The playoffs are approaching and as always there are teams safely on top, others being mathematically eliminated and a few fighting for the last seeds. As of now, the battle for this precious 8th seed is being disputed by Denver, Portland and Dallas in the West and by Milwaukee, Miami, Detroit and Chicago in the East.
But among these teams which ones deserve the spot the most? And which ones would we like to watch threatening the league’s top teams in a playoff series? Here’s my answer:
Western Conference: Dallas Mavericks
Dallas started the season as one of the worst teams in the West. But with the help of some young players, interesting trades and veteran experience they are now four games behind the 8th spot. The Mavericks finished the months of October (0-3), November (3-11) and December (7-10) with a losing record. But since then they’ve had winning records: January (8-6), February (6-5) and March (5-4). So, what changed?
First, we have enhanced performances by young guards Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell. Curry averaged 10.3 PPG during the first half of the season and since then he has improved to 16.2 PPG. On the other hand, Ferrell has been a huge surprise this season. Ferrell went undrafted this year, but was signed by the Nets afterward. He played only 10 games and was waived before signing a 10-day contract with the Mavs at the end of January. Six days later Ferrell scored a career-high 32 points against Portland and won Rookie of the Month in February with some other amazing performances. Now that Deron Williams was waived, Ferrell has earned the starting job with consistent averages of 11.6 points and 4.6 assists his last 20 games.
The Mavs have also made an impact on the roster via trade. They acquired defensive big man Nerlens Noel from Philadelphia during the trade deadline. Before Noel, Dallas was 17th in the league in defensive rating, since then they have improved to 8th.
The third contributing factor for the Mavericks’ lately success is the big German. Out of the first 30 games of the season, Dirk only played in 6. Now that he is healthy he has been providing quality minutes. Besides, we all know the Mavs are a whole different team when “Dirk Diggler” it’s not on the court.
If Dallas climbs up to the 8th seed they would play against San Antonio or Golden State. Either way, it would be nice to watch Dirk facing his neighbor rivals once more or to witness genius Rick Carlisle drawing an elaborated game plan to dismantle the Warriors. Lets’ hope they make the playoffs on a late-run.
Western Conference Standings: 8. Denver Nuggets 33-37, 9. Portland Trail Blazers 32-37, 10. Dallas Mavericks 30-39
Eastern Conference: Miami Heat
Miami has been paying tribute to their name the last couple of months because they’ve been red hot. They have won 23 of their last 28 games. Goran Dragic is their main scorer with 20.3 PPG and an excellent 3-point percentage of 42.2%. Inside, Hassan Whiteside is the man. He averages 16.7 points and 14.3 rebounds a game. Plus his defensive prowess cannot go unmentioned; he is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. On the supporting cast, they’ve got Tyler Johnson, James Johnson and of course, Dion Waiters.
Waiters has been one of the most cold-blooded players this season. So far he’s got three clutch 3-pointers against Golden State, Brooklyn and most recently Cleveland, recording a “W” in each game.
But here is the most amazing stat to describe Miami’s sudden rise: before the All-Star break, they were 16th in net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) with -1.0, since then they are 1st with an impressive 10.5 net rating. Right now Miami is a working machine and they are not showing signs of slowing down any soon.
About that, at the moment Miami owns the 9th seed in the East. It’s easy to assume they will be in the playoffs, the question is against whom? Most probably they’ll face a top team in the East like the Celtics or the Wizards. They have lost all their games vs. Boston this season and won all of them vs. Washington. But it’s safe to say they are not the clear underdog anymore.
Whoever they end up battling in the playoffs it will be fun to watch them play. After all who knows how far can Erik Spoelstra and “The Dragon” go.
Eastern Conference Standings: 8. Detroit Pistons 34-36, 9. Miami Heat 34-36, 10. Chicago Bulls 33-37