Triple Threat Weekly: Rounding Out the Regular Season

Weekly NBA Content by Back of the Jersey

Jim and Tyler begin to wind down the regular season. For this week, they take a look at the fringe playoff teams in the East and West, their pick for ‘turnaround team’ next season, and Lance Stephenson…because seriously, what the hell has happened to Lance Stephenson?

D-Will celebrates a three point shot.

D-Will may lead Brooklyn to the playoffs this season, but where does his future with the franchise stand?
(Photo courtesy of Standing Sports)

Which bubble teams in both the East and West will end up grabbing the 8th seed in each conference?

Candidates:
East: Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets
West: OKC Thunder, New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns

Tyler

East: Brooklyn Nets – The Nets have struggled all season, but they have managed to pull out close games, which is why I think they’ll end up sneaking in the last week of the regular season. Of course, it helps that the Pacers, Celtics, and Hornets are no good, either. But, while I was watching the Knicks-Nets game Wednesday night, they announced an incredible statistic: the Nets are now 10-1 in games decided by 3-points or less. This is amazing, considering the Nets are 34-40 and on the fringe of making the playoffs in the East. Going forward, Brooklyn is a mess salary cap wise, so this was supposed to be the year the Nets competed. It certainly hasn’t happened. They’ll get into the playoffs, but they won’t win a single game. Atlanta should already get the brooms out, because even if they face Boston, Indiana, or Charlotte, the Hawks will be moving on easily in the first round.

West: OKC Thunder – This is another consensus pick. OKC currently sits in the 8th spot out West with a 1.5 game lead over New Orleans. Despite the injuries that Jim and I documented last week, it looks like the Thunder have managed to be good enough to find a way into the playoffs. Now, how will they fare versus Golden State? It may be a tougher series than most of “dub-nation” would like to admit. We’ll cover that in more detail later on, but Russell Westbrook has been so good in the last few months no one is eager to face OKC in the playoffs. But, unless some shocking collapse happens, they seem primed to give the Warriors a great first round series.

Jim

East: Brooklyn Nets – The Nets are currently slotted into the #7 seed in the East. I see them falling to the #8 seed and fending off the plucky Celtics for that last Eastern Conference playoff spot. They have gone 8-2 in their last 10 games, which includes a 5-game winning streak but they have a hellish final 8 games. 7 of their last 8 games feature playoff teams, including the Hawks (2x), Blazers, Bulls and Wizards. They need to hope that teams such as the Hawks and Wizards, who are likely slotted into their current seeding, rest starters down the stretch. Their saving grace is that their chief competition for that #8 spot, the Boston Celtics, close their season with 6 out of 7 games against playoff teams.

Although Miami has been sliding of late (5-5 in last 10 games and lost 2 straight), I see them sliding back up into the #7 seed, since they play only 2 playoff teams in their final 7 games. More importantly, the Heat control their own playoff destiny with games against the Pacers and Hornets, two teams who are still in the conversation for the final playoff spot.

West: OKC. They do play 4 playoff teams in their final 7 games but with Westbrook playing the way he has and OKC nursing a 1.5 game cushion over the Pelicans, I don’t see them collapsing and going 2-5 in their final 7 games. The Pelicans don’t have an easy stretch either, playing 5 of their final 8 games against playoff teams, which includes games against the Warriors, Blazers, Grizzlies and Rockets.

The 2015-2016 ‘turnaround’ team of the year is…?

Requirements: Did not make playoffs this season

Tyler

Utah Jazz – We haven’t discussed the Jazz all year in our Triple Threat Weekly articles, but I really like what they’ve been doing with their roster. Gordon Hayward has turned into one of the more underrated players in the league, and they are just 7 games under .500 for the season in a brutal Western conference. With the emergence of Rudy Gobert at the center position, Enes Kanter was made expendable. Gobert is already a rebounding machine (9 RPG), but if he is able to refine his post game in the off-season, the Jazz have one of the best front lines in the NBA with Gobert and Favors.

The team features plenty of talent in the backcourt as well. Dante Exum (19 years old), Trey Burke (22 years old), and Rodney Hood (22 years old) still need to develop their games, of course. And although the West is tough, I could see Utah making the playoffs next season considering this amount of talent that has yet to breakout. With an average age of just 23, the Jazz also consist of one of the youngest teams in the league, so they have a great opportunity to grow. No one will talk about them, but watch out for the Utah Jazz. It will be fun to track their development next season.

Jim

Boston Celtics – I couldn’t agree more with you, Tyler. The Jazz are a great story and Quinn Snyder’s success as a head coach in the NBA has been great to see. Moving on to my pick…although the Celtics may still nab a playoff spot this season, I see them potentially being a perennial playoff participant in the Eastern Conference pending this year’s draft and how they invest the $20 million in cap room they have this summer. Their best acquisition since 2013 was hiring Brad Stevens, who by all accounts and measures has quickly become one of the most respected coaches in the league.

Bill Simmons made a great point on his podcast, the BS Report: what team gets better after trading away their #1 and #2 players, in Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo? You could also argue that Jared Sullinger was their 3rd best player, who was averaging 14.4 PPG & 8.1 RPG before the C’s lost him for the season to a left foot injury in February.

I expect the Celtics to use their bevy of picks during the next several years to continue to draft quality guys while the big question mark is whether they can lure a marquee free agent or two during the next two summers to take this team to the next level. Even if they swing and miss with big free agents, this team still has #6 seed written all over them for next year. The Celtics are very much in the Eastern Conference picture for the foreseeable future.

Where in the world is Lance Stephenson when you need him?

Tyler

Sitting on the bench. That is where you can find the $27 million dollar man.

It is incredible to me that the Hornets, fighting for a playoff spot in the dreadful Eastern conference, no longer employ Lance Stephenson in must win games. That is how bad the Charlotte-Lance experiment has gotten.

Stephenson’s struggles have been well-documented. His season was summarized quite well in a recent ESPN article, titled “Lance Stephenson does not regret joining Hornets“…

“Stephenson is shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and has made only 16 percent of his 3-point attempts. Things have gone so downhill that he didn’t even play in Charlotte’s biggest game so far this season — a 116-104 loss Monday night to the Boston Celtics — despite two starters being out with injuries.”

There is no doubt in my mind Lance doesn’t regret inking the three year, $27 million dollar contract with the Hornets, but I wonder how regretful management and ownership (a la Michael Jordan) are at this point. With Stephenson’s toxic personality and mediocre on court play, he is going to be nearly impossible to dump this off-season. How do you bring this guy back? Well, in the land of the Charlotte Hornets, you have no choice.

Jim

I don’t think anyone foresaw the deal going so poorly for Charlotte. He has averaged a mere 16 minutes per game this season and hasn’t played in either of his team’s last two games. Hard to believe this is the same guy who led the league in triple doubles last year. He might be one of those head case guys that you need to stick on a veteran team, which he had the last four years in Indiana when he had guys such as David West, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, Paul George and Danny Granger assuming much of the leadership role.

On Charlotte, outside of Al Jefferson, he was expected to be a leader on this team. The Hornets started the season as the 10th youngest team in the league and outside of Al Jefferson, Gerald Henderson, Mo Williams and Jason Maxiell don’t have a ton of veteran leadership. MJ will have to see if there are any suitors for Lance but at this point he seems radioactive.

About Tyler Michels

Tyler is an NC State alum living in Raleigh, NC. Growing up in Northwest New Jersey, Tyler developed a love for New York sports teams, driving his desire to become a writer. In his free time, Tyler can probably be found on a golf course.

Comments

  1. alex brennan says:

    Jim, don’t count on the Hawks resting folks against Nets. Remember, Hawks get Nets first round pick, non-lottery protected, and so have extra incentive to try and knock them into the 9 seed.

    • Great, great point Alex. I completely forgot about that. I cannot wait for the playoffs. I expect the Hawks & Cavs to square off and am very much looking forward to that series. Hope all is well with you and that you are enjoying the spring weather!

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