As the NBA season looms towards the playoffs, there are some teams sitting comfortably and playing at a consistent pace to make the postseason. Looking towards the bottom of each conference, there are teams still scrapping away for a chance at making an appearance in the first round. There are always some races for the final eighth spot every NBA season. They could be teams stuck in mediocrity but will not make an impact in the postseason or they are teams filled with talent but are struggling to find consistency. Let’s take a look at each conference to see exactly which teams are fighting for their playoff lives and who will slate their name in the NBA’s eighth spot.
Looking at the Eastern Conference right now, the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets have the same record of 29-26. The Hornets are the seventh seed and the Bulls are in the eighth. The Bulls have been hit with injuries and loss of defensive identity while the Hornets appear to be more stable. So teams will be appearing to pry that final spot from the Chicago Bulls. The Detroit Pistons and the Washington Wizards have the most realistic chance of overtaking Chicago.
Let’s start with the 28-29 Pistons. Detroit is only two games back of the eighth seed and many thought their roster improved after the trade deadline. They acquired a promising small forward in Tobias Harris, but the Pistons have not found the right role for him yet. This has led many to believe they are playing worse since the deadline. The facts are against Detroit because they are playing worse and seem to have no flow on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. It all started before the trades occurred. The Pistons lost three straight going into the All-Star break and now have lost five of their last six games. Perhaps a strong win on the road against the Cavaliers in their last games will lift their spirits going down the last quarter of the season. They are not safe, as there is another teams finally showing what they are made of.
The Washington Wizards are the other team fighting for their playoff lives in the final 20-plus games of the regular season. Since the All-Star break, the Wizards have won three of their four games in that time. It is a small sample size but maybe the break did the Wizards a favor. Bradley was able to rest and get a little healthier and John Wall could use all the rest he can get because he has done everything for the Wizards. They did make a trade for the troublesome, but talented Markieff Morris in hopes that he may get his act together for a team that has a shot at the postseason. As of now, there are no problems for Morris and the Wizards. They have gotten along and Morris is seeming to find nice minutes in the rotation. There is no doubt that the Wizards are capable of making the playoffs and perhaps doing some damage. If things keep going like they are, there will be a swap in the eighth spot as the Wizards are on a upswing while the Bulls descend.
Let’s move over to the Western Conference. In previous seasons, the West has been more dominant and teams in the eight, nine, and ten spots has better records than the playoff teams in the East. That has changes this season as the bubble teams in the Western conference have been struggling just the same as the ones in the East. Right now the Utah Jazz are the last team in the playoffs with a record of 28-28. However, there are two teams that have their eyes on the Utah Jazz and that eighth spot.
The Houston Rockets are the first team watching Utah’s every move. They are 28-29 and find themselves .5 games back of the Jazz. The Rockets have not gotten things together this season. From offseason acquisitions not working out to firing their head coach, it has been one ugly season for Houston. Ty Lawson has not been the player we thought he would be for them and he has definitely not been the answer for the point guard position. Lawson has struggled to find any kind of rhythm or cohesiveness with supposed backcourt teammate, James Harden. James Harden is not having the “revenge season” as assumed after he felt like he was snubbed as the MVP from last season. Finally, Dwight Howard seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth with his play. Despite all of that the Houston Rockets cans still make the playoffs. That shows that they still have a good amount of talent on their roster. They have gone through all of this and somehow kept it close for the playoffs. They will need to be able to hold it together because right now the Jazz and Rockets are on opposite paths. The Jazz have won seven of their last ten games while the Rockets have lost seven of their last ten games. There is still hope in Houston, though.
To think a team with a 24-31 record at this point can make the playoffs in the Western conference would have been ludicrous prior to this season. The Sacramento Kings is the team with that record and they are currently in the tenth spot and 3.5 games back of the Utah Jazz. The Kings do have a shot at the playoffs because of their roster. Rajon Rondo has been more than solid as the point guard by averaging a league-best 11.9 assists per game. The Kings’ big man, DeMarcus Cousins, is fourth in the NBA in points per game with 27.3. He is also fifth in rebounding with 11.3 rebounds per game. Cousins has been a force that no team has been able to stop. Too bad the Kings aren’t able to stop opposing teams either. They rank last in defense by allowing teams to score 109.1 points per game. Sacramento has so many offensive weapons that they forget there is another side to basketball. Defense is a major factor to winning in the NBA. Defense is more important than offense when it comes to basketball because there is no good scoring if the other team can score at will against you. The Kings have the a little over 20 games to pick up their defensive intensity. A little bit of a tougher defensive mindset will help the Kings make a final push for the eighth spot in the West. They can hang with anyone in the NBA in terms of offense but defense either be their ticket to the playoffs or the lottery.
It may be a little early to predict which team in each conference will be the eighth seed in the postseason. However, after breaking down every team with a chance at the final spot, there will be no change in the Eastern Conference. The Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls will hold on to their spots. The Washington Wizards will barely just miss the playoffs. They dug themselves too deep of a hole to start the season to climb out of. In the West, the Houston Rockets will find a way to snag the eighth seed from the Utah Jazz. Again, these are early predictions and there are a lot of games left to be played between these teams.