NBA: Eastern Conference Bubble Teams

February 23rd, 2009
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At this point in the season it seems as if seven Eastern Conference teams are likely going to make the playoffs, which leaves one open spot for just a small handful of teams vying to sneak in for a likely 4-game appearance against the Cavaliers or Celtics.
We call that group of organizations "Bubble Teams," because that bubble is going to pop for three of the following four groups. For the most part you could flip a coin, but heading down the stretch it's relatively clear who will make a run at it and who will come up short.
Milwaukee – The Bucks are the current holders of that eighth seed, but they're an organization fighting myriad injuries. Top scorer Michael Redd's out for the season and starting center Andrew Bogut is gone until the last two or three weeks of the year. There's some young talent on this team, but not enough experience to stave off some of the more veteran groups on this list, like…
Chicago – It's not clear yet whether the one-third of Chicago's roster they switched out at the deadline is going to be a good thing down the stretch this season. On paper it would seem that Brad Miller, John Salmons, and Tim Thomas are going to be more productive than Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni, Larry Hughes, and Thabo Sefolosha, but who's to say they'll come together quickly enough to actually be a playoff team? Derrick Rose and coach Vinny Del Negro—both rookies—had just gotten used to their personnel. This isn't to say they won't be better next season, but they might not have the firepower to do it this year.
New York – Grabbing Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox for virtually nothing was a coup for the Knicks, but this still isn't a team that plays defense, and how is any team supposed to win in the clutch without sticking some D? Just like with the Bulls, this group has some adjustments to make with the new guys, but I don't like their chances any more than Chicago's.
New Jersey – Before their current five-game skid, the Nets might have been the favorites of this group to make the playoffs. Vince Carter and Devin Harris have been so very good this year, and rookie Brook Lopez has been one of the best rooks in his class. If they stay healthy and get back on track, they're the favorites.
When it's all said and done, nobody would be surprised to see any of these teams in that eighth spot, but the point of this piece is to pick a favorite. For now, that's New Jersey, but check back in two weeks and minds might be changed.
Until then, let's enjoy the race of it and agree that the best team will eventually win. We just don't know who that is quite yet.