This NBA season has been unlike any other. If you would have told me at the beginning of the season, that with less than 30 games to go, the Hornets and Knicks were in a playoff spot, I would not have believed you. That is not the only surprise of the season, as the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns are currently the top two teams in the Western Conference, while the Philadelphia 76ers lead the Eastern Conference.
With these surprise teams either making a playoff push or leading the conference, it leads to those who usually make the playoffs, to be fighting for one of those last spots. With less than half of the season left, these teams will need a strong finish to the regular season to safely secure a playoff spot.
Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors had a pretty good first half of the season, finishing a game over .500, but have struggled since then, winning only three of their last nine games. Curry has been sidelined since March 17 after suffering a tailbone injury, and the Warriors have not played well in his absence. In the five games they have played without him so far, they are 1-4, putting them in 10th in the Western Conference.
With the new playoff format, the 10-seed still qualifies for the play-in tournament and a chance at a playoff spot. If the Warriors are able to hang on to that 10-seed and Steph Curry is healthy, they will be a team nobody will want to play come playoff time.
The current Toronto Raptors do not look like a playoff team. They currently sit in 11th in the Eastern Conference and have not looked anything like the team they were last year as the underdogs. The trade deadline looked as though it would end the Lowry era in Toronto, but after several calls, no deal was made. Norman Powell was the biggest player on the Raptors that was traded that day, going to the Trailblazers for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood in return.
Toronto started to play like the hungry underdogs towards the end of the first half and into the All-Star break but have had awful losses since. The Raptors do not have a solid big man who can grab boards, which is why the Raptors are last in the league in rebounding. The Raptors have lost nine straight in the month of March and are 1-11 in their last 12 games. The way they are playing now, they look like a team that is closer to the bottom, than one competing for a playoff spot.
With the race between the fourth seed and ninth seed separated by just two games in the Eastern Conference, there is a lot that can change for the Pacers, who are currently in that ninth spot. The Pacers recently announced that T.J. Warren will be out for the rest of the season after surgery on his foot, while Caris LeVert made his Pacers debut just a couple of weeks ago.
Indiana has had a tough schedule as of late, with their last three losses coming against the Nuggets, Nets, and Bucks. The Pacers schedule will get a lot easier in the month of April, which should help them safely secure a playoff spot. The current roster is good enough to compete for a four or five seed in the East, but the main priority for this team will be avoiding that play-in game and securing one of the top six seeds.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have been struggling on defense all season, and it has really hurt their chances at a playoff spot. They are currently in the top 10 in points, rebounds, and assists per game, but rank 25th in opponents’ points per game. Zion Williamson has been on a tear these last couple of weeks, scoring at least 25 points in each of the last five games, yet the team is only 3-2 in those games.
The Pelicans are currently the 12th seed in the Western Conference and are a game and a half back behind the Warriors for that 10th seed. If the Pelicans can finish strong the rest of the way, the likely best scenario would be the 7th or 8th seed, which would put them in a favorable situation for the play-in round. However, the way the season has been going for New Orleans, the most likely outcome is finishing the season as the 9th or 10th seed or missing the playoffs entirely.