FOX Sports NBA Analyst
Teams still capable of jumping out of the lottery bracket and climbing the playoff ladder didn’t end with the loss of LeBron James to injury to the Los Angeles Lakers over the next two weeks.
There are still a couple of other NBA teams with proud veterans and winning mindsets currently on the outside of the playoff picture that are not only capable of earning one of the four coveted playoff spots in their lecture, but thrive in it. do-or-die scenario and make the real postseason. Not to mention offering a solid reward if they do.
I’m not guaranteeing any of these teams will be in the playoffs. But if I had to bet on one team from each conference that isn’t currently in the picture going into it, those are the two I’m putting money on.
Let’s dive in.
RELATED: Damian Lillard on future with Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers +45000 to win the NBA title at FOX Bet
Damian Lillard signaled to his team and the rest of the league that he has no intention of missing the playoffs for the second year in a row with his 71-point performance in his first game since the All-Star break.
After all the years Lillard has defied the Blazers’ preseason expectations and led them to record wins (six of nine, not counting last year when he played just 29 games), I won’t bet against him getting them more than .500. again, which should be enough to move up from their current 11th place to at least the play-in tournament.
And in a one-and-done scenario, the experience of dealing with elimination situations is priceless. If the Blazers make it to the play-in tournament, they will most likely have to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz or New Orleans Pelicans to advance. I like his chances, led by Lillard (61 playoff games), Jerami Grant (35) and Jusuf Nurkic (16).
I feel a little uncomfortable when a team tries to improve i be cheap at the trade deadline, which is what the Blazers did for drop Gary Payton II and Josh Hart for, essentially, Matisse Thybulle and Cam Reddish, but in this case, I can make a case that it has the potential to improve them in the short and long term.
Thybulle is a better defender for Portland simply because he’s available to play, something Payton hasn’t been, and still isn’t, for his new/old team, the Golden State Warriors. While Hart’s basketball IQ will be sorely missed, he had a down year with the Blazers., and if there is an area in Where Portland has depth, it’s in the wing department.
Chicago Bulls +45000 to win the NBA title at FOX Bet
The Bulls limped into the All-Star break on a six-game losing streak. DeMar DeRozan missed half of those losses, but now he’s rolling again. The main reason to believe they can overtake the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors or Atlanta Hawks is that they are far and away the best defensive team among the four: fifth overall, while the Raptors are the next best of this group at 16 . His net rating is also tied with the Raptors for the best among the four.
At this point in the season, however, the psyche and motivation of teams is critical. Which team did you expect to be in the playoffs when the season started? Which team’s season would be considered a disappointment if it doesn’t get them? The Bulls check both boxes.
Play-in games have also generally been decided on the last possession. As noted, the Bulls are better equipped to make stops if that’s what it takes to advance. And given the choice between DeRozan, Bradley Beal, Pascal Siakam and Trae Young for a basket with playoff hopes on the line, DeRozan has shown far and wide this season that he should be the first option. Zach LaVine isn’t too shabby either.
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young-onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds”. He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @Rick Bucher.
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