As the shortened NBA season comes near playoff time, it is appropriate to take a look at the teams that we will definitely see and some that we may see in this coming postseason. This article will highlight the Eastern Conference playoff teams with an article for the Western Conference teams to follow down the line:
One important addition of note this season is the Play-In tournament. Seeds 7-10 will enter a tournament to determine, which two teams will take the 7th and 8th seeds. Seeds 7 and 8 will play each other for the 7th seed and the 9th and 10th seeds will compete with the winner playing the loser of the 7/8 matchup for the final spot, per nba.com.
Playoff Teams – Not in Play-In
- Brooklyn Nets – The 1st seeded Nets started the year as championship favorites, and that only ramped up as the season progressed. By trading for James Harden and signing Blake Griffin and the recently-retired LaMarcus Aldridge, Brooklyn sits with a comfortable record of 41-20. First-year head coach Steve Nash is hoping to bring his team to the championship that many have come to expect. With some analysts and fans labeling this season a “boom or bust” situation, the Nets will need solid performances from every player on the roster to stay ahead of the competition.
- Philadelphia 76ers – The 76ers led the East for most of the season, only to be overtaken by the Nets as of late. MVP candidate Joel Embiid and star guard Ben Simmons have led the 76ers to another successful year. This season, they are hoping for a different result, though. Currently sitting one game behind the Nets with a record of 40-21, Philadelphia is hoping that their season will not end in heartbreak once again.
- Milwaukee Bucks – Currently sitting in third place, 3.5 games behind first, the Bucks find themselves in a good position moving forward. Led by all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo and recently acquired Jrue Holiday, the Bucks have their eyes set on a deep playoff run. In the top-heavy Eastern Conference, Milwaukee may face some challenges in the second or third round of the playoffs, but no task seems too great for the man many are calling the “future of the league”: Giannis. With a record of 37-23, the Bucks may decide that 3rd is a good spot and elect not to try and push higher.
- New York Knicks – The first surprise team of the East is sitting in 4th place right now: New York. Although some expected the Knicks to potentially squeak into the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed, Julius Randle and the Knicks have blown expectations out of the water. With Randle playing at a near-MVP level and Derrick Rose playing like a former version of himself, the Knicks could be a sneaky dark horse come playoff time. New York boasts a record of 34-28, 7.5 games back from the top spot.
- Atlanta Hawks – The second unexpectedly highly-ranked team comes in at a fifth seed. Trae Young has led a once-desperate Atlanta hawks squad to a top 5 position in the conference. With a record-tying New York at 34-28, Atlanta could easily slide up in the rankings before the end of the season. Just as easily as they can slide up, though, they can also slip down and find themselves in a play-in spot.
- Boston Celtics – One team that is lower than most would have expected at the beginning of the season is Boston. Currently 32-29, Boston is barely holding a record above .500. Shaky play and some tough losses have knocked the Celtics down the ladder a bit, but Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can never be counted out. With Kemba Walker as a coach on the floor and Brad Stevens on the sidelines, Boston has everything it takes to make a deeper run in the playoffs.
- Miami Heat – Sitting in the 7th seed, Miami has not come close to the dominance they showed the world last season. While star Jimmy Butler missed some time with COVID-19, Miami found themselves struggling to stay afloat. Just like any star can do, Butler was able to bring his team back from the ashes and into a spot in the play-in tournament with the ability to move up in the rankings. The Heat holds a record of 32-30, 9.5 games back from the Nets.
- Charlotte Hornets – If the play-in tournament were not a thing, Charlotte would be on the edge of the playoffs. After Lamelo Ball was injured, the Hornets struggled to continue to string together wins. Ball has a chance to come back before the season ends, but it is a tall task to ask a recently-injured rookie to lead a team to a higher seed. For now, Gordon Hayward will continue to take the reigns in Charlotte and hope their 30-30 record will be enough to put them in a position to stay in the running.
- Indiana Pacers – Usually considered a middle-of-the-pack playoff team, Indiana now finds itself close to falling out of the playoffs entirely. If there was no play-in tournament, the Pacers would be on the outside looking in. Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner highlight a young, talented Pacers team. Despite the talent, however, Indiana currently has a record of 29-31 with the blazing hot Wizards on their tail.
- Washington Wizards – With the last spot in the play-in tournament as of now, the Wizards hope to ride an impressive streak of wins to a spot in the playoffs. Led by star backcourt tandem Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, the Wizards have soared up the rankings in recent weeks. Boasting a record of 27-34, Washington may have their work cut out for them moving forward.
The Eastern Conference teams currently occupying the 11 and 12 seeds have a realistic chance of making the play-in tournament, but some work has to be done. Both the Chicago Bulls (11th) and Toronto Raptors (12th) have records of 26-35. This puts them one and a half games behind Washington for the 10th seed and a spot in the play-in tournament. Although there is work to be done on their end, the Bulls and Raptors have hope.
If the season were to end today, the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs would hold some interesting matchups. The first round of play-in games as of now would be:
- (7) Heat vs. (8) Hornets – winner gets 7 seed, loser plays the winner of 9/10 matchup
- (9) Pacers vs (10) Wizards – winner plays the loser of 7/8 matchup, loser eliminated
As of now the first round of the playoffs would look something like this:
- (1) Nets vs (8) Play-In Seed
- (2) 76ers vs. (7) Play-in Seed
- (3) Bucks vs (6) Celtics
- (4) Knicks vs (5) Hawks
In this whirlwind of a season, fans of the NBA are hoping for some good playoff basketball. If the standings remain as they are now, fans can expect some good games on the horizon.