As we approach the All Star break a number of teams have a serious question ask; should we make a push for the playoffs or drop back into the draft lottery?
Six teams are on the cusp of the eighth seed in their respective conferences, but for some it might be better to view February as the end of their season.
The Boston Celtics are one team who should slam on the brakes for season 2014-15 and focus on the future.
They currently have a 19-31 record, sitting two games back from the eighth placed Miami Heat, with a real chance to potentially jump into that spot come April.
However, playoffs should be the furthest thing from the Celtics’ minds right now.
The vast majority of this roster will not be around once the team is looking to challenge for dominance in the Eastern Conference again, and while playoff experience for Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk and Jarrad Sullinger would be handy, the benefits in being swept out of the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks would be minimal.
The Celtics are only nine games ahead of the last-placed New York Knicks, so losing games in bunches for the second half of the season could see them have a top-five pick in the upcoming draft.
This high draft pick would go alongside potentially four other first-round selections, which would allow them to work out a trade or two or just build up a core of young talent as trade pieces later on.
The Brooklyn Nets are a team who would like to have the luxury of tanking like the Celtics, but instead find themselves in a sticky situation.
After their horrendous deal with Boston, in which they traded three first-round picks and a horde of players, the Nets now find themselves in the dreaded dead zone of the NBA.
If they bottom out for the rest of the season Atlanta has the right to swap picks with them, which they almost certainly will do if Brooklyn were to strike gold in the lottery. This team is just a mish-mash of players, begging for some young talent to be injected. Unfortunately, the best thing for Brooklyn right now would be to limp into the playoffs, even if it means being obliterated by the Hawks.
The Indiana Pacers are arguably the most intriguing team pushing for a playoff spot.
Last year’s conference finalists had their season shot down before it started, when star player Paul George broke his leg in a Team USA scrimmage last August.
It was initially expected that George would sit the season out, with the Pacers reloading for a legitimate shot at the title in 2016. Pacers president Larry Bird threw a curveball this week however, bringing up the possibility of George playing as early as next month.
George was being discussed as a top-five player in the league before his injury, so with his return potentially on the horizon the 20-32 Pacers should be pushing to win as many games as possibly.
This is largely the same team that almost went to the finals last year, minus Lance Stephenson; so regaining their best player could mean they push for even the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Rounding out the hopefuls in the East is the Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons have stunk for the past five seasons after a lengthy reign atop the conference, but after waiving Josh Smith late last year, they seem to have serious aspirations for playoffs.
Analysts were almost calling the Pistons a lock for the playoffs last month as they went on a seven-game winning streak, but things are up in the air now that point guard Brandon Jennings will miss the remainder of the season with a torn Achilles.
The Josh Smith-less Pistons have been one of the more exciting teams to watch in the league, pushing the pace up and down the court while dishing out three-pointers and Andre Drummond dunks by the dozen.
Of all the teams chasing the eighth seed in the East, the Pistons are one that could do serious damage in the playoffs, and they have extra motivation to make it as they try to convince starting power forward Greg Monroe to re-sign.
Expect Detroit to go all out in the final two and a half months of the season.
This now brings us to the ultra competitive Western Conference.
The New Orleans Pelicans (27-24) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (26-25) are both in danger of missing the playoffs despite having winning records which would have them playing playoffs in the East.
The Thunder have been playing catch-up all season long due to multiple injuries to stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but you can guarantee they’ll be looking to push hard over the coming months to build some momentum.
It’s unfortunately looking more and more likely they’ll miss the playoffs due to these injuries, although having a pick in the lottery to put alongside Durant and Westbrook wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Young stud Anthony Davis and the Pelicans look the more likely team to snatch a playoff spot away from the Phoenix Suns. They are only two games behind with Davis playing like a future MVP, and barring serious injury to him they should continue on winning games regularly.
A lottery pick could be a great asset for the franchise, but it’s far more important for New Orleans to make the playoffs and show Davis that they are creating a winning culture.
The league heads into the All Star break on February 14, and when games resume on the 20th we’ll have a good idea how the teams on the cusp of playoffs plan to attack the last half of the season.