Posted Mar 29 2011 11:30AM
Is it a blessing to grab the last playoff spot, only to become road kill for the top seed? Or is it better for a franchise to miss the playoffs completely and fall to the Draft lottery to get a slim chance of drafting a difference-maker?
There are no easy answers for teams caught in this no-win situation. There are times when the playoffs are clearly the better option, especially for teams that endured injuries and, when at full strength, are much better than the record shows. Others are better off ending the charade and going home; they're not fooling anyone.
We take a look at those fighting for the final spots in the East and West and take their temperatures:
They find themselves in control of the final spot in the East and yet folks in Indianapolis are too busy with Butler's run to the Final Four to notice. Where's the mania?
Well, maybe it's because no one would give the Pacers much of a chance in a first-round matchup with the Celtics or Bulls.
Still, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2006 would be a good tonic for everyone who's had to endure the tough times caused by The Fight and the ensuing absorption of bad contracts. Most of all, it would be welcome relief for Danny Granger, who's starting to wear down from carrying the Pacers offensively (he's a 37 percent shooter in March). Also, the playoffs might have a bearing on whether Larry Bird returns as GM.
Any way it's sliced, expect fans to take a cool approach to the Pacers until they get a new coach (Mike Brown?) and better help for Granger. Which means, wait 'til next year.
They let Raymond Felton walk in free agency, cut Tyson Chandler loose for financial reasons and gave up their best player, Gerald Wallace, for future help. That doesn't sound like a team that's putting a premium on winning now. And it shows; these Bobcats aren't the same pleasant surprise that made the playoffs a year ago, for the first time in franchise history.
Tyrus Thomas is back from a rib injury, for whatever that's worth. Paul Silas has done a solid job since replacing Larry Brown. But the Bobcats would lose the tiebreaker to the Pacers and Bucks, the teams they're chasing for the final spot. And in the absence of Wallace, the Bobcats have turned to none other than Stephen Jackson for leadership, a guy who's a technical foul shy of an automatic suspension, which would be costly in a playoff stretch run. Good luck with that.
With five of their next six games on the road, and their lone home game against the surging Sixers, it's looking urgent for the Bucks, who are in the running for this season's Most Disappointing Team. Last spring they took the Hawks to the limit in the first round. That seems like years ago now.
After a summer of roster tweaking, the Bucks figured to build on that experience. Instead, they're guaranteed a losing record. None of the major players, especially second-year point guard Brandon Jennings, has elevated his play from a year ago. John Salmons, after getting the big extension last summer, is shooting 40 percent, and the Bucks are dead last in the NBA in scoring. It makes you wonder if they've already tuned out Scott Skiles, the type of coach who comes with an expiration date.
Any team that lost its best player for the season would have a good excuse to fold, but the Grizzlies need to make the postseason for their own mental health. They didn't surrender a No. 1 pick for Shane Battier and sign Jason Williams and Leon Powe for nothing. Besides, while Rudy Gay will be missed, Zach Randolph has gone bananas, which happens when you're playing for a contract extension.
Memphis can be a dangerous first-round date for the Spurs or Lakers (the Grizz are 10-4 against the top four teams in the West) because of Z-Bo, and Battier's defense, and more consistent play of late by Mike Conley, who's beginning to make that $40 million investment look wise. Perhaps the biggest plus for the playoffs is that it guarantees additional revenue. That's a big deal for the small-market Grizzlies, who need to generate as much buzz as possible in Memphis.
Playoffs don't much matter for a team looking toward the future. That's what happens when you trade Aaron Brooks and Shane Battier at midseason; you send a signal. Their chances for the postseason are remote, with games against the Hornets, Spurs and Mavs still to come. Their defense is poor (104 points a game) and they're chasing a hot Memphis team for the final spot. Finally, Kyle Lowry must finish on a bum ankle.
Better the Rockets continue to see what they have in Lowry, who has looked strong lately, Chuck Hayes, Chase Budinger and Patrick Patterson. They already know what Luis Scola can do, and while he may not make the Rockets forget Yao Ming, he's someone healthy enough to build around, which Yao wasn't. Given the Yao issue and the turnover the Rockets made this season, Rick Adelman has done a typically decent job and deserves to be back.
It would be nice to see Grant Hill and Steve Nash, the old guard of the Suns, get rewarded with a taste of the playoffs. They've carried the club magnificently at times during all the roster turnover this season, and you can't find two players more professional or dedicated, a tough attitude to keep when a team is so annoyingly inconsistent.
But the Suns would likely get swept in the first round anyway. They have a terrible home record (20-17), Vince Carter got downgraded to the bench, Aaron Brooks is still trying to get comfortable in his new skin, and no front-line player is bringing much bang except Marcin Gortat. The Suns have only five players from last year, and it takes time for all the new pieces to mesh. So ... what does a team that just went through a makeover need the most? If you're the Suns, perhaps another makeover.
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