The playoffs are getting close, and that means playoff seedings, which are as jumbled as ever this year after more than two thirds of the regular season has elapsed. The East, especially, has bunched up just below the winning streak that’s catapulted the Miami Heat to the indisputable No. 1 seed. Even if Miami lost their remaining 17 games of the season, they still might take home the top slot, and since they haven’t lost in more than 40 days, that’s probably not going to happen.
Miami is the No. 1 seed, but the rest of the Eastern bracket is very much in doubt. Indiana has taken over the No. 2 spot from an injury-riddled Knicks squad, but they lost their last two before playing Cleveland Tuesday night, and they have a losing record on the road, 14-18.
Taking a look at the remaining 15 or so games left, we might have a better idea of where teams will finish. What we do know is that Toronto probably isn’t going to catch Milwaukee for that last playoff spot, so we don’t need to worry about who will make the playoffs in the East, just where they’ll finish. Right now, seven games separate the Pacers at the No. 2 spot and the Bucks at the 8 spot. To give you an idea of how lopsided that is, Miami is 11 games ahead of Indiana after winning 23 (and counting) games in a row.
Here are the games remaining for each squad (except Miami, who is a lock for No. 1) to finish out the regular season, and the predictions for how each team will do moving forward.
*records do not include Tuesday night’s games*
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2. INDIANA PACERS (41-26)
Indiana has 15 games remaining, and 10 of them come against either playoff teams, or in the case of a Western Conference squad, a team that’s in the running for the playoffs. And they face six of those nine playoff teams on the road. That’s not good news if you’re hoping the Pacers hold on to their spot as the No. 2 team in the conference. They’re headed to Chicago on March 23, but Chicago has a nearly identical record at home as they do on the road (18-14 H; 18-15 R) after that referee blunder against visiting Denver on Monday night. After traveling to Chicago for the day, they have a playoff-bound Atlanta team at home before going on the road for a week and facing Houston and Dallas back-to-back. That’s neglecting to mention their game in Staples against the Clippers, which could be an awful ending to that road trip. Not only that, but once they do return to the confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they host the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are battling San Antonio for the No. 1 seed in the west. They also face the Knicks and Celtics on the road before finishing up at home against the depleted Sixers. A conservative estimate, which has them playing .500 basketball against the playoff teams 5-5, plus a record of 4-1 against the non-playoff teams brings their record in their remaining 15 games to 9-6, which means they’d finish with a record of 50-32 on the season. Let’s see if that’s good enough to hold on to their place in the East.
15 games remaining (non-playoff or contending teams in parenthesis; asterisks denote losses): (ORL), MIL, @CHI*, ATL, @HOU*, @DAL*, (@PHX), @LAC*, OKC*, (@WAS), (CLE), BKL, @NYK, @BOS*, (PHI)
3. NEW YORK KNICKS (39-26)
Poor New York. Kurt Thomas was just lost for 2-4 weeks after “an acute stress reaction surrounding a chronic stress fracture” in his right foot. Tyson Chandler has a bulging disc in his spine and will miss a week. We already know about Rasheed Wallace and Amar’e Stoudemire: both are gone until at least the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony‘s knee is iffy, but he’s supposed to start when the Magic come to the Garden tonight. So, their team in tatters, the Knicks might get some luck in terms of their remaining schedule? Ummm, not quite. They have 17 games remaining and 10 are against playoff teams, including road games against, gulp, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Chicago. They’re probably only winning that Chicago game, but maybe not. So that leaves 12 games remaining where they can make a push for the No. 2 seed, or just try and stay at the No. 3 seed. They have Toronto twice in a home back-to-back, Charlotte at home, Washington at home and then Cleveland and Charlotte again on the road. They’re good enough to run the table on these non-playoff teams, but with so many guys banged up, don’t count on it. I see them going 0-5 against the road playoff teams listed above — with their lone chance at a victory on the road against a playoff team coming against Chicago (with the huge caveat that if Rose is back in the lineup that’s not happening), but getting a win against Milwaukee at home while losing to visiting Indiana. Memphis will beat them, but they’ll beat Boston in the Garden. All told, a frisky answer for their remaining 17 games is 10-7 and that’s being super optimistic since they’ll have to win the season closer against Atlanta and beat Indiana when they come to town (Indiana blew them out 125-91 in Indiana less than a month ago). Right now, New York sits at 39-26, a game ahead of Brooklyn and a game back of Indiana, but those road games against playoff opponents are going to be really hard, especially after what we saw on their most recent road trip. If they go 10-7 the rest of the way (again, an optimistic estimate), they’ll finish at 48-34 and finish three games behind the Pacers for the two seed.
17 games remaining: (ORL), (@TOR), (TOR), @BOS*, MEM*, (CHA), BOS, @MIA*, @ATL*, MIL, @OKC*, (WAS), @CHI*, (@CLE), IND*, (@CHA), ATL
4. BROOKLYN NETS (39-28)
While New York has the injury bug, and Deron Williams seems to have righted himself after his Stephen Curry ankles waylaid his performance for much of the season’s first 50 games, the Nets still have an insane road trip they just started. The started on a good note, too, beating Detroit handily in the Palace on Monday night, 119-82. But they don’t get back from their jaunt across the country until April 4! Of those eight road games, half of them are against playoff teams, and that’s discounting Portland, who is only half a game behind Dallas and three and a half behind the Lakers in the No. 8 spot out West. So, the Nets are facing some testy teams on their trip. Imagine they lose to the Mavericks and Clippers (their next two opponents), but beat Phoenix and Portland. They’ll lose to Denver, but they beat Utah (who struggled mightily against a Knicks team missing ‘Melo, Tyson and Amar’e). Then they finish off their road trip with a victory in Cleveland. That means they’ll have gone 5-3 on their current road trip. Not too shabby. Of their remaining eight games, five are against non-playoff teams. So that’s five more wins right there, though lets subtract one as a let-down game. So they go 4-3 on their current road trip (as of this writing), and win four of their five games against non-playoff teams. That leaves meetings with Chicago at home, and Boston and Indiana on the road. They’ll beat Chicago in a slugfest (no sure thing since Chicago plays well on the road), but lose to Indiana and Boston on the road. That means they’ll go 9-6 the rest of the way and end up with the identical record as the Knicks: 48-34. What’s the tiebreaker you ask? Well, it’s usually the winner of the division who gets the nod, but they’re both in the Atlantic. The next one is head-to-head, but they split their season series 2-2 this year. The next tiebreaker is the conference won-lost percentage. Right now the Nets are 29-14 in conference play, and the Knicks are 24-13. So, if both teams finish with a 48-34 record, the Nets would get the three seed based off their conference record. Now New York could win more games in the conference and Brooklyn could lose them, but I’m not taking the time to go through ALL of them. Let’s just say that Brooklyn has a better chance of winning the tiebreaker over the Knicks as of this writing (and that pains me to write, too).
15 games remaining: @DAL*, @LAC*, (@PHX), (@POR), @DEN*, @UTA, (@CLE), CHI, (CHA), (PHI*), @BOS*, @IND*, (@TOR), (WAS), (DET)