We have entered the home stretch of the NBA regular season. Only a few games are left for teams looking to make it into the postseason; with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks being the only three Eastern Conference teams to have clinched a playoff spot. With seven teams looking to take one of the five remaining spots, let’s take a look at how things could play out.
Charlotte has been rolling as of late, going an impressive 13-3 this month. Their game against the Celtics on April 11th could have big playoff seeding implications. Speaking of Boston, they have games against the Hawks and the Heat sandwiching the showdown in Charlotte. These games will come after a Western Conference trip to the Trailblazers, Warriors, and Lakers.
The Heat have a relatively quiet schedule the rest of the way. Their games against the Pistons (2) and Celtics (1) will determine where they fall in the pecking order. The Hawks however, have the most intriguing schedule left to play, with games against the Raptors and Cavaliers left to play. Losing both could see them fall as low as sixth, but wins could take them up to as high as the third. Overall, the Heat, Celtics and Hornets are solid locks to make it barring an epic collapse down the stretch
As for the bottom two playoff seeds, the Pistons can essentially guarantee their spot if they beat both the Bulls and Wizards in their April matchups. It’s unlikely they are able to move up any higher than the seventh seed, but do have two games against the Heat left in the season. The Pacers are coming off a loss to the Bulls on Tuesday, but have the easiest schedule left to play in the East (76ers, Knicks (x2), Nets, Bucks). They should be at least locked into the final seed.
The Bulls are hanging on by the skin of their teeth at nine, with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler both playing at less than 100%. Things could get interesting if they are able to scrap together wins against the Pistons, Heat, and Cavaliers in April, but I can’t see them pulling that off. The Wizards are currently on four game Western Conference road trip that kicked off with a loss Tuesday to the Warriors. It’s a tough journey to go on this late in the season, but John Wall and company have the matchups left to possibly move up into the 8th seed if a team starts to skid late.
Prediction (in seed order):
In: Cavaliers, Raptors, Hornets, Hawks, Heat, Celtics, Pistons, Pacers
Out: Bulls, Wizards