With 13 games remaining for the Bobcats, the window to grab the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference seems to be closing fast.
Charlotte without Stephen Jackson has lacked the offensive firepower to keep up with their opponents, especially since those opponents are elite teams in the West. The room for error in games without Jackson is paper-thin. Unfortunately for the Bobcats' playoffs hopes, the Pacers aren't losing with them like they were after the trade deadline. Once in control of the 8th seed (though for an extremely short period of time), the Bobcats have since fallen two games behind Indiana, and now share the same record as Milwaukee. However, the Bucks, like the Pacers, hold the regular season tiebreaker over the Cats.
Nevertheless, there are 13 games left for the Bobcats to pull something together. But can it happen?
According to Mike Cranston, Stephen Jackson will be returning Wednesday night against the Pacers. His return is exactly what the Bobcats need, even though he can shoot them out of games with ease. We need his ability to bring offense if the Bobcats hope to make the playoffs. Without him, the Cats don't have much of a shot. But the bad news: Jackson, himself, says he won't be 100% for the rest of the season even if though he will play.
Tyrus Thomas is also continuing to return to form before his injury. The reserves are playing better than I've seen in a while, rebounding with a passion. Gerald Henderson has been impressive much more often than not, especially on defense and is finding his way on offense. On the other side of things, D.J. Augustin has been frustratingly inconsistent as Boris Diaw welcomes him to the club from his La-Z-Boy. And Kwame, while rebounding decently, is well, Kwame - bad hands and not showing up after halftime.
Looking at the Bobcats' schedule, I could see them going 6-7, with wins against Milwaukee, Cleveland (twice), Washington, Detroit and New Jersey. I imagine they also have an excellent shot at beating Indiana at home tomorrow, but Indiana's playing pretty well as of late. The other teams are all playoff teams.
Not too long ago, the Pacers were on a six-game losing streak. They weren't playing as a team and were lazy, putting out sub-par effort. And then they met the Knicks. In surprising fashion, the Pacers stunned New York in consequent games, first in a blowout and the second on a buzzer-beater by Danny Granger. Now they've regained their "throne" atop the final playoff seed and are a playing like they care. After going down by double-digits to a Deron Williams-less Nets team, they remembered they were more talented and stormed back to take the lead in the second half, and keeping it.
As for my prediction of their record, I'm saying 5-6 with wins against Charlotte, Sacramento, Detroit, Milwaukee and Washington. They've been inconsistent, so I can see them dropping one of the games to a hungry Detroit team. However, they have the easiest road to the playoffs. This is their seed to lose. The schedule is easier than Charlotte's or Milwaukee's and they already have a two-game lead.
The Bucks have been perhaps the most inconsistent of the three teams. They can be absolutely horrid on offense, without a clue to what they should do with the ball and sometimes they find their shots and hit them while maintaining their intense, tough defense. In the past six games, they've destroyed a playoff-bound 76ers squad, gotten annihilated by 31 points (while only scoring 56), been whooped by the Hawks, nearly took down the Magic in overtime, handled the Nets and nicked the Knicks in a close win.
But they also have the toughest schedule. This is definitely not the time to be inconsistent. I see them taking only five wins of their next 13 (Sacramento, Toronto [twice], Detroit and Cleveland).
So who gets in?
With my predictions, I have Indiana making it at 36-46 (ugh) and the Bobcats at 34-48. The Bucks pull up the rear with a record of 33-49. If the Bobcats can win tomorrow at home, this could be much more of a toss-up. I think tomorrow's game will ultimately be the fulcrum upon which the Bobcats' playoffs hopes rest.