Breaking Down the Eastern Conference Playoff Seeding Scenarios
The Eastern Conference playoff picture is taking shape and it’s certainly not the mess that Bryan Mears helped you uncover yesterday out West. Even so, there are five of the eight seeds up in the air with only two nights left on the schedule and the small movements that are left to happen could significantly impact the landscape of the playoffs.
There’s talk of teams resting guys down the stretch, so don’t be surprised if these all-important contests pass without the expected fanfare. Whether the rest is to get their legs under them for the long grind of the playoffs or perhaps just to find a way to avoid the Heat, no team will come right out and say. Regardless, there’s plenty of intrigue left on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
Here’s how things stand going into Tuesday’s slate of games.
Team(s) Locked Into Their Seed
Quick thoughts: The Pacers have gone from a team that everyone feared at the beginning of the season, to one that other teams are supposedly rigging to meet instead of the Heat in round two. They look far more mortal than they once did, but they won the top seed through a lot of good basketball to start the year and held on despite a lot of bad stuff to finish it. They’ve sworn from day one that there’s no way the Heat would have beaten them in Game 7 last year if it had been in their house. They might get a chance to put their money where their mouth is this year, if they even get that far.
Quick thoughts: The Heat are locked into the 2 seed, but the two-time defending champs don’t seem all that worried about conceding home court to the Pacers. They look somewhat more beatable this year, but we all know that they can famously flip the switch when they want to and their supposed complacency quickly becomes a distant memory. We still have them with the highest championship odds at 18.2%.
Quick thoughts: The Hawks are here because the Eastern Conference has to have eight teams in the playoffs and their 37-44 record is good enough this season. Basically, they were the “best” of the worst. Enough said.
Fighting for Seeds
3 seed if: They win in New York on Wednesday or Chicago loses in Charlotte.
4 seed if: They lose against New York and the Bulls pull off the win over the Bobcats.
Quick thoughts: The Raps hold the tiebreaker over the Bulls and both teams will go into the final night of the season with a record of 48-33. Simply put, the Bulls need to end with a better record to move up into the same part of the bracket as the Heat. Winning the right for the 3 seed might actually be considered a disadvantage.
3 seed if: They win in Charlotte on Wednesday and Toronto loses to New York.
4 seed if: They lose against Charlotte or the Raps take care of the Knicks.
Quick thoughts: The Bulls are one of the most fearless teams in the league and they honestly don’t care who they play and I believe them. They have a deep-seeded hatred for the Heat (or at least Joakim Noah does) and are one of the few teams that would probably rather play them than anyone else in round two. The Bulls’ game against Charlotte on Wednesday will have a major impact on the playoff picture one way or another (we’ll get to that more in a moment).
5 seed if: They get one win between their game tonight at home against New York or their game Wednesday in Cleveland or if Washington loses to Boston on Wednesday.
6 seed if: They lose to both New York and Cleveland and Washington wins over Boston.
Quick thoughts: The 5 seed is the most likely scenario here, it’s just a matter of whether they get Toronto or Chicago as the 4 seed. Rumor has it that Brooklyn is sitting the majority of their main rotation tonight and some are speculating it’s because they’d be ok with dropping down to 6, thus avoiding the Bulls and getting the Raptors who have a good chance at keeping the 3 seed. Between the Heat accepting the 2 seed and a possible matchup with the Raptors in round two and the Nets seeming willingness to drop and face the Raps as well, it’s quite possible that too many people are sleeping on this Toronto squad (the only Eastern team in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, for what it’s worth).
5 seed if: They win against Boston and Brooklyn loses both of their games.
6 seed if: Either (a) they win against Boston and Brooklyn gets at least one win; or (b) they lose against Boston and the Bobcats lose to the Bulls.
7 seed if: They lose against the Celtics and the Bobcats take down the Bulls.
Quick thoughts: My head hurts. Let’s just wait and see how that one plays out. I don’t want to break down those four possibilities and you don’t want to read it.
6 seed if: They beat the Bulls and the Wiz fall to the Celts.
7 seed if: They lose to the Bulls or the Wiz defeat the Celts.
Quick thoughts: The Bobcats hosting the Bulls on Wednesday night will be the most important game on the remaining slate for determining how the Eastern Conference side of the playoffs will go. The Bulls never take a game off and the Bobcats will need a win (and some help from the Celtics) to avoid facing the Heat (a team they were swept by this season) in the first round. If you’re looking for a dramatic game on the final night of the regular season, this is your game.