NBA Playoff Race Update: Do the New-Look Pelicans Still Have a Shot at the Postseason?
Every Friday from now until the end of the season, we're dropping a new edition of this column to update the NBA playoff picture.
We'll explore each team's playoff probability (based on our algorithms), divide each conference into different tiers of playoff hopefulness, and then discuss any movement among the teams from week to week.
The tiers are as follows:
These are teams with a playoff probability of 99% or more. These teams would need to have the meltdown of the century to miss out on the playoffs.
These are the teams that have a decent to very good chance of making the playoffs, but still need to earn their spot and hold off other teams to get there.
Dead or Dying
These teams will need a miracle to make the playoffs or have already been eliminated.
The top half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket looks to be set in terms of which teams we can likely expect to be there, but the order of the seeding is still very much up in the air.
The once mighty Cavaliers are losers of three in a row and five of their last seven and are dealing with a Kevin Love injury, the Celtics are 4-5 in their last nine, the Wizards play 13 of their remaining 19 games on the road, and the Raptors are without Kyle Lowry until the playoffs.
In other words, each team is vulnerable right now and they could land in just about any order between now and the end of the season.
(5) Atlanta Hawks (35-29, 97.0%)
(6) Indiana Pacers (33-31, 79.9%)
(7) Detroit Pistons (32-33, 65.6%)
(8) Chicago Bulls (31-33, 48.8%)
(9) Miami Heat (31-34, 50.8%)
(10) Milwaukee Bucks (30-33, 41.8%)
(11) Charlotte Hornets (28-36, 15.6%)
The Hawks are a full three games behind the Raptors, creating a clear divide between the top four in the Eastern Conference and everyone else. As of now, the Hawks are the closest thing to a lock for the playoffs of the "Bubble Teams" with a 4.5-game lead on the ninth-place Heat, and will likely move up into the "Sure Things" category before long.
It doesn't help that they've lost three of four, but they are still well positioned.
The Pacers are the only other team left in the conference with a record over .500, leaving the Pistons, Bulls, Heat, Bucks, and Hornets to duke it out for the final two playoff spots. The Hornets are a long shot at three games out, but the Pistons, Bulls, Heat, and Bucks are all separated by only one single game and all have something close to a 50% chance of making it, according to our algorithms.
The battle between those four teams for those last two spots will be one of the most compelling seeding stories to watch down the final stretch of the season. For now, we have the Pistons (65.6%) and the red-hot Heat (50.8%) making the cut.
Dead or Dying
The Knicks looked like they were back to being a potential playoff team early this season, but any hope of that is all but squashed now that they're 5.5 games out of eighth place with only 17 games remaining and a 0.4% chance of making it, according to our algorithms.
The Magic and Sixers have even more impossible hills to climb at 7.5 and 8 games out, respectively, while the Nets are the only team in the NBA that is officially eliminated from playoff contention at this point (congratulations?).
(1) Golden State Warriors (52-12, clinched)
(2) San Antonio Spurs (50-14, clinched)
(3) Houston Rockets (44-21, 100.0%)
(4) Utah Jazz (41-24, 100.0%)
(5) Los Angeles Clippers (39-26, 100.0%)
(6) Oklahoma City Thunder (36-29, 99.8%)
(7) Memphis Grizzlies (36-29, 99.9%)
The Warriors became the quickest team in NBA history to clinch a playoff spot back on February 25th and the Spurs weren't far behind them, locking up their 20th straight trip to the postseason this past week. The Dubs winning the top seed in the Western Conference once seemed like a given, but the Kevin Durant injury has set them back, as they've now lost three of their five games without him.
The Spurs, meanwhile, have won 14 of their last 17 contests (including a streak of nine in a row that was just broken), and have moved to within two games of the top spot. This race just got interesting.
Beyond the Warriors and Spurs, the Rockets, Jazz, and Clippers are all pretty safely locked into their respective seeds. The Rockets trail the Spurs by a convincing 6.5 games in third, then the Jazz are three games behind them in fourth, followed by the Clippers who sit an additional two games down in fifth.
Three games down from the Clippers, the Grizzlies and the Thunder are tied for the sixth spot. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1, with the final game coming on April 5th. If the Grizzlies manage to tie the series and both teams finish with identical records, the tiebreaker would come down to which team has the better record against Western Conference opponents, and Memphis currently has the edge with a record of 26-16, as compared to OKC's 23-18.
Neither team is a likely division winner and they play in separate divisions, which negates the next two tiebreakers beyond head-to-head record and resulting in conference win-loss percentage deciding it.
There is a massive, 6.5-game divide between the Thunder/Grizzlies and the eighth-place Nuggets, all but assuring that there is only one spot in the Western Conference playoffs left unspoken for.
The Nuggets currently sit in that spot, but the Trail Blazers only sit a half-game back and have a slightly better chance of making it, according to our algorithms. That said, the 8th-place Nuggets and the 11th-place Timberwolves are only separated by 2.5 games, so each team has at least a puncher's chance of claiming the final spot, since the Trail Blazers' 41.3% chance of making it is far from a sure thing.
This race will likely come down to the final few games of the season.
Dead or Dying
The Pelicans may have made the splashiest trade deadline deal by landing DeMarcus Cousins, but the move has done nothing to help their playoff chances.
They are 2-6 since acquiring Cousins and 1-6 in games in which he's played. They currently sit 4.5 games out of eighth and would need something resembling a miracle to overcome their mere 1.0% playoff probability. For what it's worth, they're not even that much better off than Cousins' former team, the Kings, who are a half-game ahead of them in the standings with a comparably low 0.6% chance of making the postseason.
Meanwhile, the Suns and Lakers are way out of it and looking towards the draft lottery.