With the start of the NBA playoffs less than a week away, the Clippers, Celtics, and reigning champion Spurs are heating up at the perfect time of year. But what about teams at the opposite end of that spectrum? Due to a variety of factors like injuries, slumping players, changes to roster personnel, and lackluster win-loss records since the All-Star break, a collection of postseason-bound teams in both conferences are losing their mojo at the worst possible juncture.
The East-leading Hawks have been a media darling throughout the 2014-15 campaign. Atlanta’s upstart roster climbed to the top of the standings after sneaking into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed last season, but the Hawks have hit road block of late. The season-ending leg injury Thabo Sefolosha suffered during an incident outside a New York nightclub may hurt the team more than some fans realize.
While the 30-year-old bench player only averaged 18.8 minutes per game for Atlanta this season, the offensive rating of opponents checked in at just 97.6 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. That mark jumps to 105.2 points per 100 possessions with the defensive-minded Sefolosha on the bench.
Sefolosha teams with Kyle Korver to make up half of the best two-man tandem in basketball (of duos with at least 200 minutes played by net points per 100 possessions), this is a huge blow for ATL’s playoff blueprint. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a recent 112–108 loss to the hapless Knicks. If that loss doesn’t act as a wakeup call for Atlanta, nothing will.
Toronto leapt out to a 22-6 start through late December, but that early-season magic has all but vanished during the second half of the campaign. The Raptors went just 13-16 overall following All-Star weekend—only 11 teams were worse in that span, and just one of those 11 is bound for the playoffs. One of the biggest reasons for Toronto’s slump is the funk point guard Kyle Lowry has been in since appearing in the first All-Star game of his career (and his absence due to injury). The floor general shot an ugly 37.3% from the field to accompany averages of 15.1 points, 5.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds—all of those marks are below those he posted before All-Star festivities. He also missed nine of the last 14 games while dealing with back spasms.
Lowry’s three-point percentage of 33% is his lowest since the 2009-10 season (when he was still just a reserve with the Rockets). He hasn’t been particularly efficient from anywhere on the floor, and said shortly after the All-Star break, “I’m trash,” per the Toronto Star. His final game of the season against Charlotte provided some hope—26 points on 8-of-15 shooting (6-of-9 from beyond the arc)—but the Raptors need Lowry to get his health, confidence, and consistency figured out in the first round against Washington. Speaking of…
The Wizards have spent the past few months tumbling down the Eastern Conference standings. All the while, head coach Randy Wittman has become a media punching bag.
We've seen many NBA coaches run the Clogged Toilet offense before, but Randy Wittman is the one that mastered it. — Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) April 15, 2015
The Wizards’ offensive rating of 98.4 since the All-Star break is only better than five teams throughout the same span: Bucks, Hornets, Suns, 76ers, and Knicks. Washington will no doubt have to lean on point guard John Wall to orchestrate team success at both ends, but even the All-Star has struggled of late.
In five April games, the Kentucky product shot 39% from the field and 26.7% from three-point territory. His assists output was phenomenal (13.4 per game), but he also turned the ball over 30 times in those five contests (six per game). The Wizards have no bench production to speak of, so Washington will surely struggle in the postseason if Wall isn’t playing at his usual elite level. Wittman’s hot seat just keeps heating up.
Of all the teams poised to make the playoffs, the Bucks have been the worst since the All-Star break by record (11-18) and offensive rating (97.5). Perhaps that shouldn’t be a huge surprise, provided that Milwaukee mixed up the point guard spot by trading Brandon Knight in a three-team deal that netted the Bucks Michael Carter-Williams. There were sure to be growing pains with a new face in the crowd, but MCW’s numbers are down across the board with Milwaukee.
He was arguably the league’s least efficient shooter in 2014-15. The NBA sophomore’s shot chart was just plain ghastly.
There’s a decent chance Jason Kidd will be able to develop Carter-Williams into an All-Star down the line. At the moment, however, Milwaukee will have to lean on its length to wreak havoc on the defensive end in the postseason, because the offense needs a lot of retooling.
Portland Trail Blazers
Since Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles on March 5, Portland has gone 10-11 without him. That’s a strong validation of how much the shooting guard means to this team’s success.
He was an adept finisher around the basket and elite long-range shooter above the break and from the left corner. Now, midseason addition Arron Afflalo is the next man up, but he missed the final three games of the season with a shoulder strain—an ailment that could keep him sidelined for playoff action, as well. Even if Afflalo returns sooner and plays well, the bench will remain an area of concern. Portland’s reserves averaged just 16.1 minutes per game during the regular season—only the second units for the Bulls, Magic, Timberwolves and Clippers averaged fewer minutes of court time. Ultimately, a lack of depth will likely prove a death knell to the Trail Blazers’ title hopes.
Memphis finished the season 5-5 over its final 10 games with losses against Golden State (twice), San Antonio and the L.A. Clippers. Losing repeatedly to other Western Conference contenders heading into the playoffs certainly won’t help build confidence. Additionally, two of the Grizzlies’ best perimeter defenders (Mike Conley and Tony Allen) are hampered by injuries. Conley (foot) missed the last four games of the regular season, while Allen (hamstring) missed the last nine. There are no timetables for their return.
The only saving grace for Memphis at this point is that they’ll face off against the equally injury-ravaged Trail Blazers in Round 1.
After a Dec. 17 win against the Pistons, Dallas was humming right along and sported a 20-9 record. From that point forward, the Mavericks went an uninspired 30-23. Why is that date significant? It marks the point at which former Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was acquired via trade.
Quite frankly, the four-time All-Star just hasn’t been a good fit for Mark Cuban’s crew. The Mavs’ offensive rating with Rondo on the court sits at a mediocre 103.1. When he sits, that number balloons to a far superior 112.3. Go ahead and add those disconcerting numbers to Rondo’s run-in with head coach Rick Carlisle earlier this season. Oh, and Amar’e Stoudemire calling out the team’s effort in March by saying, “I came here to win,” following a 36-point loss to the Cavaliers.
All in all, there are a number of concerns facing this Mavericks team. It’s impossible to rule out a squad led by former MVP Dirk Nowitzki—especially because Rondo this has a chance to morph back into an elite difference-maker with higher stakes (which seems to be his modus operandi). Still, as a No. 7 seed matched up against potential MVP James Harden and the Rockets, Dallas needs a lot to go right to advance in the postseason.
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