Four Eastern Conference teams have reached the 20-win mark so far, and all four clubs look like locks to earn spots in the postseason. The Raptors (23-9) still hold the lead in the standings, followed by the Bucks (20-9), Pacers (20-10), and Sixers (20-12).
That group of four doesn’t include the team that many observers expected to be the East’s top seed in 2018/19, but the Celtics (18-11) have come on strong lately, winning eight straight games before falling to Detroit on Saturday. That eight-game win streak didn’t exactly come against the most difficult stretch of their schedule, but the C’s still look like a surefire bet to make the playoffs.
That leaves us with five postseason locks in the East, with three spots available. No other team in the conference is currently above .500, so it’s probably too early to pencil in any clubs for the No. 6, No. 7, or No. 8 seed.
The contenders include…
- Pistons (14-14): Blake Griffin is having perhaps the best year of his career so far, but he might need a little more help, as Detroit has lost seven of eight games since starting 13-7.
- Hornets (14-15): Like Griffin in Detroit, Kemba Walker is carrying his team to a playoff spot for now, but may need more from his supporting cast to hang onto that spot. Charlotte has hovered right around .500 all season, never going more than one game over or two games under.
- Magic (14-15): New head coach Steve Clifford has the Magic playing hard and exceeding expectations, with Nikola Vucevic having a huge season so far. Still, there are holes on the roster, including at point guard.
- Heat (13-16): Miami has invested heavily in several players who are just good, not great, and some of those players are having a hard time staying healthy. There’s talent and depth on the roster, but no real star power.
- Nets (13-18): Brooklyn appeared to be headed toward the bottom of the NBA’s standings after losing Caris LeVert to a major foot injury, but they’ve rebounded nicely, winning five games in a row since falling to 8-18.
- Wizards (12-18): The Wizards got off to a 2-9 start and have appeared on the verge of turning the corner multiple times since then. However, they recently endured another four-game losing streak and remain well below .500. Their trade for Trevor Ariza signals that they still believe they’re a playoff team in a weak conference.
Given how weak the back half of the Eastern Conference has been so far this season, perhaps the Knicks (9-23), Cavaliers (7-23), Bulls (7-24), and Hawks (6-23) shouldn’t be ruled out of the playoff hunt, but it’s hard to imagine any of those clubs making a serious second-half run.
What do you think? Which of these relatively uninspiring clubs will join the Raptors, Bucks, Pacers, Sixers, and Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoffs when April rolls around?
Vote for your three choices below, then head down to the comment section to weigh in.
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