With 22 or games remaining in the NBA season, the Eastern Conference playoff bubble is heating up with the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat trying to pick off the Charlotte Hornets and the Detroit Pistons.

Nikola Vucevic
Nikola Vucevic (9), center from the Orlando Magic, made his first All-Star team this season. (Image: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

The Western Conference is the dominant conference once again this season. They also have the upstart, young Sacramento Kings fending off LeBron James and the LA Lakers for the #8 seed in the West.

Two of the current playoff teams from the Eastern Conference have losing records. Five teams are jockeying for position to grab one of the two final spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Pistons (28-30) currently hold the #7 seed, while the Hornets (28-31) occupy the #8 seed and final spot.

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF BUBBLE:
6. Brooklyn Nets (31-30)
7. Detroit Pistons (28-30)
8. Charlotte Hornets (28-31)
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Orlando Magic (28-33)
Miami Heat (26-32)

The Magic (28-33) are five games under .500, but trail the Hornets by only one game. Meanwhile, the Heat (26-32) only trail the Hornets by 1.5 games and the Pistons by two games.

The Brooklyn Nets (31-30) are only one game over .500. Led by D’Angelo Russell, the Nets are playing their best basketball of the season right now.

Buzz City

Charlotte is currently in first place in the NBA Southeast with a slim one-game lead over the Magic. Pundits expected the Washington Wizards to run away with the division title, but the Wiz imploded. They had too many problems in the locker room with John Wall feuding with everyone. With Wall injured with a blown Achilles, he’s expected to miss next season as well. The Wiz punted on this season and sent Otto Porter to the Chicago Bulls for some salary cap relief. The Wiz still have Bradley Beal, but the Wiz were one of the biggest disappointments of the season.

The Hornets big star, Kemba Walker, put on a couple of dazzling performances this season, including a 60-point explosion against the Sixers. Walker leads the Hornets in scoring and assists (25.1 ppg and 5.7 assists).

The Hornets are in first place by default. It doesn’t look like they want to keep the #8 seed either. The Hornets lost five out of their last 8 games. They have been inconsistent all season with only a pair of three-game winning streaks this season. The Hornets have yet to cobble together back-to-back weeks without losing a game.

The good news for fans is that the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are coming to town this week. The bad news is that the Hornets are about to get lit up by Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and James Harden.

Charlotte does not have an easy schedule the rest of the season. The Hornets have two more games against the Miami Heat, with one game each against the Magic and Pistons.

Magic Time

The Magic won 8 out of their last 10 games. They moved within striking distance of the Hornets.

Nikola Vucevic is the best player in the NBA you never heard of. Vucevic, a 7-foot center, was born in Switzerland, but raised in Belgium. His father Borislav played pro ball in Europe for over two decades and was a member of the former Yugoslavia national team.

Vucevic went to high school in California. USC recruited him and he played three seasons with the Trojans. In his final year, Vucevic averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. He impressed enough NBA scouts that he went in the middle of the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft. The Philadelphia 76ers selected him with the 16th overall pick.

Vucevic played one season with the Sixers before they shipped him to the Orlando Magic as a part of a four-team mega trade that also involved Dwight Howard.

In his first season with the Magic and his second in the NBA, Vucevic started 77 games. He averaged 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds in his first full season of action. Over his career, he averaged 15.5 points per game. This season, he’s scoring a career-high 20.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per game.

Vucevic made his first All-Star squad this year. He was one a reserve and played on Team Giannis with the Greek Freak.

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