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Playoff Bound Teams Struggling Early: Can They Still Make The Playoffs?

This NBA season is off to a weird start and not what was expected. In the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards were expected to make the playoffs and have a good seed. They are off to a terrible start and even though it is early, they could find themselves in a deep hole they can not come back from. In the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets are all currently out of the playoffs. Yes, it is early but the Western Conference is stacked and if you fall behind early, you can be left behind and miss the playoffs. Can any of these teams dig themselves out of this hole and still have a high seed, will they make the playoffs but with a lower seed, or will they miss out on the playoffs completely?

Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards are off to a terrible start to the season. They weren’t expected to have a 1-3 seed in the East but a lot thought still a top 5 team in the Conference. They have one of the best backcourt duos in the NBA in John Wall and Bradley Beal. They have been playing terrible defense and miss Howard. Howard coming back is going to help them defensively as he is a force on the boards and down low. The Wizards are luckily in the East and not the West. If they were in the West, I would say it is to late for them to get back in playoff contention. I do not see the Wizards being able to come back and get a top 4 seed. They still have a chance to get a lower seed like 7 or 8 but they will need to play better defensively and less selfish. I am going to predict however they miss the playoffs this season and make changes in the off-season. The emergence of the Bucks, Pistons, and Pacers along with the Raptors, Celtics, and 76ers makes it difficult to see the Wizards making the playoffs the way they are playing. The Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat seem to be a better team and have a better chance to lock up the 7 and 8 seeds in the East.

Prediction: Washington Wizards miss the playoffs

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit outside the top 8 in the Western Conference. The problem with falling behind in the West is the Conference is stacked with lots of teams who can make the playoffs. They have two of the better players in the NBA with Paul George and Russell Westbrook and are capable of going on a win streak. The addition of Andre Roberson later in the season will help them tremendously defensively. I am not going to rule out the Thunder and think they should still make the playoffs but not as a higher seed than originally expected. The West will be bunched up at the end of the season and every game will matter and a slow start can be the difference between a top 3-4 seed and a 6-8 seed. I think the Thunder will make the playoffs as a 5-7 seed and not have home court advantage in any series due to a slow start.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder make the playoffs

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves have been a circus this season with the Jimmy Butler fiasco. They looked on paper as a strong team to start the season with Butler, Towns, and Wiggins but they have a ton of distractions. If the Wolves do trade Butler, I do not give them any chance to make the playoffs this season but with Butler, they at least have a chance to get a lower seed. They will need to play better defensively and shoot better as they do not score many 3’s but they are still a good team. I think they have a slim chance to get a 7-8 seed. I am going to say the Timberwolves miss the playoffs this season because of team distractions, lack of 3-point shooting, poor defense, and poor coaching.

Prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves miss the playoffs

Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets are off to a terrible start to the season. After finishing first in the West last year, they look completely different this season. The losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute have severely impacted their defensive abilities. They have been playing terrible defensively and are not scoring at the level they are capable of. They are still a very good team with Chris Paul and James Harden and can heat up and go on a major win streak. Clint Capela is a good defensive center as well and they have good bench scoring. The Rockets are too good and will make the playoffs but with a slow start, they may not be a top 2 seed. Unless the struggles continue for a little longer, they are still capable of getting the 3rd or 4th seed even in the West. I have them making the playoffs and will still get home court advantage at least in the first round and will be shocked if they don’t end up with a top 4 seed.

Prediction: Houston Rockets make the playoffs

Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James and the Lakers are not off to a great start to the season and currently sit outside of the playoffs so far. If the Lakers were in the East, it would not be much of a concern as they are a talented young team and could still finish top 4 in the East but unfortunately they are in the stacked West. If the Lakers want any shot at finishing with a top 4 seed, they are going to have to improve their defense drastically. The Lakers were the most exciting team entering the season with James and all the young talent but falling behind this early could leave them without home court advantage in any series in the playoffs. James makes the Lakers a playoff team and I still think they make the playoffs but before the season, I had them finishing 3rd or 4th in the West but now I am knocking them down a little. I think the Lakers will get in the playoffs as a 5th or 6th seed and be a dangerous playoff team as their chemistry improves later in the season.

Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers make the playoffs

This article was originally published on @jamesb