The Race for the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs Is Heating Up: Can Charlotte and Indiana Hold On?
Every NBA fan is aware that the regular season is winding down and that there is a pretty enticing race for the 8 seed in the Western Conference, but as the season draws to a close, it is perhaps the Eastern Conference that will end up with the most intriguing playoff push. The tail end of the playoff bracket in the East is a much more complicated situation than the one in the West, as it involves two playoff slots opposed to one.
But the most intriguing part of the Eastern Conference playoff race is the five teams that are all in the mix for the last two postseason spots.
Charlotte, Indiana, Miami, Boston and Brooklyn are all in the hunt -- and, even though none of them have more than 28 wins at this point in the season, each team has at least an 8.7% chance of making the playoffs, according to our numbers.
Clearly, the race is on as we start down the home stretch, so let's take a look at each of those five teams, where they stand now, and where they might be by the end of the regular season according to our projections.
The Charlotte Hornets are currently in the 7 spot among all Eastern Conference teams, and our numbers like them to finish in that position. Despite a mere half game lead, Charlotte possesses the highest nERD of all the teams in the 7 and 8 seed discussion and have a 72.4% chance of making the playoffs.
The addition of veteran Mo Williams has done nothing but help the Hornets' playoff chances. Since his first game with Charlotte on February 21st, Williams is scoring 21.7 points and dishing out 8.7 assists a night. During those nine games, the Hornets are 6-3, and as we know, anything over .500 in the Eastern Conference goes a long way.
There's even better days on the horizon, as Kemba Walker is due back on the court as early as two weeks. But what about the aforementioned Williams? Steve Clifford plans to pair the point guards together -- that could be fun as we come down to the last 15 or so games in the season.
With or without Walker in the coming days, the Hornets are set up to make the playoffs. They'll have their tough matchups, but the Hornets will have plenty more opportunities to either stay their ground or gain it on their fellow playoff chasers. In their last 21 games, they'll have one matchup with each of the four teams chasing them in the playoff hunt.
As the 8 seed in the East, Indiana is right behind Charlotte. As a matter of fact, our numbers like them to finish with the same record as the Hornets, and the Pacers' 66.9% chance of making the playoffs trails Charlotte's by just 5.5%. If you've seen the Pacers play lately, then you know exactly why.
Though the Pacers stayed pat at this year's historic trade deadline, in their last 10games Indiana is 8-2 and have won five in a row. That recent success has a lot to do with their top-notch defense. In their past 10 games, the Pacers have allowed just 89.8 points per game to their opponents, and on the year, they've earned a Defensive Efficiency of 102.5 -- seventh in the league.
But maybe there's even more to Indiana's recent success than meets the eye. Paul George is looking to return to the Pacers by regular season's end in order to help out his team come playoff time. That might be giving Indiana some much needed optimism and motivation.
But as the regular season winds down, Indiana is slated to face nine teams in the top 15 of our power rankings. It could be a tough stretch, but on the bright side, the Pacers will face Hornets, Heat, Celtics and Nets a total of six times in their last 20 games. Can they hold on to make the cut in the Eastern Conference? Our projections think so.
If the playoffs started today, the Heat would miss out on this year's Eastern Conference playoffs. We give them a 41.4% chance of making the playoffs as things stand today. Considering their current position, and the chances of the previous two teams, the Heat's chances of making the playoffs are low -- that's understandable.
One thing is for certain -- Hassan Whiteside has been great. In five games prior to his ankle injury suffered on Friday night, the big man averaged 16 points per game on 64.7% shooting with 15.8 rebounds per game. He's made his presence known in Miami and might help the Heat leap into the playoffs.
Going forward, in their last 20 games, the Heat will face nine teams in the top 15 in our power rankings, and they will meet their fellow 7 and 8 seed competitors on just two occasions. Miami will have to make due with some tough matchups ahead if they want to secure a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Boston has come out of nowhere to enter the discussion for the 7 and 8 seeds in the East. They may have just a 10% chance of making the playoffs, but the Celtics are a mere 2.5 games back of Indiana for the 8 seed and actually possess a nERD superior to that of Miami.
With the addition of Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline, the Celtics have gained some ground in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. They're 5-4 since acquiring the point guard, and it's no wonder why.
IT2 is putting up 21 points per night while averaging nearly 2.5 three point makes per contest. His scoring has aided the Celtics in scoring over 101.5 points per game in their last nine. Can they keep it up though?
It might be hard, but they might get a chance to win some important games as the playoff season approaches. In their last 21 games, Boston will face a total of eight teams in the top 15, but will meet their fellow Eastern Conference bubble teams eight teams. They won't have a shortage of opportunities to overcome their odds.
Some people might say that Brooklyn's done and that they won't make the playoffs this season. That might be true, as the Nets lay claim to just an 8.7% chance to make the postseason. But, they have the same record as the Celtics, and our numbers project them to finish with the exact same record by regular season's end.
That may be the case, but the Nets just don't have much going for them. They shipped KG to Minnesota for the younger Thad Young at the trade deadline, and that move hasn't done anything positive for the team's playoff run.
In nine games, Young has produced a mere 13.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, and in those nine games, the Nets are 4-5. It doesn't look much better going forward.
Brooklyn will play nine teams in the top half of our power rankings, including six in their last eight regular season contests. As for the bright side, there isn't much of one. While the Celtics will have their opportunities against their fellow 7 and 8 seed competitors, the Nets will have just five such matchups.