Predicting Which Bubble Teams Will Make 2014 NBA Playoffs

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

Predicting Which Bubble Teams Will Make 2014 NBA Playoffs

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    March may be the month of Madness for college basketball and the NCAA tournament, but in the NBA, it's a time for bubble teams to prove their worth with the playoffs around the corner.

    When determining which squads are on the bubble, it's admittedly subjective. Are the Golden State Warriors in danger of losing their spot out West? Do the Minnesota Timberwolves even have a chance at sneaking in?

    Then there are teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies who epitomize the bubble concept. They're just one game ahead of the Phoenix Suns for the eighth seed out West, and key games could decide their fate during the season's final stretch.

    In order to remain objective, we'll consider ESPN's Hollinger Odds. Any team with playoff odds greater than 99 percent will be considered a lock for the playoffs. Conversely, any team with a 0 percent chance is out, for obvious reasons.

    There are eight teams on the bubble using that criteria, but only a select few can get in when the postseason arrives.

Non-Bubble Teams (West)

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    ESPN's Hollinger Playoff Odds 

    • San Antonio Spurs: 100 Percent
    • Oklahoma City Thunder: 100 Percent
    • Los Angeles Clippers: 100 Percent
    • Houston Rockets: 100 Percent
    • Portland Trail Blazers99.9 Percent
    • Golden State Warriors: 99.3 Percent

     

    • Denver Nuggets: 0.0 Percent
    • New Orleans Pelicans: 0.0 Percent
    • Sacramento Kings: 0.0 Percent
    • Utah Jazz: 0.0 Percent
    • Los Angeles Lakers: 0.0 Percent

Bubble Teams (West)

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    ESPN's Hollinger Playoff Odds

    • Dallas Mavericks: 84.7 Percent
    • Memphis Grizzlies: 81.2 Percent
    • Phoenix Suns: 29.2 Percent
    • Minnesota Timberwolves: 5.7 Percent

Who Gets in (West)?

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    Lance Murphey/Associated Press

    Dallas Mavericks

    The Dallas Mavericks don't get enough credit. They entered the 2013-14 campaign with yet another new-look rotation, and while their defense has been atrocious most of the year, their offense has helped them exceed leaguewide expectations.

    When it comes to making the playoffs, Dirk Nowitzki knows nothing will be easy. "It's going to be a beast to get in," the forward said, per ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon. "But we've got to take care of what we can control, which is to play hard and win as many games as we can."

    So far, the Mavs have done just that. In early March, the team took down the Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers in back-to-back contests. Then, following a loss to the Golden State Warriors, it bounced back with wins against the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder.

    B/R's Joe Flynn is right when he says, "The schizophrenic nature of this team is why they only appear to be just good enough to sneak into the playoffs." The good news is that sneaking in still counts, which is what matters once the regular season comes to an end.

     

    Memphis Grizzlies

    If the Memphis Grizzlies had been healthy all season, we likely wouldn't be having this discussion. They're 39-27 on the year (.591), but they're 29-14 with Marc Gasol in the lineup (.674).

    With the postseason nearing, the Grizzlies are surrendering the third-fewest points per game in the entire Association. Their offense has only been good enough to post the 25th-best points-per-game average, but as the cliche goes: Defense wins championships.

    No disrespect to the Phoenix Suns and what they've done this season, but they haven't sustained success the way they wanted to in a fantastically tough Western Conference. They failed to trade draft picks and Emeka Okafor's expiring contract at the deadline, and that should prove to be their demise when it comes to a run at the 2014 playoffs.

    Regarding the Minnesota Timberwolves, the group led by Kevin Love has yet to meet its own expectations, leaving it on the outside looking in once again.

    The Grizzlies should be a top-eight team out West when it's all said and done, and simply put: Nobody wants to play them in the first round of the postseason.

Non-Bubble Teams (East)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    ESPN's Hollinger Playoff Odds

    • Indiana Pacers: 100 Percent
    • Miami Heat: 100 Percent
    • Toronto Raptors: 100 Percent
    • Chicago Bulls: 100 Percent
    • Washington Wizards: 99.9 Percent
    • Brooklyn Nets: 99.5 Percent
    • Charlotte Bobcats: 99.2 Percent

     

    • Boston Celtics: 0.0 Percent
    • Orlando Magic: 0.0 Percent
    • Milwaukee Bucks: 0.0 Percent
    • Philadelphia 76ers: 0.0 Percent

Bubble Teams (East)

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    ESPN's Hollinger Playoff Odds 

    • Atlanta Hawks: 78.9 Percent
    • New York Knicks: 13.9 Percent
    • Cleveland Cavaliers: 6.6 Percent
    • Detroit Pistons: 1.9 Percent

Who Gets in (East)?

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    New York Knicks

    The 2013-14 New York Knicks have made headlines for all the wrong reasons, but with the year coming to an end, the team is getting hot at the right time. 

    Despite starting March 0-2—part of a seven-game losing streak—the Knicks have won six in a row between March 5 and March 15. You can knock their strength of schedule during that stretch if you want, but they're doing exactly what playoff teams do: They're taking down inferior opponents.

    Not only have the Knicks won six straight by an average margin of 15.3 points per game, but they also have a favorable stretch immediately ahead of them. Once they get past the Indiana Pacers on March 19, they only see one playoff squad in seven outings the rest of the month.

    The real test will come in April when they're slated to face five playoff teams (and zero non-playoff teams) in seven games. The silver lining is that they're all Eastern Conference opponents, and the hope for the Knicks is that their momentum in March will carry over to the final month of the season.

    The other squad worth considering out East is the Atlanta Hawks. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons are seemingly long shots to enter the conversation, and Atlanta has won three straight after losing 14 of 15 between Feb. 4 and March 8.

    The problem is, the Hawks offense has been incredibly inconsistent as of late, and while consistency is hardly a staple of this year's Knicks, New York has turned things around when it matters most.

    According to ESPN's Hollinger Odds, Atlanta has the best shot of all four Eastern Conference bubble teams to make the postseason, but with the Knicks catching fire, the time is now to make a bold call and pencil them into your 2014 playoff bracket.

     

    *All rankings, odds, standings and statistics are current as of March 17 at 1 a.m. ET.