NBA Playoff Teams Poised to Take a Step Back in 2014-15
Sustaining similar success from one year to the next isn't exactly an easy thing to do in the NBA.
Unfortunately, a number of the 16 teams that made the 2014 postseason are going to find that out the hard way next season.
We're going to take a look at the five playoff teams most likely to take a step back in 2014-15, with our No. 5-ranked team poised for a small decline and our No. 1 team in store for a big fall.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers were the NBA's breakout team this past season, winning 54 regular-season games after posting just 33 victories in 2012-13.
But in such a difficult Western Conference, it will be extremely difficult for this team to continue truly competing for playoff home-court advantage going forward while employing arguably the league's worst bench unit.
Portland's bench posted a 27.3 efficiency rating, according to Hoops Stats, which is good for dead last in the NBA.
The Blazers starters picked up the slack in 2013-14. However, asking them to rack up the heavy minutes to do so for another season might be too much.
Unless significant bench additions are made this offseason, Portland will likely be in the mix for the No. 7 or No. 8 seed in 2014-15.
4. Dallas Mavericks
While the Dallas Mavericks' outstanding showing in the first round of the 2014 playoffs wouldn't suggest this team is heading for any sort of fall, there certainly are still reasons to be concerned about the future.
Although Dirk Nowitzki was spectacular in 2013-14 and is still Dallas' best player, he qualifies among those worries. Dirk recently turned 36, and any sort of age-related decline from him next year could be devastating for the Mavs, given the strength of the teams in the West.
Dallas also might be without a couple of key contributors in Vince Carter and Shawn Marion due to free agency. And even if the pair do return, there are age concerns there as well (both are at least 35). Additionally, Devin Harris is scheduled to be a free agent and could bolt Dallas.
This isn't to say the Mavericks are without a shot at another playoff appearance. But unless this team is able to make a splash in free agency, another 49-win regular season just doesn't seem to be in the cards.
3. Brooklyn Nets
After a horrific start to this past season, the Brooklyn Nets turned it around once the calendar flipped to 2014, winning 34 of its last 51 games and earning a trip to the second round of the playoffs.
However, don't expect the Nets to have similar successes next year.
While Brooklyn will receive a boost with Brook Lopez returning from injury, there are still a multitude of reasons to be down on this team.
Starting at the top: Deron Williams continued a years-long trend of diminishing performance last season, and there's no reason to expect that will change in 2014-15.
Additionally, assuming he exercises his player option and returns, the Nets can't count on significant contributions from Kevin Garnett. At this stage of his career, he's no longer even an asset.
As for Lopez, while he'll begin the season healthy, there's no guarantee he'll finish 2014-15 in such a state. He's played fewer than 100 games in the past three seasons combined.
Furthermore, it remains a real possibility that one of Brooklyn's few semi-young contributors Shaun Livingston, as well as Paul Pierce, leaves during the free-agency period.
Whether the two return or not, with a core that is aging, declining in ability and injury-prone, life can only go downhill for Brooklyn going forward.
2. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors clearly overachieved in 2013-14, having just about everything go right for them (very few injuries, poor conference) and receiving career-year performances from their top contributors.
That being the case, it's hard to envision them not falling short of last season's accomplishments (No. 3 seed and 48 wins) next year.
While the Raptors have young pieces and a bright future, their talent has them a step behind teams such as the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls, making the No. 5 or No. 6 seed more realistic in 2014-15.
That's assuming unrestricted free agent, and Toronto's best player, Kyle Lowry re-signs. If he goes elsewhere, then expect the Raptors' fall to be much steeper, with this team instead simply fighting for a playoff spot.
1. Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers are the most likely 2014 playoff team to see a significant decline in performance next year.
This is a team that simply isn't as strong as some of its accomplishments this season (56 wins, top conference seed, conference finals berth) suggest.
While Indiana started the season 33-7, the Pacers were badly exposed in the second half of the year (a 23-19 finish) and in the playoffs, despite earning their much-desired May rematch with the Miami Heat.
Among the concerns: The Pacers lack a competent starting point guard and an effective bench unit.
They ranked 23rd in points per possession, and their best offensive weapon (Paul George) shot just 42.4 percent from the floor this year. Their All-Star center, Roy Hibbert, self-combusted in April and May, putting together one of the worst playoff stretches we've ever seen, and there are legitimate concerns about his ability to contribute going forward.
On top off all those signs pointing to a less-decorated future for Indiana, the Pacers also might lose one of their top contributors (Lance Stephenson) in free agency this offseason.
The Pacers are still obviously a lock for one of the better seeds in the East next year, given the lack of great teams in the conference; however, don't plan on Indy again contending for the No. 1 seed.