With the NBA Playoffs less than a week away, the fans of 16 teams are prepping themselves for the excitement of the second season, each team just 16 wins away from calling themselves world champions. However, there are 14 other teams that will not be able to take part in the playoffs. There is hope though, because with every new season brings another 82 games where anything can happen and any team can make the rise from bottom feeders to playoff contender. While it is highly unlikely that all 14 of these teams will make that jump, there are a select few of them that have begun to put the pieces in place to jumpstart the process.
This list would normally start with the loser between Utah and the Lakers’ race for the No. 8 seed out West, but since we can’t put a finger on that team just yet (it’ll come down to Wednesday night with the Jazz in Memphis and the Lakers hosting Houston), I’m sticking with five definitive lottery teams.
Here are five teams that could become fresh new faces in the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
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5. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS/PELICANS (27-54)
What better way to start off the tenure of the newly named New Orleans Pelicans than with a playoff appearance? The last team to make a name change, the Oklahoma City Thunder (who also relocated from Seattle), were in the playoffs within two years of making the change. Who’s to say the Pelicans can’t make that jump sooner? With the impressive play of rookie forward and No. 1 pick Anthony Davis (13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game), the improved play of point guard Greivis Vasquez (13.9 points, 9.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds a night, all career-highs), the shooting of Ryan Anderson (38 percent from beyond the arc), the defense of Robin Lopez (career-high 1.6 blocks per game) and most important of all, a healthy Eric Gordon (41 games played, most since 2010-11 season), the talent is definitely there for the team formerly known as the Hornets to make some noise around the league. Head coach Monty Williams will be entering his fourth year as coach and he has shown he is more than capable of running the show for an NBA franchise. Health and cohesion are going to be two big words for this team, but if they are able to get Austin Rivers to impact the game and a solid rookie in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Pelicans may just swoop into the playoff hunt next season.
4. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (24-56)
Ever since “The Decision” in 2010 broke the hearts of Cleveland Cavalier fans everywhere, there has been a since of anxiousness for the team to regain it’s foothold as a perennial playoff squad (Dan Gilbert, clearly one of those most frustrated, provided the team’s call-to-action in a Comic Sans outburst). The fans of Cleveland didn’t have to wait long to find a new hero to root for though, as the 2010 NBA Draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving, immediately showed he was more than ready to be the Cavs next superstar. Now after two years in the league, Irving is only getting better and moving further along the pantheon of point guards in the NBA today. Surrounded by a young nucleus of players 25 and under like Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller, Wayne Ellington, Alonzo Gee, Marreese Speights and Dion Waiters, this team is stockpiling youthful talent. With another lottery pick in their possession this offseason (they will have multiple first-round picks this summer… again), Cleveland will have the chance to improve even more and the right rookie may be the one thing they were missing. Irving’s injury history still lingers over this team (his 57 games played this season are a career-high), but if Irving can play 75-80 games, this team is dangerous every night. Youth is no longer an excuse for failure; just look at what the Thunder was able to accomplish these past two seasons with a roster full of stars yet to turn 25 years old.