Final Look at Eastern Conference Playoff Race

The NBA’s final weekend of the regular season was loaded with playoff implications. For the Nets, this included absolutely getting routed 96-73 in Milwaukee. Against a resting Cleveland Cavaliers team, the Boston Celtics took care of business and moved into the 7th seed. And the Pacers did their part to stay in the race by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder, damaging their playoff aspirations. The Miami Heat are also still alive, but will need a miracle to extend their season. So what does this all mean in the season’s final stretch?

After the Bucks decisive win over the Nets, the Eastern Conference’s top six seeds are all locked up. The positioning may change a little, but the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, and Milwaukee Bucks are all guaranteed a playoff spot.

This leaves four teams vying for only two spots left in the post-season.

The Miami Heat were set to be in a much better position with their final games coming against the Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic, but a late collapse against the Toronto Raptors coupled with a Pacers win (as well as Indiana winning the season series 3-1) may have effectively ended the Heat’s season. The only way the Heat will qualify is if they win out, and the Pacers and Nets lose out. In this case the Heat would win the tiebreaker on virtue of best winning percentage among teams tied (5-2 against the Pacers and Nets.)

Essentially the Brooklyn Nets are very much in the running for one of the East’s last playoff spots, alongside the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. All three teams have surged down the stretch, each going 7-3 in their last ten games. But there are only two spots in the NBA’s postseason,

Boston Celtics 

Record: 38-42, 7th in East

Tiebreakers: Beat BKN 3-1, lost to MIA 3-1, beat IND 3-1

Bleacher Report
Bleacher Report

The Boston Celtics have a leg up on the competition, already having one more win than the Nets and Pacers and cannot be caught by the Heat, who will finish with 37 wins at most.

Point guard Isaiah Thomas has led the Celtics to a superb run down the stretch, elevating the Celtics from a lottery team to a surging seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

A single win, or loss by either the Pacers or Nets, will secure a playoff berth for the Celtics in the post-Rajan Rondo era.

The Celtics final two games will come against the Raptors and Bucks. The Celtics and Raptors have split their first two meetings this year, with the Celtics recently pulling out a 117-116 OT win on April 4. The Raptors will have something to play for, as they continue to try and stave off the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards for the third seed. This will be a tough matchup, but one the Celtics are capable of winning if things go their way.

Boston concludes it’s regular season in Milwaukee against the Bucks. The Celtics are 0-2 against the Bucks this year, but each loss has been by single digits. There’s also a win-win scenario here. If the Celtics beat the Raptors, they will clinch a playoff berth. However if they lose, the Bucks will be locked into the sixth seed, giving them nothing to play for in the season’s final game. So either way, the Celtics are in pretty good shape. If both teams end up playing full strength, the advantage may go to the Bucks at home, but again the Celtics can play well enough to beat these teams.

Chance of making playoffs: 90%

Brooklyn Nets

Record: 37-43, T-8th in East

Tiebreakers: Lost 3-1 to BOS, Lost 4-0 to MIA, Beat IND 2-1

USA Today
USA Today

The Brooklyn Nets have shown desire and passion down the stretch, winning eleven of thirteen games in a span and still winning seven of their last ten. However, three losses in their last five games have caused a slide from seventh place to possibly out of the playoffs in a short span of time,

Brooklyn’s final two games come at home, a location where they are a subpar 18-21 on the season. However, they are 7-2 at the Barclays Center in their last nine games, a mark that could bode well for both making the playoffs and succeeding in them.

The first of these two games comes against the Chicago Bulls, who as mentioned are fighting for the third seed in the East. The Nets dropped their first two matchups with the Bulls by an average of 21.5 points, though these took place in the early season and both teams have grown since then. The Nets lone win also came in 2014, in Chicago. So the previous matchups may not have too strong a bearing on this game’s outcome.

What does hold a stronger bearing is the fact the Bulls are simply a better team. Winning more often than not with a squad led by Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, the Bulls also have been bolstered by the return of point guard Derick Rose. With the Bulls giving their all to gain the third seed, which would most likely mean a matchup with the Bucks rather than John Wall and the Wizards, it’s likely they win in Brooklyn.

But fear not, the Nets last game is against a much less formidable opponent: the Orlando Magic. The lottery bound, 25-55 Orlando Magic are also 12-27 on the road, which should bode well for the Nets. The season series has gone the Nets way both times this year, though both in single-digit affairs. Technically, the Magic could beat the Nets on any given night.

But this isn’t any given night,

This game may represent the Nets season, with a simple win pushing them into the playoffs. If Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Mason Plumlee and company can’t show up for a home game against a lottery team for a chance to make the playoffs, they simply don’t deserve to be in it.

Expect the Nets to go all-out against the Magic, and for it to translate into a playoff berth.

Chance of making playoffs: 60%

Indiana Pacers

Record: 37-43, T-8th in East

Tiebreakers: Lost 2-1 to BKN, Lost to BOS 2-1, lost to MIA 3-1

The State
The State

The Pacers are looking to turn a forgettable season into something in the waning days of their campaign. Hitting rock-bottom, being 15 games under .500 at a point this season wasn’t even a thought for contenders of the past few years. But now on a five game win streak and with Paul George returning to the court, the Pacers could potentially be a scary first-round opponent.

The first hurdle the Pacers will have to face is that they’re playing two upper-level playoff teams to end the season. The Washington Wizards are first up in a prime-time nationally televised game. However there is one caveat, if the Bulls beat the Nets the night prior, the Wizards will be locked into the fifth seed, losing incentive to win. If this is the case, look for the Pacers to capitalize.

If not, the Wizards have taken two of three matchups this year and could be poised to take the fourth if it affects their playoff standing. But then again, Paul George didn’t play in the first three games. This could all add up to a thriller in Indiana on national television.

The Pacers close out their season in another nationally-televised game on ESPN, travelling to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are in the middle of an absolutely jam-packed Western race. After holding the second seed for much of the season, the Grizzlies slipped all the way to the fifth seed, a game behind the San Antonio Spurs, who have surged from the bottom of the playoff race to near the top on an eleven game win streak. Memphis is also tied with the red-hot Los Angeles Clippers, who are 9-1 in their last ten games, as well as the Houston Rockets, a solid 7-3 in their previous ten.

Basically, the Grizzlies are guaranteed to have something to play for, as their highest possible outcome is the second seed they’ve held much of the season and probably feel they deserve it. Despite this, the Grizzlies could fall to as low as the sixth seed with an unlucky couple outcomes to end the season.

The Grizzlies 30-10 home record and early season head-to-head win also don’t bode well for Indiana.

If the first hurdle was the matchups, the second hurdle is the tiebreakers. The Pacers lost the season series to the Nets, Celtics, and Heat, and would be eliminated in a head-to-head tiebreaker with any of them.

The Pacers are a better team with George on the court, and could be an interesting first-round matchup for the Atlanta Hawks who recently lost Thabo Sefolosha for the season. But the hardest part for the Pacers will be getting into the postseason.

Chance of making playoffs: 35%


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