With approximately 25% of the season remaining, the top-heavy Eastern Conference has several teams vying for the #1 seed in the playoffs and a handful of bubble teams jockeying for positions in the play-in tournament including the Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, and Washington Wizards.
The New York Knicks were the #4 seed last season, but they had a reversal of fortunate this season and currently occupy the #12 seed. The Knicks are six games behind the Brooklyn Nets in the #8 seed. Even benching Kemba Walker the rest of the season will not improve the Knicks’ chances of a spot in the play-in tournament.
|EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF BUBBLE|
|12||New York Knicks||25-34||13|
With the play-in tournament, the top ten teams get a shot at a postseason berth. The #7 seed and #8 seed meet with the winner securing the #7 seed. The loser plays the winner of the #9 and #10 seed, and that eventual winner gets awarded the #8 seed.
#1 Seed Up for Grabs
It’s a tight race in the Eastern Conference playoffs race with seven games separating the top eight teams. Compare that to the Western Conference, where eight games separate the top three teams. Yes, the Eastern Conference is wide open.
The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are tied for the #1 seed with an identical 38-21 record, Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers (35-23) are 2.5 games back and clustered in a three-way tie with the chase pack that also includes the Cleveland Cavs (35-23) and defending champion Milwaukee Bucks (36-24).
You can make a good case for any of those five teams to land the #1 seed. All eyes will be on the 76ers, who recently dumped emo Ben Simmons and acquired James Harden in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets. Harden has been nursing a hamstring injury and has yet to suit up for the 76ers, but they’ve more than held their own without him. Joel Embiid has been putting up an MVP-like season, but now he has a legit scorer to help shoulder the offensive burden in the postseason. Harden will quickly have to integrate himself into the offense if the 76ers expect to inflict any damage in the postseason.
Celtics, Raptors and Nets
The Boston Celtics (34-26) were one of the hottest teams heading into the All-Star Break. They laddered up to the #6 seed courtesy of an 11-game winning streak. The Celtics are 4.5 games out of first place, but they hold just a half-game lead over the Toronto Raptors in the #7 seed and hold a 2.5-game edge over the Brooklyn Nets in the #8 seed.
The Nets hope to get Kevin Durant back in the lineup after he suffered a sprained knee in mid-January. The Nets went 4-13 since Durant went down, including an ugly 11-game losing streak where they tumbled as low as the #9 seed.
There’s also a bit of good news concerning Kyrie Irving. The mayor of New York City is close to ending a health mandate preventing unvaccinated people from entering gyms, so Irving can play home games instead of just playing part time on the road.
Simmons has not suited up for the Nets yet, but he’s expected to make his debut as early as next week.
Despite the skid and locker room drama, the public has faith that the Nets will get hot in the playoffs. The Nets are still one of the top-three favorites to win the 2022 NBA championship at +475 odds. They’re third on the NBA futures board according to a recent update by DraftKings.
Bubble: Hornets, Hawks, Wizards
Only one game separated the Charlotte Hornets (29-31), Atlanta Hawks (28-30), and the Washington Wizards (27-31) on the proverbial bubble in the Eastern Conference playoffs race. Only two of them can qualify for the Eastern Conference play-in tournament provided that the Celtics, Raptors, and Nets maintain their spots above them.
The Wizards looked like punted on the season when they made some serious deals prior to the trade deadline. They acquired the Unicorn from the Dallas Mavs after the Mavs gave up on an injury-prone Kristaps Porzingis. Meanwhile, Bradley Beal is out for the remainder of the season after he underwent wrist surgery. The future is grim for the Wizards in the Eastern Conference playoffs race, so it’s up to the Hornets and Hawks to not implode on the bubble in the final 24 or so games. The Hornets and Hawks are 9.5 games out of first place, but they trail the Nets in the #8 seed by 2.5 games.