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Predicting NBA 2015 Playoff Teams and Home Court Seeds

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Predicting NBA 2015 Playoff Teams and Home Court Seeds

We enter the week with all teams having between 4 to 6 games remaining in the regular season. There are technically 22 teams still in the mix to make the post season. For the Houston Rockets they could finish as high as second or as low as sixth. A full examination of their race was examined by Mitchell Kay’s article: Classic Wild West Playoff Shootout

As we are so close to finalizing playoff berths I decided to break up the weekly power rank article with a companion piece looking at the races in each conference as well as the internal races to capture the final seeds and jostling for home court:

The Races Within the Race:

Eastern Conference Seventh and Eighth Seeds:

For the East there are five teams competing for two positions with the seeds changing nightly. As of today (April 7th) the seeds look like this:

Brooklyn sit in the seventh slot holding a game lead on Boston and have been the hottest team in the East with Brook Lopez suddenly finding a place in Lionel Hollins starting line-up and offensive strategy. Deron Williams has found his stroke and Joe Johnson is back to being Joe Cool. The big difference appears to be the addition of Thaddeus Young and Markel Brown who’ve made the Nets a faster team. Their route to the post season features potentially the hardest schedule though as they face Atlanta (who have a vested interest to knock them out given they have the ability to swap their draft picks), Washington, at Milwaukee, Chicago and Orlando. As hot as they’ve been it’s conceivable they could lose 4 of their last 5 games.

Apr 6, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Thaddeus Young (30) and guard Darius Morris (14) defend against Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum (3) during first half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Boston hold the last spot in eighth with a one game lead over both Indy and Miami. They have a tough schedule remaining with only one team not in the playoffs facing Detroit on the road, a home and away series with Cleveland, Toronto and finish at  Milwaukee. While Brad Stevens has done a commendable job with his young Celts it feels like the veteran leadership of Indiana or Miami may prevail

Apr 4, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) gestures while watching game action against Toronto Raptors with team mates (from left) Jared Sullinger, Phil Pressley and Jonas Jerebko on the bench at Air Canada Centre. The Celtics won 117-116 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana welcomed back Paul George which inspired the Pacers to a win. Arguably this could be a nightmare match-up for the Hawks should Indy prevail in the eighth spot given the size of Indy’s front court. Although the Pacers have the same record as Miami they hold the edge given their better conference and division record. Their final games feature the Knicks and Detroit on the road, OKC and Washington at home and they finish in Memphis. Can George be the catalyst for the Pacers to fight their way into the post season, and further could he propel Indiana to an upset in the first round?

Apr 5, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) guards Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade (3) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Miami 112-89. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Miami with the loss in Indiana Sunday things are looking a little desperate for the Heat but don’t count out Dwyane Wade from rising up to lead his squad into the post season. Like Indy, the Heat have a formidable force in Hassan Whiteside who could cause havoc for the Hawks and you can never truly count out Wade from being a factor. Of all the teams fighting for the seventh and eighth seeds the Heat have the most experience in winning so keep your eye on them.

The Heat’s final five games feature Charlotte, Chicago, Toronto, Orlando all at home and they finish in Philly. Many want to see the Heat ascend into the seventh seed for the dream match-up of the Heat versus James, but do they have enough to even make it a fair fight? That depends on whether the defensive Luol Deng of the Bulls days shows up, how Whiteside would deal with his introduction to the playoffs and whether Wade can lead his Heat into what would be the biggest upset of the playoffs. Still, never say never.

Looking back I’ve felt Wade was the true leader of the Heat in terms of his ability to inspire and motivate his teammates more so than LeBron James as the Heat didn’t become successful until Wade stepped back to outwardly allow James to handle the ball. Yet,  in playoff games the Heat won they often came down to how well Wade performed more so than James.  Prior to last week that boded well for Miami, but then they went on a 4 game losing streak. And, in the Sunday night loss to Indiana both Deng and Beasley left with knee injuries. So, even if Wade decides to go video mode he’ll be leading a severely under manned Heat squad. The schedule favors the Heat, but all these injuries might be too much even for Wade to overcome.

Charlotte bring up the rear and are the only team of of these five with six games remaining. Their schedule does them no favors with the first game versus the team directly in front of them (Miami) then home to Toronto, on the road in Atlanta and Detroit back home with Houston and they finish in Toronto. With Al Jefferson hurt and a dearth of offense it feels like the Hornets could be ruled out of the mix by the time they play the Hawks.

Key games this week:

  • Charlotte and Miami face each other Tuesday with the loser likely being knocked out of the race for 8th (Bye-bye Hornets).
  • It could be a very interesting week for the Nets. Atlanta will be looking to knock them down again given they hold the right to swap picks with the Nets and pushing them out of the playoffs would give the Hawks a lottery pick. Conversely if the Nets have a big week, by the time Sunday rolls around the game with Milwaukee could have big implications in terms of who gets the 6th seed. The Bucks have won two of the three games the teams have played and hold a better conference record which means if they take their winnable games versus the Knicks and Philly they would force the Nets into winning out to usurp them for the sixth seed.

Western Conference Eighth Seed:

Historically the Western Conference has teams battling right down to the final day of the season to determine seeding and this year is no different. What is unusual is the East actually have more teams in the mix for the final playoff spot.

Six West teams have verified their post season berth and while Dallas is a virtual lock to return, there remains three teams vying for the eighth seed: Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Phoenix. The Suns are pretty much are out of the running based on their inability to take advantage of recent games losing 5 of their last 6 and now sit 3 games back of OKC with only 5 games remaining. New Orleans is winning in spite of their diminished roster but can they catch Oklahoma City?

The final games for each of the teams fighting for the eighth seed in the West favors the Thunder, however it’s not like they’ll be garnering much benefit other than getting their youngsters some experience in the post season given their opponent would be the formidable Warriors. In some ways it feels like the Pelicans could benefit more from a post season berth, but don’t tell that to Russell Westbrook who won’t go down without a fight.

Oklahoma City have the easiest schedule of the 3 teams vying for the eighth seed. They’ll face San Antonio, but then get some easier competition in Sacramento, Indiana, Portland and finish versus Minnesota. If it comes down to the final game the fact they play Minnesota while the Pelicans face San Antonio it definitely favors the Thunder. Coincidentally all three teams are 5-5 in their last ten games but they need to make sure they finish a game ahead of new Orleans since they hold the series tie break. If the Thunder can beat Sacramento Indiana and Minnesota while the Pelicans face formidable Southwest teams it could be the difference.

Apr 5, 2015; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) shoots the ball in front of Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sportsa

New Orleans have a pretty trying schedule remaining facing Golden State who will be looking to rebound from their loss to the Spurs, then they have 3 games featuring two teams in a dog fight for the Southwest Division and second seed: Memphis and Houston with Phoenix sandwiched in between. The one easy game they have is in Minnesota and then they’ll finish at home to San Antonio.

April 3, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23, right) passes the basketball against Sacramento Kings forward Jason Thompson (34, left) during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Pelicans defeated the Kings 101-95. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix will play all but one game on the road: Atlanta, Dallas, New Orleans, San Antonio and finish at home versus the Clippers. With Oklahoma City holding the tie break over the Suns the only hope they have is for the Thunder to lose all their remaining games and to win out themselves. Versus the Pelicans they sit 2.5 games back and are tied with them on the season series, but the Pelicans hold a better conference record. Every team they face is playoff bound except the Pelicans who may be sitting in eighth by the time Phoenix arrive in New Orleans.

It’s literally just a matter of which game the Suns will get eliminated from their quest. For the Suns it has to be considered a wasted year given the failed 3-guard experiment, loss of both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas and rumblings of chemistry issues with the current squad. It will be very interesting to see what management does this summer to re-tool this squad in an effort to make them more competitive next season. They missed a prime opportunity this year and now will be in an even more competitive West with the rise of young upstarts Utah and Minnesota while Denver and Sacramento look to reclaim their edge too.

Home Court Seeds:

Eastern Home Court:

The other race which both Conferences are vying to cement is who will finish with the second, third and forth home court seeds.

The East has four teams vying for home court with Cleveland likely to capture second due to a 4-game lead over Chicago following Sunday’s win.

Therefore the real race is for third and fourth with a very interesting sub text. Toronto has owned Washington winning the season series 3-0, while the Wizards took out Chicago last season in the playoffs and Chicago dominated Toronto this year. If the post season were to replicate the regular season Toronto’s best bet would be to capture fourth as they remain the only team to have beat Atlanta 3 times and were 3-0 versus Washington.

Only two other teams have beat the Hawks more than once: San Antonio who swept their series and Charlotte who’ve beat them twice and have an opportunity to replicate what the Raptors have done if they beat them Wednesday. It’s a calculated risk for Toronto given the Wizards are built for the playoffs but the length of the Bucks could pose problems for them and it would mean they would face Cleveland in the second round if they were to get by Milwaukee.

This might also help Chicago who would likely finish third and thereby avoid Washington, but it would mean facing Cleveland in the second round, which may not be ideal given these two teams are likely the best bets to come out of the East. No offense to Atlanta but they haven’t looked like the Hawk team who were dominating pre All-Star. From my perspective as good as the Hawks were in the regular season in terms of their ball movement their lack of size in the front court will create issues when they face a team with a big front court which will likely occur in the first round unless Boston get the eighth seed.

Western Home Court:

In the West Houston, Memphis, Portland, Los Angeles (Clippers) and San Antonio are all still in the mix to capture home court. Entering Tuesday the team who fell off the race to win home court was Portland having lost to Brooklyn Monday night which gave both the Clippers and San Antonio a leg up on them should they finish fifth.

Houston have a huge test this week facing 3 division games in a row: a road and home series versus San Antonio followed by the Pelicans and they’ll finish versus Charlotte and the Jazz. The Rockets have been on a roll having won 7 of 8, so look very strong entering the week. If they could split with San Antonio it’s feasible they could win the other 4 games to secure the second seed.

Their immediate threat is Memphis  who have bonafide competition in New Orleans, Utah, Clippers, Golden State and finish against the Pacers who may still be vying for a post season berth. What the Rockets need is for Memphis to lose one game more than they do so they stay ahead of them  since the Grizzlies hold the conference and division tiebreaks currently.

Apr 5, 2015; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after being called for a foul in action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers have the easiest schedule to finish facing the Lakers, Memphis, Nuggets and Suns who’ll likely be eliminated by that point. They sit a game and a half back of Houston, a half game back of Memphis and a half game ahead of San Antonio.

While Memphis is on their heels the real concern is San Antonio because if they take both games versus Houston they draw even with the Rockets and could take the Division. The Spurs other games feature all 3 teams vying for the eighth seed and could potentially end each of their chances to grab the post season berth. The scary part is it’s feasible the Spurs could win out and take the Southwest Division, so Houston need to at least split the series since the Rockets have a better conference and division record than the Spurs.

Apr 5, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) is defended by Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (30) during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction:

Obviously anything can occur, but I’ll take a swing at how I think the races will pan out:

Eastern Conference:

  • Atlanta
  • Cleveland
  • Chicago
  • Toronto
  • Washington
  • Milwaukee
  • Indiana
  • Brooklyn

I’m not confident Brooklyn can maintain their seventh position given their schedule features a ton of top teams and they are just as apt to go on a losing streak. Still they’ve got the edge in their lead over the competition and should hang on for eighth at a minimum. Given the Heat’s injuries it makes their battle an uphill one and the Pacers should be buoyed by George’s return which may find them facing their old nemesis the Cavaliers or Hawks.

Just like the Warriors may have feared facing the Thunder with a healthy Ibaka and Durant (prior to their injuries) you have to think Cleveland and Atlanta might not think grabbing one of the top two seeds is much of a bonus if they end up facing the Pacers  featuring an improving George.

Western Conference:

  • Golden State
  • Houston
  • Memphis
  • Portland
  • Clippers
  • San Antonio
  • Dallas
  • Oklahoma City

My thoughts are Houston will prevail by splitting the San Antonio series and win their other 3 games. The interesting part is the competition between San Antonio, Memphis and the Clippers for the third seed given they could all finish with a 55-27 record and then things get interesting. The Spurs split both their series with Memphis and the Clippers, but have 4 less conference wins which is virtually impossible to make up.

This means the only way San Antonio can move up is by winning out and hoping the Clippers and Memphis lose multiple games. I’m assuming that won’t happen so let’s pencil San Antonio in sixth. Then the three seed and five seed come down to the game they play against each other. It will be interesting if either team opts to try to lose in an effort to avoid San Antonio. If Memphis feels they can’t win the division would they throw the game to play Portland instead of the Spurs?

It just feels like history will repeat with Memphis playing San Antonio. As much as the pundits rank the Clippers high on the ladder I think any of Houston, Memphis or San Antonio would gladly play them in the first round, but I think it will be Portland who end up facing the Clippers.

So settle in for some great games over the next nine days and let’s see how the races pan out. Who do you think will take the 16 seeds and who will get home court? We’d love to hear your predictions.

Next: Debunking 5 Myths why Rockets can't win it all

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