Is this year’s playoff race in the East the worst ever? It sure feels like it. On Wednesday night, everybody involved in the tight race from No. 6 to No. 10 was in play and all of it had massive implications. So, of course, everyone but two happened to lose. The bottom portion of the Eastern playoffs is not a test of the NBA’s best battling it out. It’s more of a survival experiment where the least mediocre will manage to make it to the NBA’s second season — albeit, likely briefly.
Yet, despite this mediocrity, despite the basketball being played by these teams not being especially good, it’s shockingly entertaining. The Pistons, Nets, Magic, Heat, and kind of the Hornets are in a five-way race for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs and absolutely nobody can get out of their own way. It’s one of the most competitive races we’ve ever had and not a single team has reached 40 wins before April 3. That’s honestly impressive. It’s also created compelling basketball!
In the Magic’s 114-100 win over the Knicks on Wednesday, they needed Terrence Ross and Michael Carter-Williams to come to their rescue in the fourth quarter so they could gain a sustainable lead and then hold on to it. The Magic were pushed to extra effort against one of the NBA’s worst teams, as their former lottery pick Mario Hezonja posted a career-high against them out of spite. At a time in the season where usually everything is wrapped up and we’re just waiting for the playoffs, the Eastern Conference has given us the opportunity to care about a bad Knicks team in April, because even in their awfulness, they can shape the playoff picture. Your favorite Western Conference could never. Did you even know Carter-Williams was playing important basketball minutes right now? Because he is and it’s glorious.
The rest of the teams in the East’s playoff hunt didn’t fare as well on Wednesday, though. The Nets continued to get beaten down by a brutal schedule and were handed their sixth loss in 10 games by the Raptors. The Pistons got dusted by the Pacers and then the Heat fell short against a struggling Celtics team. Everything the Magic needed to go right went right. The only team that won besides them were the Hornets, but they might be in too deep to really compete. With that in mind, let’s look at what every team will need to do from here on out if they want to snag one of those final playoff spots, starting with a refresher on the NBA’s tiebreaker scenarios.