Breaking down Eastern Conference playoff chase with two weeks left in season
There are just more than two weeks left in the NBA regular season — 16 days if you want to be specific — and the playoff matchups are starting to take shape. But there is still a lot in flux.
Let’s take a look at the East, where the top seed is set, the two seed might as well be, and after that things get interesting. Particularly with the eighth seed, which may be the best race in the NBA this year and could go down to the final day.
No. 1 seed: The Atlanta Hawks have officially locked up the top spot. They have home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, and their stars will get a lot of rest the next couple weeks.
No. 2 seed: The Cleveland Cavaliers might as well have locked up the second seed. Cleveland has a 2.5 game lead over Chicago with eight games left to play, and the Cavs have the tiebreaker (their magic number is six). The Cavs and Bulls do play next Sunday, if you’re a Bulls fan looking for some hope.
No. 3-5 seeds: This most likely ends up with the Chicago Bulls in the three seed, the Toronto Raptors fourth and the Washington Wizards fifth. The current three seed Bulls are 1.5 games ahead of Toronto, but what the Raptors have in their favor is an easy games coming up — after Houston Monday night they do not face another team over .500 the rest of the season. The Bulls schedule isn’t much tougher, but Toronto might get on a run and push Chicago for the three spot. Washington is the current five seed and would need to make up two games on Toronto to get home-court in the first round. That doesn’t seem likely. First off, the Wizards are stumbling, having lost five of six. Second, they have a tougher schedule down the stretch with five road games including at Memphis and at Cleveland.
No. 6 seed: They had been slumping, but after the Milwaukee Bucks beat Miami and Indiana on a back-to-back last week they put themselves in the driver’s seat for this slot. The Bucks have a two-game lead over Miami entering play Monday night (they are four games clear of falling out of the playoffs, which is highly unlikely). The challenge for the Bucks is a tough schedule ahead: Atlanta, Chicago and Boston are the first three up this week; Cleveland is still out there on the horizon. None the less, expect the Bucks to land here.
No. 7-8 seeds: This could go just about any direction. Here is where things stand now:
7. Miami (34-39)
8. Brooklyn (-1.5 games)
9. Boston (-2 games)
10. Indiana (-2 games)
11. Charlotte (-2.5 games)
These teams also play each other plenty the rest of the way — it’s a big week for Indiana if they are going to make a move. Here are the games just for this week:
Charlotte at Boston (Monday)
Indiana at Brooklyn (Tuesday)
Indiana at Boston (Wednesday)
Charlotte at Indiana (Friday)
Miami at Indiana (Sunday)
And that’s not including Boston playing Milwaukee and Toronto, or a host of other interesting games on the docket. It’s especially hard to break down how this will shake out because these are flawed teams that are stumbling toward the finish line — every time you think “this team has got it together” they lose four in a row. Right now, the Hornets seems to be the team least likely to climb their way back in, but anything could happen. This is the one race in both conferences that could come down to the final night.