At the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff chase 6 teams are in a slugfest for 2 spots. These spots could very well go to teams with records at or below .500, so can this really be called a slugfest? What is the opposite of a slugfest? A shoving match? A shoutfest? Whatever it is, the Bucks are firmly entrenched in it. I guess in a technical sense we’re discussing “playoff” chances, but really it’s going to be more like that scene in Jurassic Park. You know, before the dinosaurs go crazy and they are trying to see the T-Rex and they have that baby cow set up for him to pounce on? Charlotte, New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee are all vying to be the baby cow to Boston, Cleveland, or Orlando’s T-Rex. (Actually scratch Orlando, I’m still not buying it. No way can they be this lethal of a shooting team in a 7 game playoff series. Is Hedo Turkoglu going to hit threes when it matters? Rashard Lewis? They are going down in round 2 at the latest.) So let’s pour over the numbers and see who’ll be the baby cow and who’ll be watching from home.
Let’s begin with who’ll miss out and why.
We’ll probably see Charlotte’s chances gone by the time next Friday has passed. I put them on here because they are only 2.5 games out of the last playoff spot, impressive considering the start of their season. The Boris Diaw trade was a rejuvenation for him, he can do a lot of things in the East that he wasn’t able to do in the West because of the strength of the power forwards there. However, they are about to embark on a very difficult 5 game western trip, and if that doesn’t kill them they’ll still have 19 road games to go! Including ANOTHER trip out west in February to play the rest of the best out there. This is more of a developmental season for them anyway, even though they aren’t that young and Michael Jordan continues to make terrible draft picks. I think there only good young player is DJ Augustin. It’s actually a positive thing there that Larry Brown wants to trade everyone away like he always does, because most of the team sucked when he got there. I really liked the deal for Desegana Diop. I know his contract sucks and he sucks, but at the very least he can play some D. If you’re a big man and have the skill to block shots it helps a ton. Anyway, if they make a good draft pick they’ll probably contend for a spot more seriously next year.
The biggest problem in Chicago is that Vinny Del Negro is their coach. He looks like he has to beg the players to do anything and he might start crying at any second. He has such a desperate look in his eyes. Players aren’t going to respect that, but I imagine they went with a “players coach” because Scott Skiles rode them too hard, like he always does, and they wanted the opposite of that. Well it doesn’t look like they are responding to this either. So if it’s not the coach what could it be? A bad mix. The Bulls have the most gifted rookie point guard since Chris Paul and aren’t even scraping .500 right now. Tyrus Thomas continues to disappoint, but at what point are they going to just say “Screw it, lets see what this guy can do” and give him consistent minutes for like 30 games? He has to sink or swim. To make matters worse they are 5-16 on the road and leave for a 7 game road trip out west on Sunday. Adios playoffs. I can’t even figure they are a lock for next year either, considering they refuse to address any of their roster deficiencies they have had for 3 years now, not that I’m complaining.
Ahh the feel good story. Wisconsin’s favorite NBA alum Devin Harris has had THE breakout year in the NBA this year. Scoring at will and getting to the line like never before, Harris is in a perfect situation. He has even taken some of the crunch time scoring pressure off the always shaky Vince Carter. Vince had a good run, but I’m glad we’ve stopped mentioning him in the superstar category, it was just never meant to be. The Nets have a slew of young big men capable of development, including Brook Lopez who is doing some serious damage. They just don’t have enough defense and up front presence at this point. They’ll be a team to be reckoned with in a couple years though. I like the Nets. I’ll like them even more if they can move to Brooklyn and get LeBron. I wonder why they don’t do more involving Jay-Z? Shouldn’t he do there pre game music? Maybe personalized songs for each guy after they score? Wouldn’t more guys want to play there, just for a personalized Jay-Z song?
I’ve now effectively eliminated 3 teams. No surprise there, no one thought much of these teams to start the season anyway. Of the three I would certainly say New Jersey has the brightest immediate future, but Chicago clearly has the brightest star in Derrick Rose. But Chicago has the Cubs, so that’s unfortunate for them.
Who would have thought the Knicks would be back so soon? I guess I shouldn’t say they are “back”, but there not god awful anymore. They sure do like to shoot some threes. There like the Magic, but without the accuracy. That is what you expect out of a team with Al Harrington, Quentin Richardson, Tim Thomas, Chris Duhon, Nate Robinson, and coached by Mike D’Antoni. The problem when facing the Knicks is, “What if they get hot?” If they do get hot it can be a long night. They have offensive firepower, although I expect them to continue making trades, and possibly dealing David Lee. If David Lee goes, the playoffs go with him. He is a terrific player. If the Bucks got him everything would be so much better in Milwaukee. Beer would taste better, it wouldn’t be as cold, and the Bucks would be TOUGH. Alas, he probably won’t be coming here anytime soon, but I don’t expect the Knicks to hold it together long enough to make the playoffs.
Leaving us with…
I’m still having flashbacks to that three Andre Miller hit to put the nail into the Bucks coffin a few weeks back. He’s really not a good shooter. What’s crazy is that appears to have been the catalyst for a bit of a shooting surge for him. Philly has apparently figured out that they are a much more effective team when they run and play up tempo. I thought they figured that out in the second half of last season? I guess Elton Brand screwed that up. When EB gets back we’ll see how it all works out. John Hollinger at ESPN.com has been begging them to put him at center, it seems like the most logical move. That’s sad because that will mean less Sam Dalembert, which will surely bum out the rest of the league. They are a super effective running team though, especially Thad Young. Philly has a 7 game home stand coming up to ease transition back to Brand. That should give them a chance to build momentum before a 5 game trip out west near the end of February. Fortunately for them they’ve played most of their tough road games, with the most difficult ones left begin a Houston, L.A., Portland, and Cleveland. And if they are close with Milwaukee at the end I’m sure the NBA will put the fix on to make sure that Scott Williams gets suspended if he puts Allen Iverson on the line at all.
Milwaukee (Light it up, Light it up)
I’m slotting Milwaukee into the 7th seed. Why? They only have 15 road games left, they are done going out west, of their 37 remaining games they have only 18 left against projected playoff teams, they have 8 back to backs left with only 2 in February and 1 in April, Michael Redd is back to normal, Joe Alexander has shown a pulse as of late and probably won’t hit the rookie wall since he hasn’t played, this should make him ready when Mbah a Moute hits the wall…should I keep going? Yes? Andrew Bogut is getting adequate time to rest his creaky back, and Charlie V has played the most consistent stretch of his career as of late. Ramon Sessions also showed life last game which was nice. They’ll have a good opportunity in the last month to lock up a playoff spot, and management WANTS to make the playoffs this year more than anything for those extra ticket sales. The Bucks may even have what it takes to leapfrog Miami into the top 6 with this schedule. If that does happen don’t be surprised if the Magic fall to 3 and the Bucks give them a run in round 1.