INJURIES, bad chemistry, the wrong coach. There are a lot of reasons why teams underachieve year in year out. For one reason or another, these five teams found themselves on the outside of the playoff bracket looking in last year, with some of them looking from a long way back. However, things can change quickly in the NBA and don’t rule out one (or more) of these squads going on a surprising run.
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Dallas Mavericks (24-58 last season)
AND just like that Dallas is back. Well, maybe not back to being the powerhouse they were in Dirk’s prime, but don’t rule out a trip to the postseason in 2019. After having their playoff streak snapped two seasons ago, they needed just two trips to the Draft via the lottery to find their backcourt of the future. Both Dennis Smith Jr and Luka Doncic could develop into All-Star’s one day and there’s a possibility we are talking about them as the best guard duo in the league five years from now.
WITH DeAndre Jordan (three years later than expected) in the middle catching lobs and solid scoring pieces in Harrison Barnes, Wes Matthews and Dwight Powell, there is a blueprint for success in place. I don’t think it will translate to an immediate playoff appearance given how competitive the West is, but don’t expect Dallas to be easy beats anymore.
Detroit Pistons (39-43 last season)
TO be honest I think what happened to Detroit in the second half of the season will help them immensely. The arrival of Blake Griffin was meant to propel them into the playoffs and instead, they landed flat on their face. Much to the delight of Pistons faithful, their stumble led to the firing of Stan Van Gundy with Dwane Casy, the reigning Coach of the Year, his new successor. Casey’s track record suggests Detroit will start to turn things around.
Image from pistonpowered.com
OF course, the biggest question mark with this team is can they stay healthy. Blake Griffin’s body won’t be the only one under the microscope with all eyes on their starting floor general Reggie Jackson as well. If the two of them can stay on the court for 75-80% of the season (and that’s a big if) then Detroit should be sitting in a #6 seed come April/May.
Denver Nuggets (46-36 last season)
I’M cautious against going all in on a Denver renaissance. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way they have built their team and after landing the seemingly final piece of the puzzle in Paul Millsap last year was meant to vault them over the edge. Injuries to Millsap and Gary Harris down the stretch probably cost them a playoff spot, but I think their problems arise at the top of the helm.
AT times last year the Nugs lost games they should have easily won and I’m pointing the blame at Mike Malone. He can prove me wrong by bringing this unit together and winning over 50 games, which is what I expect to happen in Denver. Isaiah Thomas will add another string to their bow scoring the ball with Nikola Jokic poised to become a household name and season now. Anything short of a top-6 seed should probably be considered a failure this year for Denver and for them to take that next step and become a title contender, Malone might have to make way for a fresh face.
Image from nba.com
Los Angeles Lakers (35-47 last season)
THIS one is obvious. LeBron’s arrival in Tinseltown means that the frequent trips to the lottery are going to come to an end. Can they do so this season though? With a young core surrounding him, James’ place in the postseason is in question for the first time in recent memory. The ’04-’05 season when the Cavs missed out on qualifying through a tiebreaker was the last time LeBron missed the playoffs.
HE should be able to help fuel an LA revival with a midseason trade for another All-Star teammate a very realistic possibility. Even if he is stuck with this uh intriguing supporting cast, then King James should do enough to get them a win total at least in the high 40’s. He won’t be able to have as many nights off in the regular season out West, but he knows how to carry a team (see Cavs ’17-’18 season).
Chicago Bulls (27-55 last season)
REBUILDING is tough and there are certain pros and cons of being a cellar dweller. Chicago was able to benefit from all the players on rookie deals by giving Jabari Parker a ton of cheddar. The Bucks weren’t in on keeping the injury-plagued forward by all reports, so the Bulls pounced. His troublesome knees are an issue the team is familiar with. The prize asset in the Jimmy Butler trade a year ago, Zach LaVine only managed 24 games last year as he recovered from an ACL tear.
GIVEN how young their core is Chicago can afford to still take these types of gambles. The payoff if LaVine and Parker can stay healthy is huge and supported by fellow youngsters, Kris Dunn, Wendell Carter and Bobby Portis the Bulls have an exciting future on their hands. For now, the postseason is just out of reach, but they are coming.
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