Now that All-Star Weekend has come and gone the NBA season is entering the final stretch. Teams around the league are battling for playoff spots and positioning and nobody wants to be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Teams that disappointed in the first part of the year are now looking to turn their season around either by making the playoffs or improving their disappointing playoff seedings. Here are five teams with something to prove after the all-star break.
5. San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have been the most consistent team in the NBA during the 21st century. They’ve made the playoffs a record 22 consecutive seasons, including five titles during that historic run. This season they are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
While they weren’t a lock by any means to make the playoffs in most people’s preseason rankings, they were mostly thought of as a bubble playoff team with a very good shot of snagging the seventh or eighth seed.
Instead, they are just 23-31, which puts them 10th in the western conference and five games behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. It’s not too late for the Spurs, with a strong veteran team led by Demar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge they are primed to make a run at the eighth seed and with Gregg Popovich at the helm anything is possible. But if they want to make the playoffs they need to show serious improvement in their play.
4. Orlando Magic
The Magic finished with a winning record last season for the first time since Dwight Howard left after the 2011-2012 season led by a strong performance from star forward Nikola Vučević. With the addition of former first overall pick Markelle Fultz and the continued improvement of young defensive star Jonathan Isaac, many thought the Magic had a chance at cementing themselves in the eastern conference playoff picture.
Instead, Orlando, along with their star Vučević, have hit a poor run of form this season and are just 23-31, hanging on to the 8th seed for dear life. If they want to be seen as anything more than an easy sweep in the first round the Magic need to find some form and fast. Players like Vučević and honorary dunk contest winner Aaron Gordon, who are both playing poorly this year, need to be leading the charge in bringing the Magic back into the thick of the eastern conference playoffs.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
Injuries are devastating Rip City this season. Three of their five regular starters, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Rodney Hood, are out with injury for extended periods and now star guard Damian Lillard might miss some time with a groin strain.
Even with all that this is a team that made the conference finals last year and to be sitting four games out of the playoffs is just not good enough, especially for a team led by one of the NBA’s elite. With Jusuf Nurkic set to return within the next week or two, the Blazers will get back a piece they have been desperately missing, a passing big man.
With Nurkic back the Blazers will look to prove that they really are among the NBA’s best teams and hopefully make a run back into the playoffs.
2. Houston Rockets
It’s not that Houston is playing poorly, in fact, they are right in the mix for a top-three seed in the Western Conference. The real thing Houston has to prove is that their new and innovative small-ball lineup can hold up against the best teams in the western conference.
This is a team that has had finals aspirations for years and now that they are finally fully embracing the three-point shot to the max. With the best backcourt in the league in Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the time is now for Houston to finally prove they are a true title contender and to make a run to the NBA finals.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
Who else could it be but Philadelphia? They often look confused and discombobulated on the offensive end. Things have gotten so bad at that end of the floor at times this season many are questioning whether Embiid and Simmons can ever thrive together unless Simmons magically develops a three-point shot.
They are currently the fifth seed in the eastern conference, disappointing for a team with an NBA championship in their sights before the season. And to think last year this team was one absurd Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater away from defeating the eventual champions.
The Sixers need to fix what’s been going wrong and fast and if they don’t turn things around quickly they could be in for an early and ugly playoff exit.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference
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