Five NBA teams knocking on the door of playoff legitimacy

We've seen a healthy amount of teams get off to good starts so far, just as we've seen teams that started hot go to pieces (Pistons). What's funny is how perceptions can shape so much of these evaluations, rather than a big-picture view. The Thunder (who have been dissected enough) are thought of as in disarray despite being two spots out of fifth in the Western Conference, all because they lost three buzzer-beater games. The teams over .500 aren't all roses and accolades, though. Now is the time when we see teams that got off to good starts come back down to Earth. For these squads hovering just around .500, it's a good time to examine them and decide if they are legitimately playoff-worthy teams or not. Here's a look at five teams and whether they are knocking on the door of playoff legitimacy. Portland Trail Blazers Record: 14-13 Pythagorean record: 16-11 Offense: 103.5 points per 100 possessions (19th) Defense: 102.5 points per 100 possessions (7th) Net Rating: Plus-1.0 (11th) Strength of Schedule: 26th The Blazers started off hot and then hit the skids. Their profile, as I wrote about here, was baffling for much of the first six weeks of the season. This team did not have the look of a top-five defensive team, and yet, not only were they there statistically, but the data backed that up. In identical fashion, this team looked like an offensive dynamo, not a pitiful short-gunned squad. The defense, sadly, has begun to regress in dramatic fashion, as Jusuf Nurkic's injury has helped to force a slide to 25th in defensive rating across the last ten games. Portland hasn't held a defensive rating below 105 in the past six games, or in eight of the last nine games. Their strength of schedule is going to increase. Things are about to get tougher for Portland, not easier. New York Knicks Record: 14-13 Pythagorean record: 14-13 Offense: 105.1 points per 100 possessions (14th) Defense: 105.2 points per 100 possessions (15th) Net Rating: Minus-0.2 (17th) SOS rank: 13th Hark! A wild Knicks team above .500 appears! Enjoy this moment, they so rarely last. The Knicks are interesting this season, and that alone should be enough to get their fans through April if they can just survive. Their resume, as you see above, is remarkably average. Not only that, but they are 8-5 after losses, just 6-7 after wins. They don't streak, and they don't fade. They just kind of hum along. Here's their game-by-game offensive and defensive ratings. Denver Nuggets Record: 15-13 Pythagorean record: 14-14 Offense: 107.6 points per 100 possessions (8th) Defense: 107.6 points per 100 possessions (24th) Net Rating: Minus-0.1 (16th) Strength of Schedule: 24th Denver was a top defense and a bottom offense the first month of the season ... then it flipped. Much of this has to do with injuries. Paul Millsap's wrist injury was catastrophic for the defense, and losing Nikola Jokic to an ankle injury he only recently recovered from made it all the worse. Denver is a wretched team on the road, and a great team at home, much like the Knicks. The Nuggets are led by their phenomenal young center, just like the Knicks. They have essentially the same net rating. There are a lot of comparisons to be made here. There's no telling when Millsap will be back. It could be February, or it may not be until closer to April. When he returns, he'll have to fit back in, on a team he had just started to gel with. There's just so much for Denver to have to manage. Denver has played long road trips with long home stands in-between, which isn't great for balance. Its overall opponent strength has been week, but after the first two weeks of the season, it's cut down on truly bad losses. The Nuggets can blow a lead like in Indiana and not show up like in Dallas, but without two starters, it's hard to really cut them down for it. They have to improve as the schedule does, however. Honestly, though? They have one problem, and only one thing that's holding them back. Blaming one player is unfair in almost every instance. The sport is complex and how players play together determines things. It's also mostly the case that even if a player doesn't fit with the starters, he boosts certain bench players, or that if he struggles with the bench, he can at least not sink the starters.