Leastern Conference Race
*Photo via USA Today
It’s no secret for the past few years the Western Conference from top to bottom is far superior to the East. This season is no different, the current 8th seed in the West (Thunder) would be the 6th seed in the East (Bucks) and the current 6th seed out West (Mavericks) would have home court advantage out East, having a better record than the 2nd seed Cavaliers. That being said the Eastern Conference race is much more exciting this year than in the past. With LeBron’s move to break up the “Big 3” and go home, along with the surprising play of the Hawks, there is much more parity at the top. The Hawks have run away with the number one seed, but seeds 2-4 are still up for grabs with Cleveland, Toronto and Chicago separated by a game. The race for the two seed was even closer, until recently, when Washington completely fell off the wagon going 2-8 in their last ten games.
Even with more parity at the top, the bottom of the East has been bad as usual, the teams currently holding the 7th and 8th seeds (Hornets & Pacers) have a losing record. If this stands it will be the 4th time in 5 years there will be a team below .500 in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. However there is optimism for a plus .500 playoff Charlotte and Indiana are both enjoying a five game winning streak. Last year’s top team Indiana has been on fire since February began posting the best mark in the NBA in that span at 11-2. This current run has catapulted them into the eighth spot and a half game out of the 7th spot. They’re quietly playing some of the best basketball in the league without their injured star, Paul George, who hopes to be able to play in the playoffs if Indiana can keep up this level of play. The Pacers are no stranger to hot streaks like this, but are flying much further under the radar then last year when they routinely called out LeBron and the Heat. There’s a chance they could match up with LeBron for a fourth straight year in a first round matchup, which could make for an entertaining series if Paul George is capable of playing.
LeBron’s old team, the team Indiana hasn’t been able to beat the past three seasons and the four time defending Eastern Conference Champions, the Miami Heat are currently of the outside looking in the playoff picture. The Heat had been struggling with injuries and inconsistency throughout the yearm, but made one of the biggest splashes at the trade deadline, acquiring Goran Dragic from the Suns, making the LeBron less Heat a chance to be contenders again. Pat Riley’s big move, created serious optimism in the organization, and that the Heat could stay relevant, until they got the news that Chris Bosh had a blood clot in his lungs and would miss the remainder of the season. This huge blow threw any chance of contending this year out of the window, but there is still hope the four time East Champs can sneak in the playoffs. Any time Wade can stay healthy they have a shot and the “Brightside” of the season, Hassan Whiteside has been playing well lately, he leads the team in rebounds and blocks. He is averaging 14 points, 13.3 rebounds, 2.7 blocks a game, while shooting above 60% from the field in the last ten games. It will be tough for Miami to stay healthy and get into the playoffs, but out of the teams that are within striking distance they have the best shot, being tied record wise with Indiana, but losing the tie breaker.
The other teams on the outside looking in include Brooklyn, Boston and Detroit. If Brooklyn can start playing with any consistency they would have the best shot being 2½ games back and the easiest remaining schedule, but have lost three straight and seem disinterested. Brad Stevens has his young Celtics playing above expectations and acquired more young talent at the trade deadline getting Isiah Thomas from the Suns. It seems unlikely they’ll make a playoff push, but they’re only 2½ games out and they still have a shot. The last team still in the chase for the final spot is fading fast, the Detroit Pistons. Detroit has lost 6 straight and now sit five games out of the 8th seed. It seems Reggie Jackson hasn’t been the answer to replace the injured Brandon Jennings and the Pistons, who at one point were one of the hottest teams in the NBA are slumping at the wrong time.
Someone has to grab these final two spots, in my opinion Indiana will get the 7th seed and Miami will get the 8th. It would be strange to see Miami miss the playoffs after their recent dominance, but there is a real chance it could happen especially if Wade gets hurt and Charlotte stays hot. I don’t see Charlotte staying consistent and I trust Spoelstra and Wade to figure out a way to get into the dance. I have no trust in Brooklyn, Boston, and Detroit to leap frog the other three playoff hopefuls, but anything could happen. It should be an interesting last couple of weeks.
-By Joe Keller