A look at the Eastern Conference Playoff Race
The eighth seed – the last spot in the playoffs. It’s the difference between finding the nearest golf course and keeping the sliver of hope for a championship alive. With the season winding down, there are just a few seeds still open for the taking. One bad week could be the difference between shining the nine iron or the Nike’s. The standings are spandex-tight from the seven all the way down to the 10 and even 11 seed in the East. Just sneaking into the post season means something different for each team. This time around we’ll be focusing on the slug fest that is the Eastern conference playoff race.
Miami Heat: 34-40
Current Seed: 7
Matchup if playoffs started today: Cleveland Cavaliers
Last year’s seed: 2
It’s safe to say after LeBron’s departure a fall from grace was expected. But the future is surprisingly bright for Dwayne Wade and company. After acquiring Goran Dragic from Phoenix, it seemed like Miami was prime to take a leap in the standings. That was until soon after the trade Chris Bosh was ruled out for the year due to blood clots in his lungs. Though the loss of Bosh is detrimental to Miami in the short run, it doesn’t spell doom all the way around. Fans are getting to see the duo of Dragic and Wade start to blossom and build chemistry giving — a taste of what could be. Being able to sneak into the post season despite Bosh’s injury would mean something for this team. When Bosh does come back next season, this new big three has a chance to be dangerous.
It’s worth noting that Dragic has only been to the playoffs once in his career, the 2009-10 season. Not to mention playoff experience for Hassan Whiteside, the big man who’s having a breakout season in his third year. With the Nets nipping at their heels in the standings, the Heat are hardly feeling secure at the moment. If the Heat can lock up that seven seed, then a D-Wade and LeBron playoff series is on its way. Pretty enticing as far as two vs seven match ups go.
Brooklyn Nets: 34-40
Current Seed: 8
Last year’s seed: 6
With the rumor mill on high around the trade deadline, it seemed that the Nets were going to have their biggest makeover since the move from Jersey to Brooklyn. Outside of moving Kevin Garnett to Minnesota for Thaddeus Young, that wasn’t the case at all. An early exit against the Hawks, whom the Nets are 0-2 against this season, seems likely, and as usual the future is clouded in mystery. Young has contributed nicely by averaging about 13 points and five rebounds a night, but it’s unclear if he’ll be in Brooklyn long term. Unfortunately that’s small stuff compared to all the other question marks on this roster. Lionel Hollins has stressed wanting to keep Brook Lopez on board. The widely regarded soft 7-footer has been playing like a possessed man the past 10 games and is averaging 24 points and nine rebounds while shooting better than 60 percent from the field. The other mystery to solve on this team Deron William’s paycheck. He’s not exactly playing at a hall of fame level, but the zeroes tell a different story. Meanwhile, there are a number of teams who would kill for a scorer like Joe Johnson. Johnson was at the center of numerous trade talks at the deadline. With the franchise seemingly unclear about where it’s ultimately headed, the best thing Brooklyn fans can cheer about is the pick swap with the Nets have with Atlanta Hawks in this year’s draft. Robbing the number one team in the East of a lottery pick is something the rest of the league certainly wouldn’t mind seeing. Outside of that, nothing with this team is certain, and a playoff bid doesn’t mean anything if no one from the team will be in Brooklyn next season to build on it.
Boston Celtics: 34-41
Current Seed: 9
Last year’s seed: 12
If you’ve been looking for a case where just barley sneaking in to the playoffs would actually be a big deal, then here it is. After winning 27 games in his last season at Butler in 2012, Brad Stevens won just 25 games in his first year in Boston with 46 more attempts. Now just as fast as he took Butler to back-to-back championship games, he has this squad gelling at the right time. Since acquiring Isaiah Thomas from Phoenix at the trade deadline, the team is playing above .500 basketball, going 14-10. With the abundance of young talent it’s difficult to say who the Celtics core is long term, but that’s not a bad problem to have, and at the end of the day experience is the name of the game. If the Celtics work their way in it’ll be the first appearance in the playoffs for young guns such as Thomas, rookie Marcus Smart and third-year man Tyler Zeller. If Brad Stevens can engineer that quick of a turnaround, then fans have a lot to look forward to.
Charlotte Hornets: 32-42
Current Seed: 10
Last year’s seed: 7
Despite their fresh new, look it’s been a messy year for the newly named Hornets. There have been double digit losing streaks as well as stretches such as a chunk of January when they won 8 of 10. With talk of Lance Stephenson being dealt at the deadline and Kemba Walker’s nagging injuries, it’s unclear what’s in store for this team. As far as the postseason goes, it would be hard to imagine them making any real noise, but for a franchise that hasn’t had back-to-back postseason appearances in more than a decade, any playoff basketball would be something to get excited about.
Indiana Pacers: 32-43
Current Seed: 11
Last year’s seed: 1
After winning 13 of 15, the Pacers looked like they’d hit their stride and were going to become one of the feel-good stories of the season. Then the competition beefed up, and they got hit in the head worse than the bad guy in a Jason Statham movie. Following a superb February and first half of March, Indiana has lost 9 of 11 including double digit defeats to Chicago, Cleveland, Brooklyn and Houston. Having taken a dip in the standings, losing to the teams surrounding them in the standings doesn’t do the Pacers any favors. In the last two weeks they’ve gone 0-4 in match ups with Boston and Brooklyn.
Sympathy is required when talking about the Pacers. It’s a likable bunch that if it had Paul George would likely already have a playoff spot secured by now. George coming back at this point wouldn’t make much of a difference, but as long as the Pacers stay healthy in the long term, they shouldn’t be in this predicament two years in a row. Head coach Frank Vogel will make sure of that.
Follow David on Twitter @Dshug24 and listen to him on “The Morning Blitz” at 10 a.m. Wednesdays