30. San Antonio Spurs
Not even the mighty Spurs dynasty could withstand father time. The organization that was once the epitome of success in the NBA, having a winning record for 22 consecutive seasons (1998-2019) is in the midst of one of the worst seasons ever under Gregg Popovich. They have a few promising prospects with Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, however the future is looking bleak with zero chance of competing this season. The tank for Victor Wembanyama has begun and San Antonio has already placed their bid in the lottery.
29. Houston Rockets
Once again the Rockets find themselves towards the bottom of the standings and in these rankings. They have some solid pieces such as Jalen Green and Alperen Şengün but they just haven’t been able to consistently perform at high levels. They are squarely in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes and that could alter the future of this team if they were to land him in the upcoming draft.
28. Detroit Pistons
A young Detroit Pistons squad came into this season with the hope that they would challenge for a play-in spot. But as soon as second-year guard Cade Cunningham went down with a season-ending shin injury in early November, those aspirations were gone. They have the worst record in the Eastern Conference, despite strong efforts from Bojan Bogdanović and Jaden Ivey. The addition of James Wiseman is one that will draw some attention, but this is going to wind up being another disappointing season in Detroit.
27. Charlotte Hornets
Very tough news to come out Monday night with All-Star guard LaMelo Ball fracturing his right ankle resulting in the Hornets franchise player missing the rest of the season. Charlotte has struggled to find any success all year, with Ball already missing a significant portion of the season, along with the rest of the team underperforming. A team consisting of Terry Rozier, PJ Washington and Kelly Oubre Jr. as their leading scorers in Ball’s absence just lacks the talent to win at this level. Similar to the other bottom feeders, Charlotte’s best hope is adding someone through the draft and hope Ball can return healthy next season.
26. Orlando Magic
The core is there for the Magic. They seem to be one of the better up and coming teams around the NBA and for good reason. Paolo Banchero is the real deal and is going to help take this franchise from out of the dumps that they have been in the last few seasons. The future is bright down in sunny Orlando.
25. Chicago Bulls
Adding Patrick Beverley in the buyout market is nice and all, but will that be enough to put the Chicago Bulls in a position to make the playoffs? With 20 games to go, it is now or never for this team if they want a spot in the play-in tournament. Zach LaVine was great in the month of February (averaging 26.3 points in 11 games), and DeMar DeRozan is still one of the best mid-range scorers in the league. The Bulls have been underwhelming to this point, but a solid month and a half to finish the year could quickly change that narrative. Otherwise, I think we will have some major changes occur during the off-season in Chicago.
24. Indiana Pacers
While not playing the best basketball of late, the Indiana Pacers still have playoff aspirations and with the play-in tournament, these sub-.500 teams can remain in the race deep into the season. They have some fantastic talent on this roster: Tyrese Haliburton was a first-time All-Star, Myles Turner is a top-five rim protector, Benedict Mathurin has a strong case for Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year and Buddy Hield is top ten in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage. The Pacers have the ability to sneak into the playoffs, but they are currently 24th in the NBA in defensive rating and if they want to make a postseason push, closing out games and improving their defense down the stretch will be how they reach that goal.
23. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are in such a weird spot. They have talent on the roster but are barely clinging onto a spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. I think they are good enough to win a game or two in the play-in but likely wouldn’t go much farther than clinching a playoff spot. Toronto should have sold off some pieces during the trade deadline but instead chose to try and win. It’s a bold strategy and one that may not work out in their favor.
22. Oklahoma City Thunder
All-Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder have shown quite a bit of progression this season, despite being the youngest team in the NBA. Their ability to get contributions from so many different guys proves that they are moving in the right direction under head coach Mark Daigneault. Gilgeous-Alexander has been suffering from an ankle injury post All-Star break, but the 24-year-old was recently placed in health and safety protocols. Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams will attempt to hold the fort down in his absence, as they look to keep their play-in hopes alive.
21. Portland Trail Blazers
The Western Conference is wide open, it is just a matter of which teams heat up in March and April. The Trail Blazers are 11th in the West but within three games of the fourth-seeded Phoenix Suns. Portland has many solid pieces with Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons (Currently sidelined with a grade two ankle sprain), along with adding Cam Reddish at the deadline for Josh Hart. However, the reason this team always has a chance is because of number zero. Damian Lillard literally just dropped 71 points on the Houston Rockets this past Sunday, he can score at will and from ANYWHERE on the court. Like it has been since he was drafted in 2012, if Portland advances up the standings, it will be behind the effort of one of the coldest players in the NBA.
20. Washington Wizards
When you have Bradley Beal committed for the next few years, you’d think the team would be better but the Wizards have fallen into the middle ground area. Some nights they are good and others they just don’t show up. Washington is still alive for the play-in tournament and if they get in, they could be a formidable opponent. Like a few others around the league, the Wizards find themselves in a strange spot.
19. Minnesota Timberwolves
Acquiring Rudy Gobert in the offseason was meant to be a move that would put the Minnesota Timberwolves among the top teams in the Western Conference. But inconsistent play and injuries have kept them around .500 for most of the season. Three-time All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns should make his long-awaited return in the next week or two, giving the Timberwolves a much needed boost. Anthony Edwards has played at an extremely high-level all year (averaging 24.6 points), and Gobert has been impactful when healthy. The Timberwolves are in line to make the playoffs, but how much continuity will they have by the time they get there?
18. Utah Jazz
For a “rebuilding” team, the Utah Jazz have surprised every team with their regular season success. After head coach Quin Snyder and All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were dealt away in the off-season, the lottery appeared to be the Jazz’s most likely outcome entering the season. However, Lauri Markkanen has emerged into a star, earning a spot as a Western Conference starter in the All-Star game and will probably be this year’s Most Improved Player. Rookie Walker Kessler has also displayed his prowess on both sides of the ball, showing he was much better than the 22nd-best selection in this past year’s draft. Utah is scary because they are such an unknown entity and whether they fall off or rise up will be determined by the final few months of play.
17. Los Angeles Lakers
Just when things were finally looking up for this historic franchise, LeBron James hurt his foot and now will miss multiple weeks to recover. The Lakers have looked like a completely different team post-trade deadline and were finally looking like a potential playoff team. Now they still have talent on the roster that could keep them afloat with James missing time but the burden now falls onto the shoulders of Anthony Davis. If he can be his dominant self, along with the core pieces they got at the deadline then Los Angeles should be able to sneak into the play-in. If they ever do get all their pieces back before season end and they find themselves in the playoffs or play-in, the Lakers would be one of the more dangerous teams around the entire NBA.
16. Atlanta Hawks
For a team that was in the Eastern Conference Finals just two seasons ago, the Atlanta Hawks find themselves in position of regression once again. There was a lot of excitement when the organization traded for Dejounte Murray, especially because of his qualities on the defensive end. His strengths were expected to compliment Trae Young and his weaknesses, and for the most part, they have. So why have the Hawks been this consistent? They rank 21st in defensive rating, which is hard to overcome in this league. Head coach Quin Synder was brought in to replace the recently fired Nate McMillan, so we will have to see what kind of effect that will have on the team. If the Hawks can be just a bit better on the defensive end, they will be a playoff team.