5 Playoff Teams in Real Danger of Missing Postseason in 2014-15
The big moves of the 2014 offseason certainly changed the landscape of the league, and to expect the playoff picture for this season to remain unchanged after everything that's happened would probably be foolish.
You can safely pencil in at least one non-playoff team last year in, at the least. With LeBron James back in Cleveland and Kevin Love joining him soon enough, the Cavaliers are an instant favorite in the Eastern Conference. That means at least one team has to fall.
That wasn't the only big change, even though you have to like the Miami Heat's chances a lot less without LeBron. The Indiana Pacers lost Paul George to a gruesome leg injury and Lance Stephenson to free agency. The Brooklyn Nets lost Paul Pierce. The Houston Rockets waved goodbye to Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.
And for the teams that just stayed put? There are plenty of up-and-coming teams nipping at the heels of last year's playoff squads.
Let's take a look at five teams that are in danger of missing the 2014-15 postseason.
More than any other team, the Indiana Pacers look destined to take a huge fall in the standings.
After finishing at the Eastern Conference's top seed last year, the Pacers are a prime candidate to miss the postseason altogether. The offseason just went from bad to worse, as unrestricted free agent Lance Stephenson bolted to the Charlotte Hornets before Paul George's season-ending injury in a Team USA scrimmage.
Even though C.J. Miles was a decent pickup and should help, the Pacers are facing massive holes offensively. According to basketball-reference.com, Indiana was already 23rd in offensive efficiency last year, so losing their two biggest creators and perimeter scorers could submarine them entirely.
Here's Jared Wade at 8points9seconds with more:
One of the worst offenses in the league might unravel further without its only creator while the perimeter defense turns into a sieve. There is no Stephenson or George to belly up against all the elite wings in the NBA, and Hibbert is not literally a wall. It’s hard to see how the Mongols don’t overrun the paint.
This would leave Indiana with a good-not-great defense and a middling-to-OK offense.
That seems like a recipe to miss the playoffs, particularly since the depth of the Eastern Conference has improved a bit. If Roy Hibbert can't get it turned around, the Pacers are going to be relying on David West as a top scorer. That's an issue.
Indiana could rally and continue to win games with their defense, but it seems more likely that a collapse is on the way. There's just not enough talent here without George and Stephenson.
At least on paper, the Brooklyn Nets should be getting a huge piece back. With Brook Lopez returning, you would think that the Nets would be in great shape to contend for a strong playoff seed.
That might not be the case, though. Brooklyn really seemed to find an identity defensively once Lopez went down with injury, and there are going to be some major challenges with him in the paint.
The rest of the roster might be in too heavy of a decline, as well.
Deron Williams always seems to start the year slow, and his constant ankle issues are a concern. Kevin Garnett is just about done as a contributor, Paul Pierce is with the Washington Wizards and the glue guy from last year's team, Shaun Livingston, is in Golden State.
Add even more miles to Joe Johnson's odometer, and it's easy to see the Nets fading out of the playoff picture with injuries or just a lack of youth and mobility. There is offensive talent here, but a slow start under a new coach might not be redeemable again this year.
At full strength, the Miami Heat should have more than enough to make the playoffs.
The question is, will Dwyane Wade be able to play more than 60 games? And how healthy will he be during those games? There were multiple times last year where LeBron James dragged the Heat to wins, and they won't have that luxury anymore.
The presence of Luol Deng will help provide some solid production, but the Miami's hole at point guard, particularly with Wade out, will be magnified without LeBron. Deng is a really good two-way player, but you can't run your offense through him or expect him to create for others.
Again, a lot depends on Wade here. Chris Bosh should up his scoring some and continue to be good on both ends, but Miami will have to find a new identity without LeBron. Things that were easy or taken for granted offensively will suddenly become challenging. Spacing the floor is going to be difficult, and the depth is still very shaky.
With perfect health, Miami should be fine. But if Wade misses extended time, the Heat could slip out of the playoff picture. The depth and versatility just doesn't stack up with other rosters in the East.
That being said, the Western Conference is insanely competitive, and if a team like the Phoenix Suns or New Orleans Pelicans makes the leap, Houston could fall out of the playoff picture.
No playoff team got worse on paper in the West, with the exception of the Rockets. Trevor Ariza could very well prove to be an upgrade over Chandler Parsons in terms of fit, but losing Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik does rob Houston of some depth.
The Rockets will be counting on guys like Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones to really step up around Harden and Howard.
For what it's worth, here's what Harden told Joaquin Henson of the Philippine Star about the other Rockets: “Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets,” said Harden. “The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.”
Harden isn't necessarily wrong, but an injury to him or Howard would almost definitely sink Houston's chances. While you can say that about a few teams, there really isn't much room for error here. If Ariza has a contract year hangover and if Howard can't better anchor Houston's defense, this might not be a sure thing.
Portland Trail Blazers
With limited ability to make many changes, the Portland Trail Blazers stayed put this offseason and will roll into next year with nearly the same exact rotation.
While that kind of continuity can be seen as a positive, Portland might be banking too hard on multiple players once again having career-best campaigns.
That's the concern with Portland this season. If guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews come back down to earth a bit in terms of shooting and scoring, will the defense be good enough to sustain Portland's status as a playoff team?
Last year, Portland was 16th in defensive efficiency according to basketball-reference.com, and with no significant personnel changes, it might be tough to sustain their success, should the offense not be as explosive as it was last year.
There should be about 10 or 11 teams right in the thick of the playoff race, and after surprising the league last year, it's far from guaranteed Portland will be able to hold off everyone else and reach the playoffs once again.