Where do the Spurs, Jazz, Mavericks and Celtics stand heading into Wednesday night's doubleheader (ESPN, 8 ET)? We use John Hollinger's Playoff Odds to examine each team.
1. Fact or Fiction: The Spurs are the favorites to win the West.
Playoff Odds say: San Antonio has a 58.2 percent chance.
Spencer Ryan Hall, Salt City Hoops: Fact. The OKCs and the LACs of the world are nipping at their heels, but the Spurs have that special magic. To channel Al Jefferson from last year's playoffs, I don't see anybody beating San Antonio in the West this year. He was wrong then, but I think he was just a season too early.
David Hopkins, Two Man Game: Fiction. Unless Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard surprise us, I see the same Spurs of recent seasons. They are an incredible regular-season team with an aging core that will hit a wall in the playoffs. That wall will be Oklahoma City, Memphis, or the Los Angeles Lakers (if they ever get their act together).
Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Fact. With the Spurs, there's no need to provide the caveat "if healthy" when making predictions. Gregg Popovich has been able to get meaningful contributions from everyone on his roster this season, regardless of whether or not the marquee players are injured or resting. The Spurs have been playing so well, it's as if they just need to make it to the arena on time to stay on pace for first place.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Fact. Their offense is almost as effective as it was last season, with improvements in a couple of key areas, and their defense has gone from middle-of-the-pack to borderline top 5, all while missing one of their best defensive players in Leonard for much of the season.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Fiction. Sure, the numbers say they have the best odds to win the West. But there's also an alternate reality. And that is the Spurs have potentially horrible matchups against both the Grizzlies and the Thunder, the two teams that dumped the regular-season, front-running Spurs out of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Jazz will make the playoffs.
Playoff Odds say: Utah has a 69.4 percent chance.
Hall: Fact. The West is shaping up into clear tiers, and the Jazz are firmly in the second tier of teams 5-7. They have shown glimpses of brilliance but also nearly complete ineptitude on the road. Hopefully for them, their last two games gave us a glimpse of the team we can expect in the playoffs. I think the Jazz claim the No. 6 spot and deal with the Clippers in the first round.
Hopkins: Fact. It'll be close, but I don't have enough faith in Houston or Minnesota. Those two teams have some exciting players, but they may need another season before making the playoffs. I like Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap too much to count Utah out.
Jackson: Fiction. There's a good chance the Jazz will try and move Al Jefferson and/or Paul Millsap midseason in order make room for their young frontcourt to take the reins. They'll likely want young players and draft picks in return. While a young team usually makes for an exciting one, it doesn't usually equate to a playoff team.
McNeill: Fact. If Dirk Nowitzki returns to the Mavs soon and the Nuggets figure some things out, Utah will be fighting for its playoff life. But I think this group has enough talent to squeak by. The Jazz have a very good offense but need to plug some holes defensively -- especially rebounding -- if they are to secure themselves a postseason berth.
Wallace: Fact. Not many teams are as consistent and stubborn at home as the Jazz. That alone should get them into one of the final seeds out West. I thought this would be the Timberwolves' year to break into the postseason mix, but Minnesota and Houston are simply too unpredictable. The Jazz get in, and the Lakers will eventually replace either Dallas or Denver among teams currently in the top eight.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Mavericks will not make the playoffs.
Playoff Odds say: Dallas has a 28.2 percent chance.
Hall: Fact. It's hard to believe, but there just isn't room for the Mavs this year. Minnesota, Houston and the Lakers are all in the third tier with Dallas in the West, but only LA will make the playoffs. Last season was the championship hangover, but now the Mavs are getting the sober realization that the Tyson Chandler move may have cost them their soul.
Hopkins: Fiction. The Mavs are .500 without Dirk Nowitzki. When he returns, I expect everything to fall into place. Nowitzki is their cornerstone. Darren Collison will find his place as a point guard when he can run the offense through Nowitzki. O.J. Mayo will be a better Jason Terry than Jason Terry. Plus, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand will be even more lethal when Nowitzki spaces the floor. The Mavs will be a lower seed, but they're still a playoff team.
Jackson: Fiction. The Mavericks added a lot of new faces in the offseason and have spent the first quarter of the regular season trying to get to know one another. They need to fend off Houston, Minnesota and Denver, and adding Derek Fisher helps them in that endeavor.
McNeill: Fiction. Considering the uncertainty that has surrounded this team all season with Dirk's injury and all the new pieces, floating around .500 is to be expected. As long as Dirk comes back healthy with enough time to get in a groove, they should still be playing come late April.
Wallace: Fiction. As mentioned in the previous answer, I'm not completely ruling the Mavs out of the race. Assuming the Lakers regroup and get in, the final spot will go to either the Mavs or the Nuggets. I like the Mavs, because Dirk Nowitzki will eventually return and Dallas also has another go-to guy in the clutch in O.J. Mayo.
4. Fact or Fiction: The Celtics will start the playoffs on the road.
Playoff Odds say: Boston is predicted to finish sixth in the East.
Hall: Fiction. Boston still sneaks into that 4 spot. I just can't imagine the Hawks can keep up their pace. Chicago is an interesting team, but it's bound to sputter down the stretch. The potential return of D-Rose could give the Bulls a boost, but he'd need time to get himself right.
Hopkins: Fact. Are the Celtics better than Atlanta or Chicago (pending the return of Derrick Rose)? No. Are they better than Miami, New York or Brooklyn? No. Not only that, Philadelphia will eventually have Andrew Bynum and Milwaukee is better than its record lets on -- the Bucks are 2-1 this season against the Celtics.
Jackson: Fact. The East has gotten a lot tougher this season and the Atlantic Division has become even more competitive. Like the Mavericks, Boston is trying to get used to the new faces in the locker room, and that has taken some time. Couple that with the recent history of having an up-and-down regular season and turning it on for the playoffs, and the Celtics are likely to be kicking off the postseason with a plane ride.
McNeill: Fiction. We're only a quarter of the way through the season and I get the impression Boston is pacing itself. I'll concede that last season was probably the Celtics' best shot to take down the Heat in the East. However, I still see this as a top-four team on that side of the bracket.
Wallace: Fiction. The Celtics will hit a stride, likely when Avery Bradley returns to give coach Doc Rivers the perimeter defensive stability he so desperately seeks. Barring injury, Boston will take a top-four spot in the East because at least two are sure to be up for grabs once Miami and likely New York wrap up the other home-court spots.
5. Which of these four teams is most underrated by the Playoff Odds?
Hall: Boston. The Celtics are going to be playing late in the season, no matter where they end up seeded. The numbers can't account for a veteran-led team taking its collective foot off the gas for a few months while they get ready for an inevitable deep playoff run. The numbers don't look good for Dallas either, but in the case of the Mavs, I think it's an accurate prognostication.
Hopkins: Dallas. A lot has been made about how the 2010-11 championship team was dismantled and scattered to the four winds. However, the Mavs still have Dirk Nowitzki, an incredible coach in Rick Carlisle and the best owner/manager duo in Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson. The Mavs are a better, younger team compared to last season. Give them another month and they will work their way back up the standings.
Jackson: Dallas. If the season ended today, the Mavericks would take the seventh seed, even though teams like the Rockets, Lakers and Timberwolves all sport better odds of making the playoffs. That's some real bulletin-board material, if you ask me.
McNeill: Dallas. The Mavs have one of the top coaches in the league in Rick Carlisle and one of its best players in Dirk Nowitzki eventually coming back from injury. With so many new pieces, it was expected that this team would start slow, but I have confidence that Carlisle will get enough out of this roster to finish strong.
Wallace: Dallas. Simply because there is something wrong with numbers that don't seem to compute the fact that Dirk Nowitzki's eventual impact will give this team far better than a 1-in-4 chance of making the playoffs.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Michael Wallace covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Spencer Ryan Hall, David Hopkins, Brendan Jackson and Andrew McNeill are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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