Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
The Celtics are a .500 team 50 games into their season, and that's not the only reason they have to settle for honorable mention. Kemba Walker's knee may not hold up over multiple playoff series, the offense ranks in the >bottom 10 in free-throw attempt frequency (while the defense puts opponents on the line too often on the other end), and there are real depth issues behind an admittedly dangerous first unit with Evan Fournier.
Dallas' defense doesn't force turnovers and ranks in the bottom 10 overall for the season, according to >Cleaning the Glass, which filters out garbage time. In addition, the Mavs have yet to win a playoff series in the brief Luka Doncic area. That doesn't preclude them from advancing a round or two this year, but it's a bit much to expect them to go from last year's first-round exit to serious contention. An up-and-coming team's progress is usually more incremental.
Finally, Dallas still has a >hard time scoring when Doncic isn't on the court. He'll see more minutes in the postseason, which should mitigate the damage. But if this year is any indication, the Mavs' offensive inefficiency without Doncic—even if it's only for about six-to-eight minutes per postseason contest—could be crippling.
The Heat have a >minus-0.6 net rating this season, easily the worst figure among any team considered for this exercise. Victor Oladipo is a tantalizing wild card, and we have to give the Heat some benefit of the doubt after last year's run to the Finals. But Miami was 41-24 when it entered the bubble last year. At 26-24 right now, it hasn't posted anything close to the statistical profile of that 2019-20 team—and that group was a surprising Finals entrant.
Portland Trail Blazers
It's a terrible idea to doubt Damian Lillard's clutch play, but his theoretically unsustainable late-game heroics are the main reason the Blazers, who've outscored opponents by >less than a point per 100 possessions this year, are 30-19. Based on point differential, Portland should be much >closer to .500.
If Lillard isn't a superhero every night—against better scouting and playoff-caliber defenses—the Blazers will struggle to get out of the first round.
And if that's not enough of a concern, turn your attention to Portland's defense, which ranks 29th. There's no path to a title with so little stopping power.