The stretch run of the NBA season is upon us. The trade deadline is behind us. All-Star Weekend has come and gone, and just the final 23-25 games of the regular season lie ahead.
For 19 teams, that means it’s time to ramp up the postseason push. In the West, it’s a 10-team battle for eight positions, including a giant pack from the No. 3 to No. 10 separated by only 4.5 games. Out East, nine teams are in the playoff hunt, with the Pistons at 28-29 holding on to postseason hopes behind the Heat and Sixers.
The other 11 teams in the NBA have no playoff hopes and the final two months of the regular season will be all about positioning themselves for ping-pong balls. These teams can’t come out and say that at the risk of a $600,000 fine, but they can do their best to rest veterans, play young players and hope for some development coupled with losing to set themselves up with the best draft lottery odds.
It’s important to note that players and coaches don’t actively try to lose in games, because that’s how those guys lose their jobs. However, front offices have different ideas and can dictate who gets more minutes and who rests in order to give the team a better chance to lose. We’re going to look at those 11 teams to figure out where they’ll likely end up come April and what, if anything, they can do to ensure they get more ping-pong balls.