The race for the eighth seed within both the Eastern and Western conferences is getting as close as it gets. Throughout the season, teams are usually in cruise control through most of the season just waiting for the right time to get hot and bring momentum into the postseason. Now, with the season winding down it is time for some playoff contending teams to thrust into full throttle every game to give themselves an opportunity to extend their season and hopes of accomplishing the ultimate goal. Hoisting the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy crowning themselves an NBA champion forever.
For the East, the Detroit Pistons currently hold the eighth seed in an uncomfortable tie between them and the ninth place Miami Heat. Both have a 34-36 record on the season through 70 games. With 8 of the Piston’s final 12 games coming on the road it’s hard to stay confident that they will hold up and maintain the eighth seed for 12 more games. Their road record is 11-22 on the year and they have gone 5-5 in their previous 10 matchups. Detroit have been inconsistent all year. Their largest win streak this season is only 3 games compared to their largest losing streak of 5 games. Now it is pivotal that they create an immediate spark for a winning streak now otherwise their season will end sooner than they would like. The Heat on the other hand, were once towards the bottom of the totem pole but seemed to have a New Year’s resolution to make the playoffs. Since January they have become one of the hottest teams in the NBA winning 21 of their previous 26 games. Their push to make the playoffs has been a wonder to observe. Heat fans have to be more than ecstatic to see this type of success blossom after Dwayne Wade decided to part ways with the franchise this previous offseason. Under the helm of Pat Riley, the Heat have gone from rebuild mode to playoff mode in less than a full season’s time. The chemistry was quickly formulated within the locker room and player’s have found their role on this team. I expect Miami to keep this heat streak going as they snatch the eighth seed from Detroit and meet Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs.
As for the West, the Denver Nuggets hold the eighth and final spot in the playoff seeding with a tight half-game lead over the Portland Trailblazers. Denver has not made the playoffs since 2012-2013 campaign although they could be back in the picture for an extended season this time around. Denver’s front office has been able to build a roster of players who all have an instinct for playing great offensive basketball as a team. Denver is 3rd in the league in scoring and assists and 2nd in offensive rebounding. As long as they can lock down on defense and not let another game slip from their fingers like last night’s loss against the Houston Rockets where James Harden drove the ball down from baseline to baseline in 5 seconds to win the game on a wide open lay-up, they will be the team that claims the 8th spot in the playoffs for the western conference. For the past couple years Damian Lillard and the Trailblazers have been known to come alive after All-Star weekend and this year has been no different for them. They have a 9-4 record since the break and Lillard is averaging 31.2 ppg, 2nd highest in the league under Russell Westbrook (34.5 ppg) while shooting 49 percent from the field, 44 percent from beyond the arc. Although, there is a difference between this year and the last couple years where they have had a success in ending their season well. That difference is they most likely will not make the playoffs this time around. Why? The seem to be on a decline while the competition within the Western Conference is only getting stronger. Portland has not endured a season under .500 since 2012-2013 which is also the last time they were left out of the NBA playoffs. Even though the Blazers found a way to scavenge wins here towards the end of the season, ultimately it happened too little too late. I expect them to be left out of the playoffs and for the Nuggets to extend their season for a series against the Golden State Warriors. Hopefully the altitude in Colorado can be used to the Nugget’s advantage for them to pull off a win or two in that series.