With about two weeks left before the Feb. 24 trading deadline, the competition for the bottom playoff spots has intensified in both conferences.
The deadline and the postseason chase are linked because teams with no shot at the playoffs are more likely to begin positioning themselves for the future, while teams still in the hunt are apt to hang on to talent they otherwise would consider dealing -- like, say, Andre Iguodala in Philadelphia, Stephen Jackson in Charlotte or even Steve Nash in Phoenix.
In the East, five teams -- the Sixers, Pacers, Bobcats, Bucks and Pistons -- have a shot at securing one of the last two playoff berths. The West race is even more dynamic, a far cry from last season when the eighth seed won 50 games and finished eight games ahead of the ninth-place team.
Among the teams on track to hold one of the last few slots in the West are the Nuggets, who are exploring deals for their superstar; the slumping Jazz, who are 4-9 in their last 13 games; and the Trail Blazers, who have been decimated by injuries but could get some key players back soon. Their closest challengers include the Grizzlies, who have won eight of 11 and possess improved depth for the stretch run; the Suns, who are beginning to jell after a major trade; and the Rockets, who play 17 of their last 29 games at home.
So strap yourselves in for a stirring final two months of the season.
(Stats and records are through Feb. 7.)
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