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Playing Contender or Pretender For NBA Teams on the Playoffs Bubble

It is just passed the halfway mark in this years NBA season. The trade deadline and All-Star Break have come and gone as we head into the chaotic and frantic races for the final seeds in each conference. Many teams have all but clinched their playoff spots barring any catastrophic collapses, but I would like to focus on those either making a late push, or struggling to keep their head above water. After a glance over the teams fighting for the 6th, 7th and 8th seeds, I have decided whether they are contenders, or pretenders.

Eastern Conference

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Indiana Pacers

Current Position: 5 seed

In what was supposed to be the first year of a rebuild in the Post-Paul George Era, the Indiana Pacers find themselves right in the thick of things to start the second half. The young core of Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner and co. show no signs of slowing down. Where this team could struggle is their lack of experience paired with the 3rd hardest remaining schedule in the East according to tankathon.com. However, I fully expect Indiana to coast into the playoffs

Final Verdict: Strong Contender

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Milwaukee Bucks

Current Position: 6 seed

The Bucks were considered a strong favorite to challenge the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference this year. While their season hasn’t exactly reached everyone’s expectations, they are still a playoff team if the season ended today. Anytime you have an MVP contender on your team, your odds of success tend to rise, especially if that candidate is a 6’11” wing man nicknamed the “Greek Freak.”

Final Verdict: Strong Contender

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Philadelphia 76ers

Current Position: 7 seed

“The Process” seems bound for their first playoff appearance since 2012. The up-and- down year for the Sixers should end on an upswing as they have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA according to tankathon.com. Like the Bucks, this team lacks in the experience department, but its is hard to see them blowing their lead when facing opponents with a combined .441 winning percentage the rest of the way.

Final Verdict: Contender

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Miami Heat

Current Position: 8 seed

The Miami Heat are a team that I am very on the fence about. You don’t necessarily realize the potential they have until you look closer and see All-Star Gordan Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and a cast of young talent all led by future Hall of Famer and three-time NBA champ Dwyane Wade. It is hard to pick against this team, but I am going to have to because when five teams are contending for three spots, someone has to lose. I believe the Heat just lack the star power that the other teams possess.

Final Verdict: Slight Pretender

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Detroit Pistons

Current Position: 9 seed

The Detroit Pistons are a team that wants to show their fan base what they are capable of. They made a statement move in trading for Blake Griffin and they possess an All-Star in Andre Drummond. Their guards are athletic and true scorers and they are the top 3-point shooting team in the East at just under 35%. They started off hot, and then really cooled off, but I believe this team has one more run in them that could carry them to an 8 seed.

Final Verdict: Contender

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Charlotte Hornets

Current Position: 10 seed

The reasons that I included Charlotte in this list of teams include three things. Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard and .467. Kemba Walker is a playoff caliber point guard, even if his surrounding cast isn’t up to par. One of his teammates who is up to par is Dwight Howard who is quietly averaging a double-double. Lastly, the Hornets face opponents with a combined .467 winning percentage the rest of the way, second to only the 76ers in terms of easiest schedule in the Eastern Conference according to tankathon.com. However, it is very hard to see them overcome the rest of the contenders in this crowded field.

Final Verdict: Pretender

Western Conference

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Denver Nuggets

Current Position: 6 seed

The Nuggets are enjoying their best season since 2012-13, earning quality play from their exciting, young core. Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have all improved their play from last season and the Nuggets are looking at a very bright future. Personally, I do believe that the inexperienced team does drop off near the end of the season and just misses out on the playoffs. I wish they had some more depth and veteran leadership down the stretch. Despite my prediction the Nuggets will still be contending to the end.

Final Verdict: Contender

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Portland Trail Blazers

Current Position: 7 seed

The Trail Blazers are built to be a team that makes the playoffs year in and year out. When you have a backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, your are more times than not going to find a way to win. While the Blazers are far from a championship contender, they are certainly clear of the playoff cutoff based on talent alone.

Final Verdict: Strong Contender

Photo Credit: Theringer.com

New Orleans Pelicans

Current Position: 8 seed

The Pelicans had something good going this year, and then DeMarcus Cousins went out for the season with an achilles injury. They attempted to fill the void with Nikola Mirotić, but as good as he is, we can all agree he is no DeMarcus Cousins. I expect the Pelicans to continue to skid until the end despite a strong effort from their star Anthony Davis.

Final Verdict: Pretender

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Los Angeles Clippers

Current Position: 9 seed

I love the way this Clippers roster is built. They are by no means NBA title contenders, but, at least until the end of the season, they have a playoff worthy roster. Clippers have their leaders in DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams, but what really impresses me are their “glue guys.” The Clippers trade for Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley will work in their favor as these guys bring very specific skill sets to the locker room that every team needs. Harris’ new found 3-point shot and Bradley’s stellar defense will compliment the stars around them nicely. I expect the Clippers to sneak into that 8 seed by season’s end.

Final Verdict: Contender

Photo Credit: CNN.com

Utah Jazz

Current Position: 10 seed

I love this team. Donovan Mitchell is a star in the making and Ricky Rubio is arguably enjoying his best season in the NBA. Rudy Gobert finally looks healthy and here to stay and the Jazz will try to continue their winning streak past the All-Star Break. The Jazz have the 3rd easiest schedule remaining in the Western Conference according to tankathon.com and I believe that the talent and chemistry surrounding this team is plenty for them to continue to ride their momentum.

Final Verdict: Contender
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