As the All-Star break approaches, the seeding race for the playoffs continues to heat up. The NBA Eastern Conference is home to the reigning champions in the Milwaukee Bucks, and a number of solid teams up in the standings such as the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, and the surprising Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s more than likely that all these teams make the playoffs. The sixth seed is the Boston Celtics, although they remain closer in record to the play-in teams. This conference’s play-in contenders features plenty of star power, and will make for a wild finish in the race for the last two playoff spots.
NBA Eastern Conference: A Play-In Fiasco
The Best Bets
The seventh seed belongs to the Toronto Raptors. Toronto is hot on the trail of the Celtics, so they can find themselves in the playoffs and out of the play-in. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet lead a core of a well-balanced team, many of whom were on the championship team just a couple of seasons ago.
Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the Brooklyn Nets currently own the eighth spot. It’s a peculiar seed for a team with so much star power, but those two stars face their own challenges keeping them off the court. Now, of course, James Harden is gone. In the long run, however, Brooklyn looks to be more complete. Their blockbuster trade, bringing them a great haul highlighted by Ben Simmons, will surely vault the Nets up the standings. If not, they’re the low seed that no team wants to face come playoff time.
The ninth seed in the Charlotte Hornets is still very capable of climbing up to sixth. First time All-Star LaMelo Ball leads arguably the most exciting offense in the league, and they just added another strong piece in Montrezl Harrell. Don’t sleep on the Hornets.
Atlanta Hawks – a Possible NBA Eastern Conference Bust
Last season the Atlanta Hawks made it all the way to the NBA Eastern Conference finals. They lost to the Bucks, although their showings promised a very bright future. Atlanta essentially brought their whole team back from last season, but have really struggled this season. They currently own the 10th seed.
Trae Young is still an All-Star starter, while the team boasts a terrific frontcourt duo in Clint Capela and John Collins. Things just aren’t clicking this season like they were in the playoffs, however.
The Hawks found themselves in many trade rumors to improve their defense, but ultimately the team didn’t make any moves that really affected their rotation. They were a surprise playoff team last season, so perhaps they can surprise again, but they’ll have to at least qualify for the play-in tournament. That’s far from a guarantee right now.
The Last Two
The other teams with a somewhat realistic possibility to qualify for the play-in (although the teams below them are not mathematically out) are the Washington Wizards and New York Knicks.
Washington may have a tough time. Bradley Beal is out for the remainder of the season, while two others in the rotation were traded. Washington, however, may have won this trade, especially if Kristaps Porzingis stays healthy. History says that’s a big “if,” but it could happen.
The Knicks, on the other hand, were quite good last season. If anything, they improved their roster on paper too. Many players, namely Julius Randle, have disappointed this season, however. With that being said, New York is still on the cusp of the 10th seed.
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