5 Playoff Teams That Need to Step Up Down the Stretch
Via. Bleacher Report
All-Star Weekend has passed, and the home stretch of the season is upon us. It’s time to see what each franchise is really made of this season. Teams like the Lakers and Bucks have a comfortable seat at the top of their respective conferences. Beyond those two, though, clubs will fight for playoff positioning until the bitter end.
Let’s take a look at five probably postseason teams that need to up their game and finish the season strong.
1) Miami Heat Current Position: 35-19 (.648), 4th in East
If the season ended today, the Heat would hold home court advantage in the playoffs. They’re 22-3 at home and only 4.5 games back from the second seed in the East. But there’s a catch.
Miami is just a 3.5 game drop from the sixth seed, meaning no home court. To make matters worse, the Heat and are a worrying 13-16 on the road. And after starting the season with a 24-8 record, Miami has gone just 11-11.
Shipping out Justise Winslow and bringing in some veteran help in the likes of Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder was a huge sign the Heat are all in this year. Not getting the Thunder’s Danilo Gallinari must sting.
Miami needs to right the ship and get back to its winning ways. Thankfully the team returns to action against the Hawks, Cavaliers twice and Timberwolves.
2) Philadelphia 76ers
Current Position: 34-21 (.618), 5th in East
The Sixers are only 1.5 games back from the fourth seed in the East but also only a two game fall from the sixth seed. Home court advantage means a lot more when you’re an incredible 25-2 at home and a pathetic 9-19 on the road.
After jumping out to a 20-7 start, Philly proceeded to go 14-14. They only have a 13-15 record against teams with a .500 or better record. Inconsistency plagues the Sixers.
At the deadline the team brought in Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III to bolster its bench, but only time will tell just how much these two can provide. The majority of the heavy lifting will have to be from the Sixers’ best players, and the fit and availability has been quite troubling. When Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid all play, the Sixers are 24-13 - when at least one is out, they’re only 10-8.
Questions will persist on the future of this roster and coaching staff. But winning fixes everything. That said, Philly will face the Bucks, Clippers, and Lakers on the road between now and March 3rd. The club only has a single road win against a team above .500 so far on the year.
3) Indiana Pacers
Current Position: 32-23 (.582), 6th in East
The Pacers are yet another team in the Eastern Conference that has struggled on the road. They’re 19-10 at home and 13-13 away, and 3.5 games back from the fourth seed. Indiana may end up with home court advantage, but will need to come out swinging.
Easier said than done. After starting 20-9, Indy too has cooled off; the team is 12-14 since, and has only won two of their last nine games.
A big reason for their recent woes is getting star Victor Oladipo back into the lineup. The Pacers are 2-5 since his return from injury. Oladipo made a mere 32.9 percent of his shots and 24.4 percent of his threes, scoring just 11.1 points per game. Regardless, the Pacers need him for any deep postseason run.
The continued emergence of Domantas Sabonis is something to keep an eye on. Ditto summer acquisition T.J. Warren. When he scores at least 21 points, they’re 18-4 compared to 4-19 when he doesn’t.
4) Utah Jazz
Current Position: 36-18 (.667), 4th in West
The Jazz are a wonder team, as in you wonder what kind of team they really are.
Mike Conley was supposed to help them quite a bit, but he’s been inconsistent to say the least. There’s a lot of working parts on Utah’s roster.
The Jazz are 24-5 against teams with a winning percentage under .500, but 12-13 facing teams .500 or better. Before winning their last four games, they had lost the last five before that. Head coach Quin Snyder needs to get his team in order.
The Jazz are only 1.5 games back from the second seed in the West, but only 3.5 games ahead of the seventh seed. That’s how close the West is after the Lakers. For Utah’s sake, with only 28 games left to play, they better figure it out and find a way to be consistent and win against tougher competition.
5 – Dallas Mavericks
Current Position: 33-22 (.600), 7th in West
As much of a sensation as Luka Doncic has been, and as good of a duo as he and Kristaps Porzingis are, there are a lot of red flags when it comes to the Mavs’ legitimacy.
First, Luka and KP have only played together in six of their last 22 games. The injury bug has hit Dallas hard, and the team is only 17-16 since starting 16-6.
Next, Dallas needs to learn how to close out games and to beat good teams. They’re 2-7 in games decided by three points or fewer, 0-3 in games that went to overtime, and 10-15 against teams that are .500 or above.
Here’s an interesting stat. What good is home court advantage when you’re better on the road? The Mavs are only 15-14 at home compared to 18-8 away.
Conclusion: I think all of these teams will be legit threats when the playoffs arrive but if they’re going to be title contenders, they will need to work on their weaknesses.