The NBA regular season is nearing its end. With teams having between nine and eleven games remaining, the race for the playoffs has become closer than ever. Here is my breakdown of the NBA playoff chases in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
Statistically, the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls have been the best two teams throughout the NBA regular season. The Bulls (43-14) and the Heat (40-15) sit currently at the one and two seeds in the Eastern Conference. Both play each other two more times in the regular season, which could decide who finishes at the top of the conference heading into the playoffs, as well as the NBA overall. Who they would play in the first round of the playoffs is a whole other issue entirely.
The one and two seeds in each conference play the eighth and seventh seeds in the first round of the playoffs. As of now, the Bulls would play the 76ers and the Heat would play the Knicks. The 76ers and Knicks are both tied record-wise, but the Knicks hold the head-to-head advantage, giving them the seventh seed.
While the Knicks have the tougher schedule down the stretch, the 76ers are in a major slump having lost ten out of their last fourteen games overall. Should one of those teams slip, the Milwaukee Bucks are in prime position to take one of their spots, currently one game behind each team.
The middle of the Eastern Conference is a lot less jumbled. The Indiana Pacers and the Boston Celtics hold the third and fourth seeds, respectably. The Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic hold the fifth and sixth seeds. As of now, the Pacers would play the Magic in the first round, while the Celtics would play the Hawks. The Hawks and Pacers probably have the easier schedules of the four teams. The Celtics are playing very good basketball right now, but their closing schedule includes tough games against the Heat, Hawks, Knicks, and Magic.
I don’t think that the standings will change all that much considering how the regular season has gone so far. I do think that the Magic will falter a little more given how much of a distraction that the Dwight Howard situation has been for them. Despite the close chase for the seventh and eight seeds, I don’t see the Milwaukee Bucks making the playoffs.
Final Predicted Standings
- Chicago Bulls
- Miami Heat
- Indiana Pacers
- Boston Celtics
- Atlanta Hawks
- Orlando Magic
- New York Knicks
- Philadelphia 76ers
Similarly to how the Bulls and Heat have dominated the top of the Eastern Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder have dominated the majority of the time atop the Western Conference. However, the San Antonio Spurs have won eleven straight games and, given the Thunder’s recent slump, they have taken over first place in the Western Conference. The Spurs would play the eighth seeded Denver Nuggets, while the Thunder would face the seventh seeded Dallas Mavericks, if the playoffs were to start today.
If the Spurs and Thunder were to tie for first at the season’s end, the Spurs would own the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of winning the regular season series between the two teams. It is very likely that the teams currently in the three through eight seeds will change. Those six teams are all within games of each other, with the third seeded Lakers having twenty-two losses, and the eighth seeded Nuggets having twenty-six losses.
The hottest team in the Western Conference has to be the fifth seeded Memphis Grizzlies. In the past two weeks, the Grizzlies have beaten the Lakers, Heat, and Thunder, all on the road. Couple that with the fact that they gave both the Spurs and Thunder fits in the playoffs last year, the Grizzlies have the look of a team that no one wants to see. I could easily see them passing the fourth seeded Los Angeles Clippers, and challenging the Lakers for the third seed.
The Clippers could also make a move for the third seed as well, given the struggles of the Lakers and the news that Kobe Bryant’s exact return date is uncertain. I think the standings will shake up a little before the season’s end through the five and eight seeds, but the first four will remain relatively parallel to the standings today.
Final Predicted Standings
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- San Antonio Spurs
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Dallas Mavericks
- Denver Nuggets
- Houston Rockets