The NBA Playoffs tip off in ten days. While 19 teams are currently jostling for playoff positioning, they’re not all equal combatants in the NBA’s marathon postseason. Let’s separate the 19 playoff contenders into five groups.
“We’re here for the free drinks”
A few months ago the Sixers looked like a team capable of making noise in the playoffs. Advancing to the 2nd round for the first time since the Allen Iverson era appeared certain. Some even argued Philadelphia would give Miami and/or Chicago headaches. Sadly, those forecasts could not be further from the truth. The Sixers failed to beat both Miami and Chicago during the regular season, they’ve posted an ugly 11-16 record since the All-Star break, and worst of all, the team has reportedly grown tired of the aggressive intensity of coach Doug Collins. In other words, it’s possible (and even likely) the Sixers have already quit on the 2012 season.
If you visit this blog from time to time or follow me on Twitter, you know my feelings on the Sixers. I’m not a fan of advancing to the playoffs just for the sake of getting to the playoffs, at least not in the NBA. While the odds of landing a top pick are extremely low, the possibility at least exists. Heading into the playoffs as the 7th or 8th seed is a death sentence for the Sixers. Last season’s one-and-done playoff run was a great experience for a young, developing team. To do it again makes little sense, especially when the team is digressing and tuning out its coach. I love Doug Collins, but his shtick has failed now with multiple teams. Either he needs to change his style or return to broadcasting (which would be awesome).
The Sixers have the pieces for a nice team. However, Evan Turner is still an enigma in need of a coach who can develop and groom him into an effective point forward. Thaddeus Young’s growth has slowed and maybe even begun to move backward. Jrue Holiday is as inconsistent as you’d expect from a 21 year old and Lou Williams has established himself as the guy you want taking crucial 4th quarter shots if you’re goal is to lose. To recap, there’s been very little progression this season for a young team that hoped to bloom into a contender in the East.
Last season, the Sixers were moving forward and getting their first taste of the playoffs as a seventh seed. This year, they find themselves as an eighth seed and headed the other direction. At this point, the lottery offers more hope than the playoffs.
There are currently five teams (Mavericks, Nuggets, Jazz, Rockets, Suns) in a heated battle for the final three seeds in the Western Conference. I haven’t the slightest clue who will miss the boat and who will get into the party. I do know this, though; the Suns will be the easiest out of those five teams. Don’t flip out just yet. Hear me out. Just because I think Phoenix will be the easiest out, doesn’t mean I think they’re a horrific team or less worthy than those other four teams. It’s simply a matchup issue.
The Suns play the same up-tempo style of play as the Thunder and Spurs. If the Suns hang onto the final spot in the West, either San Antonio or Oklahoma City will be waiting for them in the opening round. Let’s not mince words. The Suns don’t stand a chance against either of those teams. Besides, no one expected the Suns to be competing for a playoff berth this late in the season anyway. Furthermore, absolutely no one expected yet another superb season from the ageless Steve Nash. I would welcome the Suns in the playoff just to see Nash single handedly steal a game from the conference’s heavyweights. Unfortunately, though, that’s Phoenix’s 2012 postseason ceiling.
I’m pulling for the Bucks to pass the Sixers for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference for three reasons. First, as I mentioned before, the ping-pong balls bring more hope than getting swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Second, Milwaukee has a feisty group that could turn a Bucks/Bulls first round series into a heated grudge match similar to playoff hockey. The Bucks play like their coach, Scott Skiles – a gritty, undersized guard who hustled his way to a respectable NBA career. Unlike the Sixers, the Bucks play with a little fire and toughness. Joakim Noah and Ersan Ilyasova or Carlos Delfino should be good for at least three nose-to-nose stare downs and maybe even a shove or two.
Third, Milwaukee guards, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are irrationally fearless. Although they may shoot 25% on any given night, that won’t deter them from hoisting 20 shots each. And who knows, if they get hot, we could find ourselves locked into a decently competitive first round series, which in the East, is a rare treasure. Will the Bucks beat the Bulls? Of course not. Though, at the very least, they’ll put up more of a fight than the lifeless Sixers.