2014 NBA Playoff Odds: Latest Team Predictions for Season's Stretch Run

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

2014 NBA Playoff Odds: Latest Team Predictions for Season's Stretch Run

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    Anyone claiming the NBA season is too long should take a good, hard look at the standings for both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

    If, as some say, the 82-game slog is fraught with too many meaningless contests and ho-hum stretches of uninspired play, how is it that we've reached the season's final month with so much still undecided?

    Other than a handful of teams that already know their official playoff fates (the Miami Heat are in; the Los Angeles Lakers are out), most clubs' postseason positioning is still very much up in the air.

    Can the New York Knicks salvage a nearly lost season by claiming the No. 8 spot in the next few weeks? Will the Minnesota Timberwolves make yet another negative entry in Kevin Love's "Pros and Cons" list by falling short of the postseason tournament?

    Across the league, seeding is still very much up in the air. More than that, we don't even know which teams will surge or fade down the stretch in their last gasps for a playoff spot.

    In other words, we've seen nearly six months of basketball, and almost nothing has been settled.

    Fear not; we've put together a comprehensive set of playoff predictions in advance of the season's decisive stretch run.

Officially Eliminated

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Lakers: 0 Percent Chance

    On March 14, the Phoenix Suns won and the Los Angeles Lakers lost. Neither of those occurrences stood out as odd on its own, but together, they created a milestone in the 2013-14 campaign: The Lakers became this year's first official playoff elimination.

    That's right, L.A. is mathematically out of the postseason picture.

    As the Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus wrote: "The elimination is nothing more than a formality."

    It's true: The Lakers have been dead (as far as playoff hopes go) for a long time. So the events of March 14 really just confirmed a fate that had been obvious for months.

    With Kobe Bryant spouting off about the front office, a roster primed to turn over almost entirely next year and a head coach nobody believes in, playoff elimination is just about the only thing that's certain about the Lakers.

    Utah Jazz: 0 Percent Chance

    The Utah Jazz are also official postseason outsiders, but at least they never had any designs on being included.

    Derrick Favors' big extension kicks in next year, and Gordon Hayward will be due a qualifying offer (and probably a big-money extension) this summer. But otherwise, Utah's books are clean and its stock of draft picks is plentiful.

    This was a bottom-out year for the Jazz, and everybody knew it. Missing the playoffs was always a part of the plan.

    So, mission accomplished, I guess.

    Sacramento Kings: 0 Percent Chance

    DeMarcus Cousins is in the midst of a breakout season, Isaiah Thomas is on the short list of the league's most underpaid players and Rudy Gay might finally be "getting it." Yet for all that, the Sacramento Kings are as comically distant from a playoff spot as ever.

    A weak supporting cast and defensive principles that seem to change from possession to possession are largely to blame for the Kings' ineptitude, and perhaps they deserve a pass in their first year under new ownership.

    At the very least, it's clear Vivek Ranadive and the rest of the group who rescued Sacramento from the Maloofs are serious about trying to win. That's a start.

    Unfortunately, this year, the Kings are finished.

    Milwaukee Bucks: 0 Percent Chance

    When the season began, the Milwaukee Bucks were perfectly happy to occupy "the middle." That made them unique in a league full of clubs searching for either a title or a lottery pick.

    Despite the Bucks' intention to compete for a low playoff seed, everything went completely wrong. Now, they're officially eliminated from a postseason berth and have only the promise of Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson to show for it.

    This was a disastrous season for the Bucks—one that should have them re-evaluating every inch of the franchise.

    They'll have the advantage of an extra long non-playoff summer to figure out how to fix this mess.

Unofficially Eliminated

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Philadelphia 76ers: 0 Percent Chance

    We can say this for the Philadelphia 76ers: They know how to stick to a plan.

    Said plan started when new general manager Sam Hinkie shipped out former All-Star Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and another protected lottery pick. Then Philly picked up its pace, stopped playing defense and traded away assets like Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for nothing.

    As a result, they've lost 21 straight.

    With Noel looking to get an April cameo, Michael Carter-Williams showing occasional flashes of star potential and a bunch of high picks in the pipeline, the Sixers have plenty to look forward to. Everything is going according to plan.

    New Orleans Pelicans: 1 Percent Chance

    Instead of focusing on the New Orleans Pelicans' worrisome personnel decisions (Hi, Tyreke Evans!), perhaps we should devote our attention to the awe-inspiring potential of Anthony Davis.

    Of course, marveling at AD's two-way brilliance and limitless ceiling won't change the fact that New Orleans has been sliding down the Western Conference standings since the All-Star break. But sometimes it's best to focus on the positives.

    As long as Davis is around, there's hope. For proof, please refer to the 40 points and 21 rebounds he hung on the Boston Celtics on March 16.

    If the injury bug that bit Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson doesn't return next year, there's a good chance we see the Pellies take flight. At present, they're grounded.

    Orlando Magic: 1 Percent Chance

    If not for the 76ers' epic slide, we'd be spending an awful lot of time talking about the Orlando Magic's troubling regression this year.

    There's talent on this roster, with Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson and Victor Oladipo. Plus, with rookie Oladipo and vets Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, there's a nice mix of potential and experience.

    But the Magic are on pace to lose nearly 60 games, and the young talent on hand has simply failed to develop. Maybe there's an issue with the culture in Orlando, or perhaps the coaching staff isn't equipped to nurture the players on hand.

    For now, Oladipo has the right attitude:

    "It's tough, but it's just a learning process and you just have to get better. I know it might sound old because I've been saying that all year, but it's true. I just have to continue getting better. You have to look at the bigger picture. We have to keep fighting and growing the chemistry," he said via John Denton of Magic.com.

    Here's hoping the Magic's top rookie keeps the faith as his team falls woefully short of the postseason.

    Denver Nuggets: 2 Percent Chance

    The Denver Nuggets lost their vaunted home-court mojo this season, and as a result, they're headed for the lottery for the first time in more than a decade. Through their first 32 home games, the Nuggets have amassed a pedestrian mark of 16-16, which is a far cry from the 38-3 mark they enjoyed at altitude in 2012-13.

    The personnel is different this year, with Andre Iguodala in Golden State and injuries derailing both Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee. Plus, the entire coaching staff and front office experienced turnover after Denver's first-round ouster in last year's playoffs.

    But the Pepsi Center is still a mile high, the air up there is still thin and the Nuggets still play at a top-three pace, per NBA.com. So it's hard to figure out why home success has been so hard to come by.

    Ten games out of a playoff spot with just a few weeks remaining, the Nuggets are all but done. 

    Boston Celtics: 2 Percent Chance

    The picks are coming, Celtics fans.

    It's a lot easier to digest the nine games separating the C's from the No. 8 spot in the East when equipped with the knowledge that the rebuilding effort could feature as many as seven first-round picks over the next three years.

    Maybe Rajon Rondo will be around, and maybe he won't. But Boston has the coach it needs in Brad Stevens, as well as the assets necessary to turn things around.

    Meanwhile, its lost four straight and appears very much ready for a summer off.

On Life Support

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Minnesota Timberwolves: 10 Percent Chance

    Kevin Love's Wolves get their very own spot because they're in a unique position.

    The numbers say they should be a playoff team, as their per-game differential of plus-3.6 points is seventh-best in the West. Toss in Rick Adelman's wiliness, Love's statistical brilliance and a transition attack that is second to none, and it's easy to see why casual observers are in agreement with some of the metrics that favor Minnesota.

    There's a lot to like here.

    But Ricky Rubio can't shoot, nobody on the team can defend and Love's latent discontent has had a visibly negative effect on the team's overall chemistry.

    With little time remaining and few signs that the West's lower-tier playoff teams are going to slip, the 5.5 games Minnesota must make up to reach the playoffs might as well be 100.

Clinging to Hope

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    Detroit Pistons: 15 Percent Chance

    There's a joke in here about how Josh Smith's accuracy on jumpers and the Detroit Pistons' playoff chances have similar percentages, but I'm far too mature to make it.

    Besides, Smith shoots a robust 35.8 percent from 15-19 feet, which is terrible. But the numbers just don't work out closely enough for that joke to be accurate.

    Anyhow, Detroit is 5.5 games out of the No. 8 spot, on its second coach this season and has won just twice in its last 10 games. In other words, don't hold your breath on a playoff berth. Do, however, hold your breath whenever Smith takes a long, contested jumper.

    It'll help to keep you from crying out.

    Cleveland Cavaliers: 20 Percent Chance

    It just feels right to lump the Cleveland Cavaliers into the same tier as the Pistons—even if Kyrie Irving and Co. have a marginally better shot at snagging the eighth seed in the East. This is a team that entered the season with hopes much like Detroit's: a step forward from its young talent and a likely position in the middle of the playoff pack.

    But the Cavs have suffered through atrocious offensive schemes, infighting and little organic growth on the roster. Also, Andrew Bynum was on the team for a few months, which was fun!

    Cleveland has continued to confound everyone lately with an unlikely winning two-step through Phoenix and Golden State, but it's still got plenty of ground to make up.

    There's some hope here, but not enough to call the Cavs anything more than a long shot.

Averting Disaster?

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    New York Knicks: 33 Percent Chance

    Can you feel that overwhelming sense of calm and thoughtful leadership? Do you smell the sage burning?

    The Zen Master cometh.

    Phil Jackson joins the New York Knicks with the club on a six-game winning streak and an increasingly real chance to move into playoff position. It seems his arrival has coincided with (or, perhaps, imparted) a renewed confidence among the organization's key figures.

    Per Ian Begley of ESPN, Amar'e Stoudemire said: "With his pedigree, he's a champion, he's a leader. He knows what it takes to win and he's been around great organizations that have been successful. So hopefully that same input will be placed here in New York."

    The Knicks are four games behind the Atlanta Hawks for that final seed in the East, and it appears a historically disappointing season might soon be upgraded to "still a pretty big bummer."

    The massive top-down flaws plaguing the Knicks under James Dolan's ownership haven't gone away. And in some sense, the team's desperate reach for Jackson signals the desire to make a splash might still trump good sense.

    But at least the vibes are better at the Garden.

Slipping Away

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Phoenix Suns: 40 Percent Chance

    We should all want the Phoenix Suns to make the playoffs. They tore down their roster intelligently, installed Jeff Hornacek as head coach and embraced a rare combination of old-school scouting and analytics in their personnel decisions.

    GM Ryan McDonough's rebuilding effort is years ahead of schedule, and Goran Dragic should wind up on a few MVP ballots. All's well in Phoenix, and any objective fan has to be rooting for this exciting, sneaky-good bunch to crash the postseason dance party.

    But the Suns have slipped a bit lately despite the return of Eric Bledsoe. They've won two straight, but are just 5-5 in their past 10 games. 

    Normally, that kind of mediocrity wouldn't be an issue, but the West isn't normal. The Dallas Mavericks boast an elite offense, while the Memphis Grizzlies are (once again) a top-notch defense at full strength. Both are now ahead of Phoenix in the West, and the Suns can't play .500 ball if they want to make up ground.

    They're still just 1.5 games out of the No. 8 spot, and even if the Suns visit the lottery, this season will still count as an unqualified success.

    Phoenix has a shot to get back into the picture—a good one, actually. But it's slightly more likely that it'll fall short.

Hardly Safe

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Atlanta Hawks: 51 Percent Chance

    For a while there, it looked like the Atlanta Hawks were going to slide right out of the playoff picture. But after a 1-14 stretch, Atlanta has recovered to notch four straight victories, stabilizing itself at a critical time.

    Paul Millsap is back, and the Hawks are again a club that resides in the middle of the pack in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They're not great, but they're not awful, either. And that's just enough to give them a slightly better than 50-50 chance to hold on to their playoff spot in the East.

    If Millsap misses any time, or the three-heavy offense goes cold, expect the Knicks to make a real run at this position.

    Memphis Grizzlies: 55 Percent Chance

    The Grizzlies are way too good to have only a 55 percent chance at making the playoffs, but such is life in the crowded West.

    A terrifyingly good defense, an offense made just good enough by Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, and some serious postseason chops combine to make the Grizz a terrifying first-round matchup. But with the Suns, Mavericks and Golden State Warriors all within a couple of games of one another, somebody is going to finish the season disappointed.

    Nobody is saying that team will be Memphis, but there's just too much time left and too much quality competition to call the Grizzlies a shoo-in. They're more likely to make it than not, but that's about as much as reason allows us to say.

    Dallas Mavericks: 65 Percent Chance

    So, you're probably wondering how the Mavs, a just one game ahead of Memphis in the West, have such a big advantage in their playoff odds.

    The 109-86 beating they laid on the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 16 should be a sufficient explanation.

    Dallas, led by the ageless Dirk Nowitzki, boasts one of the NBA's most potent offenses. Rick Carlisle is as good a strategist as there is in the league, Monta Ellis has put together a solid season as a secondary threat and the Mavericks are rolling.

    They've won five out of six, with victims that include the Portland Trail Blazers, Indiana Pacers and Thunder. Like the Grizz, this is a team nobody wants to see in the first round. Unlike Memphis, though, Dallas looks like a clear playoff team.

    With Boston, Minnesota and Denver up next, Dallas will continue to pile up the wins.

Room to Breathe

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    Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

    Golden State Warriors: 70 Percent Chance

    New rule: If you lose to the Cavaliers at home, you're not allowed to have better than a 70 percent chance of making the playoffs. 

    Never mind that the Warriors have the NBA's third-best defense and a deadly backcourt shooting duo in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Cavs waltzed into Oracle Arena on March 14 and snatched one from the Dubs.

    This is a real issue with Golden State, whose total lack of offensive creativity and still-curious bench rotations make them eminently beatable—regardless of the quality of competition.

    Look, the Warriors have gone 11-4 since the All-Star break. They've got a ton of talent and the defensive mindset necessary to weather their offensive woes. But this is not a perfect team by any stretch.

    The Dubs could win a couple of playoff rounds if they get in, but let's just say it's a good thing they've got a decent cushion separating them from the Suns.

    Charlotte Bobcats: 75 Percent Chance

    It's a numbers game for the Charlotte Bobcats. They're just 33-35 on the year but have won four of five and sit a very comfortable 5.5 games up on the lottery teams chasing them in the East.

    Steve Clifford's boys defend, take care of the ball and can rely on Al Jefferson when things bog down on offense. So there's no real danger of slippage here.

    Brooklyn Nets: 80 Percent Chance

    After some early ugliness, the Brooklyn Nets have rebounded to profile as a legitimate playoff team. They're certainly not anything like the championship contender many thought they'd be when assembled last summer, but with the East's fifth-best net rating since Jan. 1, Brooklyn is a respectable outfit.

    The Nets are three games over .500 and could conceivably wind up with home-court advantage in the first round. That'll take a little work over the season's final weeks, but a No. 4 seed is currently more likely than missing the playoffs.

    That wasn't the case earlier this year—not by a long shot.

    Barring a shocking collapse, Jason Kidd will be coaching in the playoffs.

Near Certainties

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    Don Ryan/Associated Press

    Portland Trail Blazers: 90 Percent

    The slippage everyone expected finally happened. Remember, through the season's first few months, the Blazers looked like worldbeaters. They shot (and still shoot) an ungodly number of threes and move the ball extremely well on offense.

    But the defensive shortcomings many expected would slow them down have gradually surfaced, and Portland is now in the No. 5 spot out West.

    That's still pretty darn good, though.

    With LaMarcus Aldridge missing time lately, the rest of the Blazers have kept the ship afloat. Once he returns, Terry Stotts' club will get a few weeks to iron out rotations and look for defensive solutions before the playoffs get rolling.

    Washington Wizards: 90 Percent

    Remember when the Washington Wizards just couldn't find a way to get above .500? Well, they finally achieved that milestone for the first time in four years on Feb. 3. Since then, they've ridden a highly effective starting five to the fifth seed in the East.

    Washington is miles ahead of the No. 9 Knicks, holding an 8.5-game advantage and playing as well as anyone in the conference lately.

    Houston Rockets: 95 Percent

    It's fair to wonder if the Houston Rockets' recent three-game slide calls into question their fitness as championship contenders. Just a week ago, they were right there with the Los Angeles Clippers as the West's up-and-coming title threats.

    Since then, though, Houston has fallen short against the Thunder, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat. Obviously, those are all quality opponents. But if the Rockets are serious about going all the way, they'll have to handle top-end foes a bit better.

    You'll note there's been no mention of worrying over Houston's playoff chances. That's because the Rockets are almost certainly in.

    If Dwight Howard goes into a Twizzler-induced coma and James Harden's beard strangles him after becoming self-aware, the story might change. But as it is, Houston is seven games up on the Suns and in no danger of visiting the lottery.

Bet the Farm

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    PAUL BEATY/Associated Press

    Chicago Bulls: 100 Percent Chance

    Chicago's 37-30 record would only be good enough for the No. 10 spot out West, but barring a late-stage conference realignment, the Bulls are currently East playoff locks.

    Joakim Noah is earning the MVP chants he's heard lately with his ridiculously effective high-post passing and emotional leadership. The constant double-doubles don't hurt either.

    A weak conference and the team's singular determination to play every second like the world is about to end make the Bulls our first ironclad lock. There is absolutely no way the 10-game edge these Bulls have on the No. 9 team in the East disappears over the next month.

    Toronto Raptors: 100 Percent Chance

    Here's a fun piece of trivia: Which Eastern Conference team has the best net rating since the calendar flipped to 2014?

    It's not the Miami Heat. It's not the Indiana Pacers.

    It's the Toronto Raptors, who, per NBA.com, have beaten opponents by an average of 5.7 points per 100 possessions since Jan. 1.

    Imagine how good they'd be if Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay were still around. Actually, don't imagine that. They'd be much worse.

    Los Angeles Clippers: 100 Percent Chance

    Doc Rivers came to town and convinced DeAndre Jordan to play defense. Then Blake Griffin reached elite status by expanding his game when Chris Paul was out with a shoulder injury.

    And now that Paul's back, the Los Angeles Clippers are basically unbeatable.

    That's the narrative of L.A.'s 2013-14 season in short form. Writ longer, Los Angeles has the league's longest active winning streak (11 straight), an offense that ranks second in the NBA and a couple of pilfered buyout additions in Danny Granger and Glen Davis that bolster the team's championship chances.

    Right now, the Clips are every bit as good as the West's top two seeds. In fact, don't be surprised if CP3 and friends wind up with the No. 1 seed in the West.

    Oklahoma City Thunder: 100 Percent Chance

    Put simply, the Thunder have looked surprisingly vulnerable since Kevin Durant had to start sharing the ball with Russell Westbrook again. They're 6-4 over their past 10 games, and losses to the Cavs on Feb. 26 and Lakers on March 9 stand out as particularly troublesome.

    In addition to getting the most out of its star combo on offense, OKC must rediscover its defensive chops. What was once one of the league's elite stopping forces has lately become much more generous, allowing 106.7 points per 100 possessions in the aforementioned 10-game sample.

    That's a number that would rank 25th in the league this year.

    So, there are issues in Oklahoma City. Making the playoffs, though, isn't one of them.

    San Antonio Spurs: 100 Percent Chance

    Since we're nearing the end of these playoff odds, brevity is important. So here's how to analyze the San Antonio Spurs' playoff chances: We only have to ask two questions.

    Question 1: Is Gregg Popovich still the coach?

    Question 2: Is Tim Duncan still capable of walking upright?

    Whenever the answer to both of those questions has been "yes," the Spurs have made the playoffs. We've got nearly two decades of data to back up that precedent, and since Pop and Duncan are still alive and kicking, San Antonio's playoff presence is a mathematical certainty.

It's Official

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    Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers: Already In

    This takes some of the drama out of things, doesn't it?

    Technically, the Heat and Pacers could have been lumped in with the "Bet the Farm" tier of virtual playoff locks, but it seems like having a literally guaranteed playoff spot should count for a little something extra.

    Miami and Indy have already clinched their playoff berths, and it was wildly obvious back in December that these two were a cut above everyone else in their conference.

    Like many of the league's other top teams, though, it seems like both of the East's playoff locks are hitting a late-season rough patch. The Heat took care of the Rockets on March 16, but that win came after a stunning stretch that featured five losses in six games.

    And the Pacers strung together four consecutive losses from March 4-9 before beating up on three straight lottery teams to balance things out.

    Still, all these two teams need to worry about for the rest of the regular season is each other. With the No. 1 seed still very much up for grabs, you can bet both the Heat and Pacers will be looking to secure the immensely valuable home-court advantage that comes with the top spot.

    After all, we know they're destined to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. The tiny edge of an extra home contest could make all the difference in the world.