If the season ended today, the Boston Celtics would be tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and, technically speaking, would even be narrowly edged out by Philly due to their lower winning percentage. Just how stunning is that? Consider this: If you asked every NBA expert in the country to make their playoff predictions two months ago, not a single one would have had the C's on the outside looking in.
As bad as it's been in Boston through the first 30 games, the Celtics (14-16) are expected to get a defensive boost this week when Avery Bradley returns to the court after undergoing multiple shoulder surgeries over the offseason. And if it's any consolation at all, the Celtics have one other thing working in their favor: They are not alone.
In fact, 11 teams currently make up what we could refer to as the NBA's middle class, a large group of talented-but-flawed teams with records ranging from two games under .500 (like the Celtics) to three games over .500 (like Chicago, Milwaukee, Houston and Denver).
The battle for a playoff berth will be tougher in the West, where six of these teams (Houston, Denver, Portland, Minnesota, the Lakers and Utah) are fighting for three spots, but the East figures to be a wild race with five teams (Chicago, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Boston) currently separated by 2.5 games and contending for the final four spots.
In the case of the Bulls and 76ers and their chances of making a playoff push, both teams have the benefit of potentially adding star power in the second half with Derrick Rose and Andrew Bynum expected to make it back to the court at some point.
But for the other nine teams in the NBA's middle class, making the leap to a true playoff contender -- a team that could win a seven-game series with the league's best -- could very well come down to swinging big and making an impactful mid-season trade.
Lets take a look at each of those nine teams to see what might be available and what would make the most sense.