With the playoffs 2009 just days away some teams are doing a better job than others in creating that all important momentum which is crucial to post season and more immediately, first round success. Regardless of how loaded a roster is on paper, very few, if any, teams in the NBA have the ability to turn match winning form on and off.
The Detroit Pistons are the most famous example of recent history, a team that believed it could shift momentum when it really mattered. To a certain extent their self belief was well founded: the Pistons having been a fixture in at least the Eastern Conference Finals during the period that their core of players has been together despite the fact that going into the playoffs they were far from on fire. When round one begun the Pistons were ready. Mostly any how.
So who in 2009 is ready for the post season and who is praying that they can flick the win switch in a week’s time. The teams occupying the 16 NBA playoff seeds in the East and West can be easily split into 4 groups according to how they are playing as the Big Dance approaches.
Firstly, there are the winners. Teams that have managed to find form at just the right moment. In the West, Houston and Portland are both on the back of 4 game winning streaks while the Dallas Mavericks go into this afternoon’s game against New Orleans with 3 straight victories.
Meanwhile, the hottest team in the League is out East with Boston winning 6 straight heading into today’s heavy weight showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers. There are 3 other teams in the East streaking going into the playoffs: Chicago have 4 in a row while Cleveland and Atlanta both have 3.
Then, there are the losers. These teams are doing exactly what their coaches do not want them to. The worst of the bunch are the Philadelphia 76ers who have lost 4 straight, not only killing team momentum, but also, and crucially, slipping down the seedings in the East. The Western equivalent is the Utah Jazz who are marginally better than the Sixers having lost ‘only’ 3 in a row. Both of these teams face an uphill struggle to turn around their fortunes before round 1 starts.
The last two groups contain the teams that know that their season could sway one of two ways. Some of them lost their last game and are wishing that one loss does not become two. The others are on the back of 1 victory with high hopes of putting together a nice winning streak. Both groups of teams are all too aware that one victory, or loss could be enough to propel them into the first round as either hopefuls or down-and-outs.
A few of these teams, the Lakers and the Nuggets, will take confidence from their season records and will believe that they can stop the losing habit after only 1, getting back on track quickly and without crisis. Others, like Miami and New Orleans will be worried that one or two losses do not transform into a devastating streak.
The Big Mo is integral to playoff success. But it is a strange beast, unpredictable as it is useful. A win streak going into the first round can easily be crushed by freakish events in game one. For example, Miami might be losing right now, but with Dwayne Wade in the line up anything could happen regardless of streaks. A 50 point outburst could just be enough to sink a team that had previously been winning for fun.
Just ask Detroit. No team more than the Pistons know the importance of having more than momentum on your side. It sure does help for confidence and team chemistry, but it will not win games for you. One championship to show for numerous years as contenders is enough to illustrate that.
Who will Momentum smile upon this playoffs?