The so called second half of the NBA season starts after the All-Star break. It’s either the stretch drive to the playoffs or a lose at all costs dive to the bottom for the best lottery pick odds, but not every team is responding as expected. Maybe it’s just the blues because the race to the top of each conference has been over for quite a while now. If you’re not in Golden State (62-6), San Antonio (58-10), Cleveland (49-19) or Toronto (47-21), any aspirations for a first place finish died a long time ago.
Those top teams haven’t slowed down at all and maybe that’s part of the problem.
Since the break, the Warriors have gone 14-2 and the Spurs 13-2. They meet up on Saturday and twice more in April to decide who’ll own home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The third place Thunder are 11.5 games out of second with 13 games remaining and really have never been threat to the top two teams this season.
In the East, Toronto has gone 12-4 and Cleveland 11-5 to keep the rest of the field held at bay. The Hawks are 7.5 games back of the Raptors with 13 games left and are closer to ninth than second. It’s a virtual tie between the Hawks, Heat and Hornets eight loses back of Toronto, this race is over as well.
The Rest Of The West Just Don’t Care
It’s starting to look like no one else in the West is really all that interested in getting decimated by either of the top two teams in the postseason.
The Trail Blazers (36-34) have the next best Western Conference record since the All-Star break at 9-7 which has allowed them to cling to sixth place. The 35-34 Rockets 8-6 mark has them in seventh and that’s been good enough to pass the imploding 5-9 Mavericks (34-35).
Apparently the ninth place Jazz (33-35) haven’t opted to make a push for the playoff spot no one else is fighting very hard for as they’ve gone 7-9. Although, the Mavs might just lose enough games to give it to them. Dallas has the worst record of any playoff seeded team since the break.
The battle for third has looked more like two teams consigned to their fate. The 47-22 Thunder have lost 8 of 15 games since the break, but it hasn’t mattered. The 43-24 Clippers have gone just 8-6 to make up only 1.5 games, but why kill yourself now when it looks like the beaten and battered fifth place Grizzlies will be able to hold onto their playoff position since they’ve been playing .500 ball lately. Better to face the depleted Grizzlies than overachieving Portland.
There Is Still Some Pride In The East
The Charlotte Hornets have the third best record in the NBA since the All-Star break at 12-3. In eighth place prior to the break, the Hornets (39-29) have been hard-charging up the leader board to within a half game of Atlanta for third place. Over the past 15 games, Kemba Walker is shooting the lights out and scoring 24.4 points per game. They can’t catch Toronto, but they can grab home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
The Heat were supposed to fold or at least stall without All-Star Chris Bosh, but they dug deep, convinced Joe Johnson to sign with them after he was waived by Brooklyn and they’ve gone 10-5 since the break to move up a spot to fourth at 39-29. It’s crowded in the three, four, five, six spot, but they’re still here.
The Hawks (40-29) have kept pace going 9-5 since the break and climbed a spot at the Celtics expense to third.
The Wizards were in tenth place before the break (23-28) and they are still in tenth place now (33-35) after going 10-7. The difference is they’ve closed to within 1.5 games of the injury-riddled Bulls for eighth. Worth keeping an eye on, these guys can smell a playoff spot and they seem to actually want it.
The now seventh place Pacers (36-32) are keeping pace at 8-7, but that’s all they are doing and it’s making ninth place feel uncomfortably close. More was expected from a Paul George led team down the stretch and at the wrong time, his three-ball has deserted him.
The Detroit Pistons were in ninth place before the break (27-27) and they are still in ninth place (35-34). They made the big move to acquire Tobias Harris at the trade deadline, but it just hasn’t translated into more wins as the Pistons have gone 8-7. Right now they are in a virtual tie for eighth with Chicago, all they got to do is win a few games and they’re in – maybe, unless the Wizards take it from them.
The Celtics (39-30) have lost four in a row and gone 7-7 since the break. In this crowded field, a slump like that drops you from third to sixth in a hurry and worried about falling further. A Jae Crowder ankle sprain partly explains the slide, but this team was supposed to be deeper and tougher than that.
The 34-33 Bulls are 7-8 since the All-Star break, but it feels worse. Clinging to eighth place by the smallest of margins as Detroit currently owns the tie-breaker (2-1), Chicago needs to step it up a notch. More good news, the Pistons play the Cavaliers on the final day of the regular season, so don’t count on getting any help making it to the postseason if it comes down to that game.
There is no mistaking what the Lakers (14-55) and Sixers (9-60) are up to. The two worst teams in the NBA this season are fighting their way to the bottom. Philly is 1-15 since the break and the Kobe Farewell Tour has gone 3-11. No one is making up any ground on these two teams.
If it seems like Toronto has been in lockstep with the Cavs this year it’s because they have. At the end of each month they have been precisely 2.5 games behind the favorites and on March 16, it was still 2.5 games.