NBA Preview — The Mediocrity Sweepstakes
You don’t have to be good to make the playoffs in the East. You just have to be good enough
Take a look at the NBA standings above. I’ve deliberately chopped off the top and bottom of the Eastern Conference, leaving the teams from 7–11 who are all within a few games of each other. Two of these will make the playoffs, while the other three won’t. In the following paragraphs, I’ll attempt to give some semblance of a prediction about who will and won’t make it.
The first takeaway from these standings is that the Bulls are actually in pretty good shape. And that’s kind of remarkable given all the noise and drama coming out of Chicago recently. The many storylines coming out of the windy city often obscure some of the facts around time, like the idea that Jimmy Butler is really good, for example. Or that, as much as they’ve struggled, the Bulls are still one of the better teams in the East.
The Pistons round out this list for the time being, and are on track to finish with the same eight-seed that they recorded last year. That would be a massive failure to meet expectations for a young, growing team, but making the playoffs wouldn’t be too shabby given how much this team has struggled earlier on. They’re right ahead of the constantly-injured Bucks, who actually seem like a decent bet to grab the eighth spot.
Finally, there’s the Heat and the Hornets. Two decent teams, each with a reasonable chance at making the playoffs. However, given the flaws of each team and the gap they’d have to close, I think the safest bet is on the other franchises.
If I’m making predictions here — which I am — I’ll pencil the Bulls in for the seventh spot, and put the final playoff berth up for grabs between the Pistons and Bucks. The recent trade rumors around the Pistons are interesting, and it isn’t out of the question that they could elect to blow everything up. Because how much is the eighth playoff spot even worth? A first-round matchup with Cleveland? That’s essentially trading a slightly worse draft pick for two nights of playoff revenue.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of this is how mediocre the bottom of the East is. You could say that about the West too, but there are only six teams in the Eastern Conference with a winning record right now. A team doesn’t have to be great to make the playoffs here, or even good. They just need to be good enough.