Apr 5, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) leads a fast break against the Miami Heat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Miami 112-89. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
NBA Power Rank Week 23:
We’re down to the final 5-6 games of the regular season with almost as much uncertainty of who’ll be playing when the season wraps up in 9 days as we had in October. In my companion piece Predicting NBA 2015 Playoff Teams and Home Court Seeds I outlined the path for the 21 teams vying to fill the 16 seeds and their odds of reaching those positions.
Obviously the goal is to avoid injuries to core players at this time of the year especially for top tier teams. Teams jousting for the bottom seeds have no choice except to compete just to get to the post season. However top seeds must be careful to not lose someone in the final 5 games which could effect their playoff run.
While Al Horford has shown how much his presence helped the Hawks this season following his absence for 2 consecutive years with torn pectoral muscles it was Paul Millsap who left Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury. The Hawks are already thin and under sized up front, so news he will only miss 2 games is reassuring, yet it points to how susceptible the Hawks bigs are. Most of the teams vying to finish eighth have a big in their front court who will already cause match-up issues (Miami: Whiteside, Indiana: Hibbert, Brooklyn: Lopez).
February 19, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) reacts following the 119-115 victory against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Clippers who have very little in the way of a bench will welcome Jamal Crawford back with open arms this week.
Toronto have been without Kyle Lowry for 9 games (other than the 10 minutes he played in the Detroit game) however Mike Fratello stated Saturday night on NBA Game Time he had spoken to Lowry who is close to a return. The loss of Amir Johnson to a twisted ankle wasn’t ideal (as we saw vs. Brooklyn in the second half and against Boston on Saturday, however it might have provided a good reason to rest Johnson several games to get him fully healthy like Lowry and DeRozan.
The other key factor is the battles within the seeded teams as they look to capture home court or maneuver to face a preferred opponent. In fact, we might even see some teams looking beyond the first round as they try to align with a second round rival in an effort to avoid the other option.
At this time of year the battles become a daily watch as seeds shuffle up and down, sometimes by more than one spot following a single loss or victory. The outcome of the season series also becomes relevant as tie-break situations are determined imparting further pressure.
For example Oklahoma City already knows they must not only capture eighth, but do so with at least a full game on New Orleans. Since the Pelicans won the season series they’ve also won the tie-break should the teams end up dead locked.
The common denominator for the currently seeded teams and ones on the periphery chasing the final slots is building to the perfect crescendo.
A perfect balance of health and on court flow is the desired result for April 15th. I liken it to an Olympic athlete or a boxer who trains to reach their peak precisely at the moment of their big event.
Like recent seasons the plethora of activity over the final ten days offers a peek into early playoff-type basketball.
That’s great for the fans especially this season with the East actually having as many internal races as the West, albeit with a dearth of winning records. To that end, let’s take a look at the Rockets rank and my top ten.
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Next: The National Lists