This time of year strategy can get really weird, with all kinds of stuff happening besides every team trying to win every game. Some teams are out of the playoffs and tanking. Some teams are trying like hell just to make the playoffs. Some teams are resting players so they'll be at their best in a few weeks' time when the games matter more. Some teams are essentially practicing ... trying out lineups and plays now that they might use when the games matter more. And there might even be a team here or there willing to move down the playoff seeding to avoid a killer first-round matchup.
Meanwhile, it strikes me as handy, now and again in the season's final weeks, to peek at where we stand. Based entirely on John Hollinger's strength-of-schedule and margin-of-victory-based simulations here's a baseline assumption of how things will finish, based on what we know as of March 26. It's sure to change:
1. Miami Heat
8. Milwaukee Bucks
At HoopIdea we've often discussed tanking, and many have proposed that to keep the worst teams from throwing games, all 14 lottery teams should have an equal chance at the top overall pick. But I don't like that solution, because it would move the tanking further up the standings. If you ran the Bucks, and being the East's ninth-best team meant as good as chance as anybody at the top overall pick ... would you really bring your A-game in an effort to be Heat cannon fodder?
4. Brooklyn Nets
5. Atlanta Hawks
The Heat are waiting in the second round, but that's not all bad. Anything can happen. And beating the Heat might be the only thing that could remove the stench of mediocrity that hangs over both franchises.
2. Indiana Pacers
7. Boston Celtics
In a crying shame that the two biggest rivals to the Heat in the East must face each other in the first round. It's not a crying shame that we might get a series with the heart of a junkyard dog. This is must-watch.
3. New York Knicks
6. Chicago Bulls
If I were Derrick Rose I'd think long and hard, too. Return from injury to lead an underdog team against a Tyson Chandler-led defense that relishes opportunities to knock players out of the sky? The idea does take some getting used to.
1. San Antonio Spurs
8. L.A. Lakers
The Lakers need to make the playoffs, if nothing else to salvage some pride in this expensive roster. But squeaking in is not the same as seeing what this roster can do. The mighty Spurs have earned this lofty seeding, and whether the Lakers get their act together or not, making it out of the first round is unlikely.
4. Denver Nuggets
5. Memphis Grizzlies
Marc Gasol's injury isn't helping the Grizzlies' quest for homecourt advantage. Neither are the red-hot Nuggets. The Clippers, with their uneven play of late, have also been threatening to descend into the fourth or even fifth spot. I'm guessing all three teams covet the third spot which likely comes with homecourt against the Warriors.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
7. Houston Rockets
This stat geek's delight and James Harden reunion tour could be a wake-up call to the Thunder. The Rockets won't roll over for anyone. By the time the Thunder move on, they'll be battle-tested. The rest-sensitive Spurs aren't that far ahead in the standings, however, and are unlikely to go all out every game down the stretch, however. Catching them would mean homecourt advantage in a likely Western Conference Finals matchup, which has some real value.
3. L.A. Clippers
6. Golden State Warriors
It's not that these two teams aren't deadly. It's that in a pool with so many sharks (including the Spurs, Thunder, Nuggets, Grizzlies, Rockets and wild-card Lakers) the Warriors -- who have had some wobbles lately -- count as desirable first-round fodder. In other words, the Clippers will have to fight for the right to play Golden State.