2014 NBA Playoff Odds: How the Postseason Looks Entering April
Exactly half of the teams in the NBA already know their playoff fates, but as April approaches, the other half are fighting to secure their less-secure postseason futures.
Other than a bit of jostling for seeds, the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls are officially assured of playoff spots in the East. Out West, the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers also know they're guaranteed a postseason entry.
Unfortunately, there are even more teams who will not be playoff participants. That's not an opinion—that's the math talking. And math is kind of an uncompromising jerk.
Condolences go out to the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz. Have fun fishing this spring, fellas.
If you've been counting, that makes up 15 teams—half of the league—who know where they'll be when the playoffs start. Certainty isn't all that interesting, though, so that's the last we'll hear of them. From here on out, we'll do our best to pin down where members of the league's "other half" will wind up when the regular season concludes April 16.
Recent play, strength of schedule and some old-fashioned gut instinct will factor in as we draw up odds for the rest of the NBA's playoff chances.
*All stats accurate through games played March 29.
Boston Celtics: 0 Percent Chance
Maybe it's a downer to kick things off with teams possessing no chance of making the dance, but it's important to rule out squads like the Boston Celtics before diving into the more interesting portion of these odds.
Boston's not technically eliminated just yet, but it's eight games out of the final playoff spot in the East with just 10 contests left on its schedule. Three more losses by the Celtics will close the book on their season. Of course, if the Atlanta Hawks manage to finish with just three wins in their final 10 games, Boston is also cooked.
The Celtics never had designs on competing this year, so looming playoff elimination is no great surprise. Next up for Boston: figuring out how to spend the 427 (rough estimate) first-round picks it has over the next couple of seasons.
There are worse problems to have.
Detroit Pistons: 0 Percent Chance
The Detroit Pistons went big this past summer when they added Josh Smith to an already imposing front line featuring Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.
Unfortunately, the only thing "big" about Detroit this year was the point total its porous interior defense permitted. The Pistons' experiment has failed on all counts, and playoff elimination is just around the corner. With two wins in its last 10 games, Detroit isn't playing like a team capable of closing the 5.5-game gap between it and the postseason.
The pain of an immensely disappointing campaign in the Motor City is—mercifully—almost over. And hey, it could be worse: The Pistons could have dropped 26 games in a row this year, like the Sixers team that just beat them.
Minnesota Timberwolves: 0 Percent Chance
Speaking of disappointment, the Minnesota Timberwolves are inching closer to mathematical elimination as well.
The franchise stakes were high this year, as resident superstar Kevin Love's not-so-secret discontent put pressure on the organization to finally have some success. Injuries, a crumbling crunch-time defense and a roster that couldn't survive without Love on the floor will combine to keep Minnesota out of the playoffs again—something that has happened in every year of Love's career.
And as Grantland's Zach Lowe noted, the Timberwolves will now find it harder than ever convince Love they've got the smarts to surround him with useful complementary players going forward:
The Wolves have been a catastrophe without Love on the floor this season. When he plays, they outscore opponents by nearly six points per 100 possessions and explode on offense, per NBA.com. When he sits, the offense dies, and they have a worse point differential than the Bucks.
That's a huge problem for the Wolves because Love is heading into the final guaranteed year of his contract. They needed to impress him this season, and it's safe to say a 6.5-game deficit on the No. 8 spot in the West isn't very impressive.
A playoff berth is almost assuredly out of the question—as is the chance of Love staying past 2014-15.
Clinging to Life
Cleveland Cavaliers: 15 Percent Chance
Can you smell it? The desperation?
That stench of anxious panic has been wafting over Quicken Loans Arena for a while, but now it's choking the life out of the Cleveland Cavaliers. With 2.5 games separating Cleveland from a playoff spot, it's going to be extremely tough for this team to avoid the return trip to the lottery owner Dan Gilbert promised wouldn't happen.
Head coach Mike Brown should be concerned for his job, despite a weighty contract. And just about everyone on the roster ought to worry about sticking around. This is a team with deep personnel and personality issues.
Even in a year when playoff spots in the East were there for the taking, the Cavs couldn't capitalize. They're not dead yet, but they've got almost no chance of postseason life.
And for a Cleveland franchise that hasn't had any success at all since LeBron James left, that stinks.
New York Knicks: 40 Percent Chance
It's not that the New York Knicks are suddenly a more dangerous team than they were a week or two ago. It's that the Atlanta Hawks are doing their very best to surrender their No. 8 spot.
Credit the Knicks for an eight-game surge that made them relevant to the playoff discussion, but also note the three ugly losses in their past four contests. It's impossible to know what to expect from this team.
With nine games left, the Knicks will do battle against eight current playoff teams. And five of those tilts will be on the road. Normally, that'd be enough to rule New York out.
But the Hawks have been bad enough lately that the Knicks could conceivably make up the 1.5 games they need by winning just four or five of their final nine. Almost anything could happen from here on out.
In the Thick of It
Atlanta Hawks: 55 Percent Chance
If you've come this far, you know the Hawks are headed in the wrong direction. Losers of six in a row and showing few signs of correcting course, Mike Budenholzer's boys are clinging to the final playoff spot in the East by the slimmest of margins.
John Hollinger's playoff odds (via ESPN) give the Hawks an 88.8 percent chance to make the postseason, but it's hard to view them as much more than a 50-50 proposition. Between the losing streak, Cleveland's relative proximity and the Knicks right on their heels, Atlanta looks eminently beatable.
Following a 101-97 loss to the Washington Wizards on March 29, Budenholzer told reporters: "I think every game our group has shown flashes and been good. When we play with really good energy and we compete, you can see where we can have the results we're looking for."
OK, sure. "Flashes" of solid play are great, but a sustained run to close the season will be necessary to avoid a disastrous result.
Dallas Mavericks: 70 Percent Chance
There are three teams battling for two playoff spots at the bottom of the absurdly competitive Western Conference. Right now, the Dallas Mavericks are on the outside looking in, but Hollinger's odds give them a 67.9 percent chance of making the dance.
Dallas is on the wrong end of a tiebreaker with the Phoenix Suns, and the Mavs' 22nd-ranked defensive rating (per NBA.com) doesn't bode well for postseason success even if they make it. Toss in a closing stretch that features the Golden State Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Suns and Memphis Grizzlies, and it's hard to see how Dallas manages to survive with much better than a .500 record over the next couple of weeks.
But the Mavs' offense is fantastic, and Dirk Nowitzki knows what it takes to win when it counts. They've got a shot.
Phoenix Suns: 75 Percent Chance
The Suns have nothing to lose, which arguably makes them more dangerous than either of the other two teams they're fighting to secure a playoff spot. Nobody expected anything from this bunch, and the Suns have basically played with house money all season.
A free-wheeling offense led by Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe makes Phoenix a threat to beat absolutely anyone it faces. With nine games left and six potential playoff opponents on the slate, you'd think the Suns might fizzle out against tough competition.
But Phoenix has won six straight. Rule these Suns out at your own risk.
Memphis Grizzlies: 80 Percent Chance
The impartial standings don't give the Grizzlies much of an edge on the Mavs or Suns. In fact, Memphis is a half-game behind Phoenix and mere percentage points ahead of the Mavericks right now. Rest assured that as the season winds down, the Grizzlies will jostle with both of those clubs for position.
Standings don't tell the whole story, though.
Memphis has been one of the NBA's best teams since the All-Star break, posting a net rating of plus-5.6 points that ranks sixth in the league, per NBA.com.
Yes, the Grizzlies will finish with six of their final 10 games on the road. And yes, they'll square off against the Portland Trail Blazers, Spurs, Heat, Suns and Mavs. But they'll also feast on the Nuggets twice, the Wolves once and enjoy cupcake games against the Sixers and Lakers.
Memphis has more recent playoff success than either the Suns or Mavs (who both missed out last year) and has been playing just like the team that made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2013.
If forced to pick one team among the three vying for the seventh and eighth seeds out West, the Grizzlies seem like the safest bet. But with three squads so tightly grouped, it's hard to give them a significant edge.
Golden State Warriors: 85 Percent Chance
The Warriors notched their biggest victory of the season on March 28, knocking off the Grizzlies at Oracle Arena by a final score of 100-93 despite missing David Lee for the entire contest and losing Andrew Bogut to a groin contusion after just four minutes of play.
Stephen Curry played like a superhero for stretches, often keeping the Warriors close all by himself. And Draymond Green hit a pair of huge triples down the stretch to ice the come-from-behind win with a 14-0 run.
The win provided a huge emotional boost for the team and probably created enough cushion for the Dubs to coast through the rest of the season. The Bogut injury, though, could make the Warriors' prospects a little dicier than expected.
Per Sam Amick of USA Today, the prognosis isn't dire. But it'll likely leave the Warriors without their defensive centerpiece until the playoffs:
The Golden State Warriors will have to survive the most pivotal stretch of their season without center Andrew Bogut, as a person with knowledge of his situation said he's expected to miss seven to 10 days with a soft tissue contusion in the groin area.
Bogut took a brutal knee from Gasol in a particularly painful area, so it's no wonder he'll miss time. Based on what we saw the Warriors do without him, it's somewhat safe to assume they'll retain their sixth seed and two-game lead on the No. 9 Mavericks.
Portland Trail Blazers: 90 Percent Chance
I'll admit it: I thought the Blazers were going to miss the playoffs just a week ago. But LaMarcus Aldridge returned to lead Portland to two straight wins. In doing so, he solidified his team's grip on a postseason berth.
At present, the Blazers have a three-game lead on the Mavs and trail the No. 4 Rockets by that same margin. With their best player back in the fold, Portland's slide seems to have stopped.
A shallow bench and a weak defense will come back to bite the Blazers in the playoffs, but those weaknesses won't keep them from getting there.
Charlotte Bobcats: 90 Percent Chance
Barring disaster, the Charlotte Bobcats are going to be a playoff team this year.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Two years removed from the worst winning percentage in NBA history, the Kitties are going to play postseason basketball. Much of the credit goes to Al Jefferson, whose beastly run over the past month has stabilized Charlotte's offense. But don't forget Kemba Walker, Josh McRoberts and, of course, head coach Steve Clifford.
Each of those guys deserve praise for changing the Bobcats' losing culture.
A five-game lead on the Knicks means Charlotte can play sub-.500 basketball over its final nine games without any real danger of losing its spot. Don't expect the 'Cats to do much damage against the Heat or Pacers in the first round, but also be sure not to discount the value of simply making it that far.
For a franchise with as much losing in its recent history as the Bobcats, a first-round playoff exit is a hugely positive step.
Washington Wizards: 97 Percent Chance
The Washington Wizards have a chance to move up the playoff ladder by a spot or two during the season's final two weeks, but they're definitely not going to fall out of the race altogether.
With an eight-game lead separating them from the lottery portion of the East standings, Washington is all but mathematically assured of a postseason spot.
John Wall has played well enough lately to keep the Wizards on a winning track, despite Nene's prolonged absence and Bradley Beal's shooting slump. Nene's bad knee and Beal's woes from the perimeter are points of concern, but only insofar as they affect Washington's near-certain playoff series.
Barring an epic losing streak (and a surge by the Knicks or Cavs), the Wizards are in.
Brooklyn Nets: 98 Percent Chance
It's still mathematically possible for Brooklyn to miss the postseason, but that won't be the case for long.
The Nets have a nine-game cushion between themselves and the No. 9 Knicks. With 11 games left on its schedule, Brooklyn needs to win three (or see the Knicks lose three times) to sew up a postseason spot. Sooner than later, the playoffs will be a certainty.
Quietly, Brooklyn has been excellent since the All-Star break. Deron Williams has looked better, some quirky lineups with Paul Pierce at the power forward spot have been successful and Mason Plumlee has filled in nicely for the injured duo of Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett.
It's hard to know how the Nets will fare in the playoffs without a somewhat healthy KG, but there's no question they'll get a chance to find out.
Houston Rockets: 99 Percent Chance
Because the West is so ridiculously competitive, the Rockets probably won't officially secure a playoff spot for another week or so. They're on the brink of winning 50 games but sit just six games ahead of the ninth-place Mavericks.
Patrick Beverley's torn meniscus is an enormous playoff concern, as is—to a lesser degree—Dwight Howard's troublesome ankle. Like the other two teams in this "all but certain" category, the Rockets don't need to worry about their injury issues knocking them out of playoff position.
They will, however, need to sort them out if they want to do any damage once the postseason begins.