While teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets are asserting themselves as the alphas of the NBA, there exists a thin line between playoff participants and lottery contestants just a few spots below them.
For this exercise, we’re looking at teams currently in the play-in tournament (seeds 7-10) and teams three games or fewer outside of it in either direction.
In the East, this includes the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Washington WIzards, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers.
In the ultra-crowded West, this includes the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers.
With fewer than 20 games remaining in the 2022-23 regular season, here’s where all 17 teams on the bubble should be expected to finish.
East Lottery: Bulls, Pacers
- Current Standing: 29-36 overall, 11th in East (Lottery)
A surprisingly strong start to the year has fizzled of late, with Indiana now ranking just 27th overall in defense (121.5 rating) since the trade deadline.
Currently sitting 1.5 games behind the Washington Wizards for the final play-in spot and needing to fight off the Chicago Bulls in the process, the Pacers should be looking forward to some draft lottery luck now instead.
- Current Standing: 29-36 overall, 12th in East (Lottery)
Effectively swapping Goran Dragic for Patrick Beverley isn’t going to do enough to jump the Bulls into the play-in tournament, as the latter is averaging 4.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and shooting 43.5 percent overall in his first six games in Chicago.
This is a team that needed to make a splash at the trade deadline and has gone just 3-8 since Feb. 9. With no more reinforcements coming and with Lonzo Ball officially ruled out for the year, this has become a lost season for the Bulls.
East Play-In Tournament: Nets, Hawks, Raptors and Wizards
- Current Standing: 36-28 overall, Sixth in East (Playoffs)
There’s a lot of talent still left on this roster after Sean Marks blew up the roster at the trade deadline, and Brooklyn did shock the league with an NBA-high 28-point comeback in Boston to beat the Celtics just last week.
So why the demotion here?
Since the deadline, Brooklyn possesses the fifth-worst net rating in the NBA (minus-6.5), even worse than the tanking Detroit Pistons, who are just 1-7 over this stretch.
This will be one of the most interesting teams to monitor in the offseason with a real building block in Mikal Bridges. For now, however, the Nets will fall out of the top-six seeds and into the play-in tournament.
- Current Standing: 32-32 overall, Eighth in East (Play-In)
Quin Snyder is just 1-2 since taking over the Hawks, although his previous success with the Utah Jazz and getting the most out of a dynamic young guard should bode well for the rest of this season and beyond in Atlanta.
The Hawks’ offense has been better of late (fifth-best in the NBA since the trade deadline), resembling the high-power attack of last season. Saddiq Bey looks like a good pickup as well, averaging 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and shooting 50.0 percent from three in his first seven games in Atlanta.
With defensive questions continuing to surround this team trying to adjust between head coaches on the fly, the Hawks simply don’t have enough time to climb back into the East playoffs, however.
- Current Standing: 32-33 overall, Ninth in East (Play-In)
One of the most underachieving teams of the 2022-23 season, Toronto’s decision to keep the band together at the trade deadline has only produced mild results.
A 6-3 record is admirable, but the Raptors still possess a negative net rating (minus-1.1) and appear far too stagnant offensively for stretches.
Jakob Poeltl was a good pickup (15.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.8 blocks, 76.0 percent shooting in nine games), but it’s far more important this team gets a good Fred VanVleet down the stretch. The 29-year-old is shooting 37.7 percent from three in wins this season, yet just 30.3 percent in losses.
- Current Standing: 30-34 overall, 10th in East (Play-In)
The team most in danger of getting jumped by the Chicago Bulls has actually gotten better with some recent subtractions.
By trading Rui Hachimura in late January and waiving Will Barton, Washington has cleared out some of their logjam at forward while going bigger with a frontline of Kyle Kuzma, Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford.
The Wizards are 10-8 overall since trading Hachimura with a positive net rating (plus-1.5) in the process. This isn’t a great team by any means, but it is good enough to hold off a potential push by the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers.