With the NBA’s new playoff rules, a total of 10 teams will compete for the right to play in the NBA Finals. With fewer than 20 games remaining for each team, the stakes cannot be higher. Playoff berths are coveted higher than anything else in the NBA, save perhaps for generational talent. Regardless, with playoff seeding solidifying, the pressure could not be higher.
While I am aware that the month of April is almost over, the stakes continue to get higher and higher. Every single win from now till May matters exponentially more than the last. While some teams face less pressure because of the circumstances surrounding the season (covid, new coach hirings, etc.), a playoff berth means everything to a team’s fanbase. If they want to keep their fans and players happy, these NBA teams need to make some major changes.
1: The New Orleans Pelicans
After selecting Zion Williamson with the first overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, the Pelicans have begun to see brighter days. In selecting Williamson, the Pelicans somehow managed to replace the generational talent they lost in Anthony Davis with another generational player, one with whom they could successfully build a completed roster around. They managed to do just that, beginning with Lonzo Ball and Brandom Ingram.
Despite being well-coached and loaded with young talent, the Pelicans have struggled down the stretch, losing several important games even with a full, mostly uninjured roster. At the time of this writing, they have won only 5 of their past 10 games and have slipped into 11th place in the Western Conference.
Besides the obvious fixes, such as improving upon their current 25-29 win/loss record, the Pelicans have several issues to address. Steve Van Gundy‘s system primarily focuses on offense, especially in the paint, but lately, Williamson and Ingram have performed underwhelmingly on the other side of the court. Although the Pelican’s defense is far below average as a whole, a possible solution to this problem might be found in focusing on improving the post defense, beginning with their big men.
While I am not overly concerned for the Pelicans playstyle, given the amount of youth in their roster, I do believe they have performed under their current potential, and I know several Pelicans fans that would agree with them. If the Pelicans management wants to see a turnaround in April and May, they need to begin making some major changes.
2: The Boston Celtics
The Celtics’ current standing is probably the most shocking of any team on this list. Two weeks ago, they sat at 21-24, a far cry from their .667, 48-24 finish in 2020. They have struggled mightily, even falling so far as to the 10th seed in their conference before a post trade deadline win swing improved their standings to 7th with 29 wins and 26 losses.
Having now won 7 of their past 10 games, the Celtics seemingly fixed some of their early season issues and now look to move higher in the standings. Having won key games against the Nuggets and Timberwolves, they do seem to be on a turn for the better.
The Celtics’ offensive and defensive statistics are above average, ranking in the upper echelons for almost every team statistic. One gaping hole, however, stands in their way: They rank 10th in the league for opposing points allowed, a problem that should certainly be fixed.
Overall, the Celtics statistics are above average or better. In fact, outside of the points allowed, there really isn’t a specific problem to address. Is it possible that there needs to be a major shift in coaching philosophy for the Celtics to jump back to the 4th seed?
3: The Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are in desperate need of a playoff run. The team has struggled mightily, and hasn’t made it to the NBA finals since the days of Michael Jordan. Having only made a single deep playoff run since the aforementioned Jordan-era, the Bulls seem to be in a constant rebuilding stage, one that ended only recently with the trade deadline acquisition of perennial All-star Nikola Vucevic. Pairing Vucevic with fellow All-star Zach Lavine seemed to be a match made in heaven, but it has not become a recipe for success quite yet. Since the trade, the Bulls have won only 4 out of their last 12 games, a measure of no small disappointment from Chicago fans.
While there is hope for the later future, basketball games are won in the present, and the Bulls have not proven themselves capable of consistently winning games. Although they do have an incredible roster and two All-stars to build around, they have not yet found their groove, slipping from 6th in the Eastern Conference to 10th, where they currently remain at 22-31.
Despite the fact that their stats have proven average or better in many areas, the Bulls have one incredible problem: they are 2nd in the league in turnovers per game and 27th in steals. Both of these categories are major issues for the Chicago coaching staff, who have their work cut out for them down the next stretch of games.
On the bright side, the Bulls have a relatively easy schedule ahead of them, although as some Chicago fans would point out, this is not an advantage since the Bulls seem to beat the good teams but lose to the bad ones. Regardless, the Bulls coaches have some major changes to make, lest the Windy City finds itself watching the playoffs continue without their team yet again.
There are, of course, more than three teams with major changes to make, yet these are the most obvious to the observant eye. I would particularly like to see these three teams thrive in the following weeks, but I also am aware of the politics in the NBA. The odds of these three teams all managing to finish the season on an especially high note are little to none. Regardless, one can hope, and I’m quite familiar with the feeling, having been a Bulls fan of a decade.
As always, this is an opinion piece. The thoughts presented here are not fact and should not be treated as such. If you have any thoughts, feel free to tweet at me on Twitter. My handle is @McFarlandElisha.