nets shot 4-of-30 from beyond the arc against the Boston Celtics, giving them the worst three-point percentage ever for a team that let it fly at least 30 times from downtown. The Nets actually managed to lose despite forcing the C's into 25 turnovers.

    Brooklyn is nowhere near elite, even if the utter futility of the Eastern Conference has allowed the team to emerge as a near-lock for the postseason. A 30-30 record can't disguise the fact that the Nets have allowed more points than they've scored.

    Only the lack of playoff-caliber teams allows the Nets to earn such stellar odds.

Phoenix Suns: 80 Percent Chance

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Let's recap:

    • Memphis Grizzlies: 35-26 record and a 53 percent chance at the playoffs. 
    • Dallas Mavericks: 37-26 record and a 45 percent chance at the playoffs. 
    • Phoenix Suns: 36-25 and an 80 percent chance at the playoffs. 

    What gives? How can three teams be separated by only a single game in the standings and have such a ridiculous odds disparity?

    Well, the Suns have been the best of the bunch.

    Basketball-Reference gives what's called a simple rating system, which is a unique set of rankings that takes both strength of schedule and margin of victory into account. Here's how the three relevant teams stack up:

    • Phoenix Suns: No. 10 in the NBA
    • Dallas Mavericks: No. 12
    • Memphis Grizzlies: No. 13

    But beyond that, the Suns are about to get Eric Bledsoe back. When the dynamic guard returns to the lineup, they will only get more dangerous on both ends of the court.

    Here's Paul Coro of AZCentral.com on the topic:

    Bledsoe will return to game action for the Suns in the next week. The point guard will play no later than next Wednesday’s home game against Cleveland and no earlier than Sunday at Golden State.

    Even if Bledsoe's transition back into the lineup isn't a seamless one, he still adds more talent to this up-and-coming team. The Suns were capable of staving off the other competitors without him, but the Phoenix standout gives them a chance to rise even higher in the Western Conference standings.

Washington Wizards: 90 Percent Chance

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    The question no longer revolves around whether or not the Washington Wizards will make the playoffs. Instead, it deals with the amount of noise they'll be able to make once they achieve their goal.

    "Washington's reliance on inexperienced young guards—regardless of talent level—may ultimately lead to the team's demise in the playoffs," wrote Bleacher Report's Ben Leibowitz after asking the new question. "Especially if it runs into a veteran roster like the Chicago Bulls or Brooklyn Nets in Round 1."

    It's hard to disagree.

    Washington is a playoff squad, but it's not a collection of established talent that is capable of doing anything more than somehow squeezing out a first-round victory against one of the other non-elites in the Eastern Conference.

    Despite sitting pretty with a No. 5 seed, the Wizards are barely over .500. They've only outscored their opponents by 0.9 points per game this season, and that's not exactly the type of point disparity typically produced by a true contender.

    In fact, Washington's record and point differential would both leave it at No. 10 in the Western Conference.

    With a nearly 10-game lead over the non-playoff teams in their actual conference, the Wizards are almost playoff locks this season. They should be content with that in 2013-14 and then attempt to make some postseason noise next year.

Golden State Warriors: 95 Percent Chance

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    You might as well refer to Stephen Curry as Jennifer Lawrence, because the Golden State Warriors are catching fire.

    They've gone 8-2 over their last 10 games. That stretch included an overtime victory over the Houston Rockets and a win in regulation against the Indiana Pacers, thanks to a buzzer-beating shot from Klay Thompson.

    Curry has been fantastic, and he's now shooting 41.3 percent from three-point range. Andrew Bogut has done a marvelous job of anchoring one of the elite defenses in the NBA, and the rest of the starters have followed suit.

    But what's been truly key for this team has been the emergence of a second unit—one that's somehow being led by a resurgent Jermaine O'Neal.

    The veteran big man has averaged 13.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game over his last seven outings, and he's become the de facto leader of a second unit that suddenly appears to be a bit more promising. The acquisitions of Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake may actually pay off in the long run.

    Golden State has experienced its fair share of difficulties throughout the season, but as Kelly Clarkson once belted out, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

    The Dubs are stronger right now—much stronger, in fact, than the rest of the teams in the middle of the Western Conference standings.

Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors: 98 Percent Chance

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    I refuse to separate these two teams.

    The Toronto Raptors are one game ahead of the Chicago Bulls after the latter fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in a brutally tough and physical battle of stellar defenses on March 7, but it's hard to see them avoiding the seemingly inevitable seesaw battle for the No. 3 seed down the stretch. These teams are hot and motivated to climb as close to the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers as possible.

    Toronto's offense continues to thrive during the post-Rudy Gay portion of the season. Kyle Lowry is a dominant force at point guard, DeMar DeRozan keeps looking like an (Eastern Conference) All-Star at shooting guard and the rest of the team is quite solid.

    Meanwhile, Chicago's defense refuses to allow points. Joakim Noah may have done the unthinkable and supplanted Roy Hibbert as the Defensive Player of the Year favorite, thanks to his ridiculous levels of effort and impact, while Hibbert fails to control the paint in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

    Both teams feel dangerous and are almost sure things to make the playoffs. Even the Bulls have a double-digit lead over the lottery portion of the field.

    However, one thing is keeping them from earning the coveted 100 percent odds—they aren't the Heat or Pacers. Just on principle, the East is too weak to have four teams with top odds.

Portland Trail Blazers: 99 Percent Chance

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    The Portland Trail Blazers remain an unstoppable unit on the offensive end of the court, which has been enough for them to overcome their defensive woes on a consistent basis.

    These upstarts have risen to the top of the Western Conference standings at various points of the 2013-14 season, and they're still on the verge of being considered elite. After all, they sit only four games shy of the Oklahoma City Thunder this deep into the year.

    They're also 6.5 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies and the rest of the non-playoff teams in the West.

    So what makes them fall shy of 100 percent odds?

    Depth.

    That's the simple answer, because one major injury could lead to a lengthy losing streak. HoopsStats.com shows that Rip City has scored 18.5 points per game off the pine, which is by far the worst mark in the NBA. The Indiana Pacers are No. 29, and they've produced 24.1 points per game.

    Without anything even resembling a quality bench, the Blazers can't afford to lose a starter. Damian Lillard or LaMarcus Aldridge going down for the rest of the regular season would be a complete disaster for this team, even if the other starters are quite talented.

    The other elite squads can withstand a major blow. Portland probably could, but that's not a guarantee.

The 'Use Sharpie When Writing Your Name in the Playoff Bracket' Group

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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    Miami Heat: 100 Percent Chance

    After the Indiana Pacers fell to the Houston Rockets in rather definitive fashion on Friday night, the Heat became tied with their biggest competitors in the loss column. The No. 1 seed is a realistic possibility, just as it has been throughout the season.

    Plus, do you really want to doubt LeBron James' ability to steer Miami into the postseason?

    That's what I thought.

     

    Indiana Pacers: 100 Percent Chance

    This is the only team in the NBA that has literally clinched a playoff berth.

    Even if the Pacers lost every game for the rest of the season, they'd still earn one of the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference.

     

    Oklahoma City Thunder: 100 Percent Chance

    No team in the Western Conference has a better record, and that's despite a brief slump that coincided with Russell Westbrook's return to the lineup. There's always going to be a brief adjustment period when reinserting a star into the rotation, but OKC will emerge stronger than ever.

    Even if the Thunder have gone just 6-4 over their past 10 games, it's hard to see them falling well back of the No. 1 seed.

     

    San Antonio Spurs: 100 Percent Chance

    Don't ever bet against the San Antonio Spurs.

    Period.

    This team is just getting healthy, and it remained elite when it seemed like everyone on the roster was dropping like flies. That's scary.

     

    Houston Rockets: 100 Percent Chance

    No team in the NBA is hotter than the Rockets, who became the first squad to beat the Heat and Pacers in the same week of the 2013-14 season. Eight teams had tried, and eight teams had failed before Houston held off a late rally from Miami and then absolutely crushed Indiana.

    Dwight Howard is looking like the D12 of old, and James Harden is balling on the offensive end. Everything is coming together for the Rockets, and general manager Daryl Morey has to feel like he's dreaming.

    Except he's not.

     

    Los Angeles Clippers: 100 Percent Chance

    Even when playing the Los Angeles Lakers, it's not exactly easy to score 140 points.

    Yet that's what the Clippers did during the last Battle for L.A., continuing to assert their superiority over the team that has looked down at them in the past. LAC now has the longest current win streak in the NBA, and the 8-2 record over the past 10 games lends credence to the idea that it could finish the season at No. 1 in the Western Conference standings.

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