As the NBA heads into the final stretch of its season, playoff seeds are beginning to crystallize. By my count, eleven teams have already essentially clinched a spot in the playoffs, leaving five positions available for the other nineteen teams.
In the Eastern Conference, there are two playoff berths available for four teams and Washington, Indiana, Detroit, and Chicago are set to duke it out over the next month to make it into the postseason.
Which teams on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble will make it in? Which ones won’t? Let’s take a look.
In the East, the seventh and eighth seeds are up for grabs. Currently, the Pacers and Pistons hold those two spots, but the Bulls are tied with the Pistons for the eighth seed. The Wizards are lurking one-and-a-half games behind the Bulls and Pistons after recently pulling out of a tailspin; after making it back to .500, they lost five straight games before a dominant forty-three point blowout against the Pistons earlier this week on national TV and a twenty-one point victory against the Bulls last night.
Washington is the furthest from a playoff spot, but there remains hope in D.C. thanks to a fairly easy schedule to close out the season. Of its fifteen remaining games, only two are near-certain losses (@GSW and @LAC). In addition, the Wizards play three times against the Hawks, although two of those games are at home, and once against the surging Hornets in Washington.
Though Washington is one-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot, there still remains a head-to-head opportunity to make up ground on its direct competitors. The Wizards will play in Detroit on April 8th, a game that will be vital to their playoff aspirations.
The Pacers are elevated above the fray, sitting two-and-a-half games above the Bulls and Pistons and four above the Wizards. With a strong finish, Indiana could even push its way into the fifth or sixth seed, and with a creampuff schedule down the stretch, there’s a very real possibility that it could happen.
The Bulls have the easiest schedule of all, but they currently face severe problems with injuries. Jimmy Butler returned only a couple of days ago from a knee injury, Derrick Rose is dealing with a groin injury, and Pau Gasol has an injured knee. If Chicago is down its best three players, it won’t matter how easy their schedule is.
The Pistons begin a nine-game homestand against the Hawks, but their schedule is the most challenging of the teams they’re competing against. Eight of Detroit’s fifteen remaining games come against playoff teams, and that doesn’t include the games against its direct competitors. It plays in Chicago on April 2nd and against Washington at home on April 8th.
The question remains: Which of these teams will make the playoffs?
It seems to be a forgone conclusion that the Bulls will miss the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. They have too many injuries to adequately compete, and if they lose to the Pistons on April 2nd, they won’t have the tiebreaker against either the Pistons or the Wizards. Chicago will compete to the end, and it’s certainly within its capabilities to scratch out just enough victories to make it to the playoffs, but the postseason seems out of reach at the moment.
The Pacers have a stranglehold on a playoff berth. They’re as close to the #4 seed as the Pistons and Bulls are to them. It’s far more likely that Indiana moves up the ladder to nab a higher seed than they collapse and miss out on the playoffs.
The most intrigue comes with the battle for the eighth seed between the Wizards and Pistons.
I’m torn on this prediction, and although it’s safer to bet on the Pistons maintaining their lead, the Wizards have the tiebreaker and the ineffable, possibly nonexistent “mental edge” after the blowout earlier this week. Instead, I think that whoever wins that April 8th game in Detroit will take home the eighth seed. Washington should be the underdog in that game, so I guess my prediction is Detroit, but if it can defy expectations and win that game on its way to the playoffs, I bet there’ll be a big…
(at least until they get blown out by the Cavs in the first round)