There is only two and half weeks left in the regular season, and with many teams having less than 10 games to play, the playoff spots are all but locked up. In the Eastern Conference, we have three teams fighting for the final two spots, while in the West there are five teams battling it out for the last three spots. Who has the best shot to play this postseason? Here are the current standings of the bottom of the playoff picture as it looks today:
7. New York Knicks (29-27)- Every time it seems like the Knicks’ season might be gone for good, New York goes on a run to save it again. The Knicks have won 11 of their past 14 games, including a statement win Sunday afternoon against the Bulls. Four of the next five games are huge for New York. Two are against the Bulls and the Heat, who serve as potential first round match-ups. The other two can help the Knicks secure a playoff spot (at Milwaukee) and close the gap on the division lead (home against Boston). The way New York has been playing the last few weeks, it would be surprising to see them not make the postseason. Prediction: Make the playoffs.
8. Philadelphia (29-27) What happened? It wasn’t too long ago that the Sixers had a strong lead on the division and seemed like a lock for home-court advantage in the first round. Now, after losing 10 of its last 14 games, the Sixers might not make the playoffs. To make it even worse, eight of Philadelphia’s last 10 games are on the road. The good news is that all but three of those final games are against teams with losing records, and as they’re just three games behind Boston, a hot finish could sneak the Sixers back into the four seed. Prediction: Make the playoffs.
9. Milwaukee Bucks (28-29) The Bucks are on the outside looking in, but play five of their last nine games at home. To make things even better, two of those home games come against New York and Philadelphia. The Bucks do need some help to make it back into the top eight, but the way the Sixers have been struggling, anything is possible. Prediction: Miss the playoffs.
6. Houston Rockets (32-25) The Rockets four-game winning streak has vaulted them all the way up to the six seed. But can they stay there? Only three of their final nine games are against teams with losing records. That being said, five of those games come against the other four teams fighting for the final three playoff spots. To sum it up, the Rockets largely control whether or not they will be playing in the postseason. Prediction: Make the playoffs.
7. Dallas Mavericks (31-26) Didn’t expect the Mavericks this far down the board this late in the season, did you? Me neither. Dallas looked like a lock for a playoff spot until a recent 4-6 skid. It appears that the shortened, condensed season hasn’t been kind to the veteran-laden Mavs. But you have to believe that Dirk Nowitzki wouldn’t allow Dallas to fall out of the playoff picture, right? Right? Prediction: Make the playoffs.
8. Denver Nuggets (31-26) How fun would it be to have a first round match-up between the Thunder and the Nuggets? They are the two top offenses in the league and are wrought with young talent. We know the Thunder will be there, but what about Denver? It’s been an up and down season for the Nuggets, and the final stretch won’t make it easy on them. Outside of two games against the Timberwolves (no slouch), every team Denver faces the rest of the way has a winning record. Prediction: Miss the playoffs.
9. Phoenix Suns (30-27)- Think that Nuggets schedule was bad? All but one of Phoenix’s remaining games comes against teams with a winning record. The good news, though, is that the Suns finish the season off with five of their final six games at home. And winning at home is exactly how Phoenix played its way back into the playoff picture. The Suns have been one of the league’s hottest teams (pun intended) since mid-February, winning 18 of their last 26 games. Prediction: Make the playoffs.
10. Utah Jazz (30-28)- What kills the Jazz is that they are two games back of the eight seed in the loss column. With so few games remaining and so many teams fighting for those final playoff sports, the Jazz will have to win almost every game to have a chance. I just can’t see that happening. Prediction: Miss the playoffs.