Wednesday, April 4, 2018
Wednesday Windmill: Taking a quick look at the Eastern Conference playoff picture
With the NBA regular season wrapping up on April 10th, I thought it would also be a good idea to take a quick look at where things sit in the Eastern Conference playoff picture as we head into the final week of the regular season. Things are a bit more settled in the Eastern Conference, but teams are still battling for position and seeding with the 8th seed still up for grabs.
At the moment, seven teams have clinched a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference: Toronto Raptors (55-22), Boston Celtics (53-24), Cleveland Cavaliers (48-30), Philadelphia 76ers (47-30), Indiana Pacers (46-31), Miami Heat (42-36), and Washington Wizards (42-36).
As you can see, it is a bit tiered among the teams who have cliched. The Raptors and Celtics are in a battle for first place while the Cavaliers, 76ers, and Pacers are battling to get home court advantage in the first round. As for the Heat and Wizards, their primary focus is to avoid the 8th seed. If they can get the 6th seed, they'll put themselves in a position to possibly pull off a first round upset. Especially if they're not having to face the Cavaliers, who despite a rocky regular season are still the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference.
The most interesting race is who gets home court advantage between the Cavaliers, 76ers, and Pacers. While the Cavaliers are favored to come out of the East, that could change if they don't get home court advantage in the first round. Even with LeBron James, they'll still be putting themselves behind the eight ball if they have to go on the road in their first series.
As for the race for the top seed, with Kyrie Irving out for the rest of the regular season, it's unlikely that the Celtics catch the Raptors for the top seed. At this point, the main focus for the Celtics is to make sure everyone else on their team stays healthy and doesn't get hurt before the playoffs start. Even without home court advantage, the Celtics should like their chances against the Raptors in a series, assuming Kyrie Irving is healthy.
Who's expected to clinch
The Milwaukee Bucks sit in the 8th spot with a 42-36 record, the same record as the 7th seeded Wizards. For whatever reason, the Bucks haven't yet mathematically clinched, but all signs point to them doing so. The Bucks are more in the mode of improving their seed and trying to avoid the 8th seed. That said, the Raptors are as vulnerable of a top seed as you'll see in the NBA playoffs. Maybe the Bucks like where they sit and have no issue with going into Toronto to start the playoffs.
Who's mathematically alive
Despite being 37-40, the Detroit Pistons are still mathematically alive. They obviously need the Bucks to totally collapse and on top of that they need to win out. The Pistons' remaining schedule is as follows: vs. Philadelphia, vs. Dallas, @Memphis, vs. Toronto, and @Chicago. Given that they need to win all of these games and do so without Blake Griffin (right ankle contusion), I think this is as good of a schedule as they could really ask for. I don't see the Pistons making the playoffs, but if they can win all of their remaining games, you never know.
What hurts is that the Bucks' schedule isn't too bad: vs. Brooklyn, @New York, vs. Orlando, and @Philadelphia. It's really hard to envision Giannis Antetokounmpo letting his team down during this final week. If he has a big game even once, the Bucks will find themselves in the playoffs.
In regards to how this all shakes out, I think the Bucks will clinch the 8th seed. The Pistons just have too much ground to cover. I think the Raptors will get the top seed and I think it'll be the Cavaliers and 76ers who have home court advantage in the first round. The Cavaliers do not want to go on the road to start the playoffs and understand that doing so would put them in a really difficult spot.
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