The bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race has suddenly become extremely interesting. Four teams are all separated by less than two games as the regular season goes into its final week. We’ll break it down for you and make our predictions.
We start at the #6 spot in the East, where the Detroit Pistons currently reside, sitting at .500, 39-39. This is a team led by two stars in Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Reggie Jackson has had his ups and downs, while Luke Kennard and Wayne Ellington have been stroking the three-ball as needed. With a coach like Dwane Casey, the playoffs were always the expectation. The rest of their schedule is as follows: at OKC, home vs. CHA, home vs. MEM, @ NYK. In order to be in control of their own fate, they will have to go 3-1 or 4-0, and if not, they can go 1-3 or 2-2 and hope all of the teams around them lose. Safer to just win.
Then we have the Brooklyn Nets, who were thought to be a lock for these playoffs for the past few months. Now, however, things are looking very bleak. D-Lo is continuing to dominate as he does, but the rest of the role players have been up and down, and a tough schedule has these guys in some trouble. Their next three games will not be easy. They are at Milwaukee, at Indiana, and then home against Miami. At the least, they have to beat Indy or Milwaukee, and no doubt that they have to win #82 in front of the home fans. A win on the final day of the season would guarantee either of these teams a spot in the playoffs.
We take a live look at the current #8 seed as of last night, the Orlando Magic! They have yet to make the playoffs since trading Dwight Howard, but the one constant here has been Nikola Vucevic. The seven-year starting center was elected as a first-time All-Star this year. Jonathan Isaac has finally stayed healthy, while Aaron Gordon has most definitely improved. After knocking off the Knicks last night, their remaining schedule features three games. Home against Atlanta, at Boston, at Charlotte. They have to make sure to take care of business against the Hawks, and at the least, play a competitive one with Boston. Charlotte is a playoff dark-horse, but if these guys go 2-1 to end the year, they should be in.
Next, we’re off to Miami, where D-Wade is having quite the farewell campaign. They lost back-to-back games to the Celtics, where one win could have them ahead of Orlando still as the #8 seed. Wade has done his job well, while the guards have all shuffled in and out of the lineup for the Heat. Dion Waiters has finally reached his top form, while Goran Dragic is playing well of late. Hassan Whiteside even comes off the bench now. They have four games left: at Minnesota, at Toronto, home against Philly, at Brooklyn. The easiest game to win is against the short-handed TWolves; then nothing will come easy. They have to hope to go 3-1 in their final four.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Hornets! They snapped a long losing skid with a win last night over the Pelicans. They are two games back with a schedule of home vs. Toronto, @ Detroit, vs. CLE, vs. ORL. They have to go 4-0 to join the conversation.
PREDICTIONS FOR SEEDING:
Sorry Nets, you will probably make it next year. Aside from that 18-5 stretch in the middle of the year, they have gone just 21-35 overall.