Does any team want the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference? It certainly doesn’t seem like it. The Indiana Pacers are on a six-game losing streak and the Charlotte Bobcats ended their own six-game skid just the other day against the Portland Trail Blazers. Going on such streaks has turned what seemed like a two-team race into a trio of teams into competition, with the Milwaukee Bucks winning three in a row to pull within a half-game of the 8th seed. With such a close battle, who looks like they’ll be playing against the first seed in April?
Remember when Indy was promising and beat the Heat and Lakers in the same week? Well, those times are long past. The Pacers have since fallen apart, fired former head coach Jim O’Brien and recently look like a disjointed group of guys that just can’t put it all together to win games. They have a good group of young talent, but they lack effort, which is very concerning. Their schedule heading down the stretch is not easy, with about 10 games (out of 17 remaining) against playoff-caliber teams.
The Bobcats traded their most versatile player in Gerald Wallace and center Nazr Mohammed to initiate the rebuilding process that’s been needed for so long, but also got some young talent in Dante Cunningham and D.J. White for immediate compensation. If it wasn’t for injuries to Stephen Jackson and Tyrus Thomas, the Bobcats could be the team watching in their rearview mirror right now. But that’s just speculation. Whereas Indiana struggles with effort, the Bobcats simply struggle with talent. They seriously lack in the scoring department, relying on Stephen Jackson to shoulder the brunt of the challenge. Gerald Henderson has emerged as a decent offensive threat while D.J. Augustin has treaded water at the point. Now that Tyrus Thomas is back, the Bobcats improve immediately in their frontcourt defense and scoring as well. But their remaining schedule is pretty tough with a four-game road trip coming up and a good many playoff quality team to play.
The Bucks have underperformed this season, partially due to injuries, but mostly due to awfully inefficient shooting. Milwaukee is last in the league in field goal percentage, with 42.5%. They just don’t have an efficient scorer like John Salmons was last year. The Bucks struggle to get great looks and don’t shoot very well when they do. But in their recent win streak, the Bucks have found efficient offense to go with their usual stout defense built around Andrew Bogut. Their remaining regular season schedule includes ten teams expected to be in the playoffs, many of which are away games. Towards the end of the season, they play a tough three-game road trip against Orlando, Miami and Detroit that could make or break their playoff hopes.
Prediction: I’m going to go with The Bucks. The Pacers just aren’t playing with heart or as a team. I don’t see them making it to the post-season. While Milwaukee’s offense can be scary (in a bad way), so can the Bobcats’. Milwaukee has the hot hand on offense and their defense is better than Charlotte’s. The Bucks also hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Charlotte. They both have tough schedules in April, so it should be pretty close.