Community Shootaround: Checking In On Eastern Playoff Race

When we checked in on the Western playoff race on Wednesday, we suggested that there were a few clear-cut tiers within the conference, including 10 teams that look like the top contenders to make the postseason or the play-in tournament.

The Eastern Conference playoff race is far more muddled, but there are at least three playoff locks and legit contenders at the top of the conference, where the Sixers (24-12) are hanging onto a half-game lead over the Nets (24-13) and a two-game lead over the Bucks (22-14).

Philadelphia is positioned to further upgrade its roster at the trade deadline, while Brooklyn and Milwaukee have played well despite lengthy absences for Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday, respectively. As long as all three teams stay relatively healthy in the second half, it seems pretty safe to assume they’ll secure home court advantage in round one.

After that top group, things get messy. The Celtics (19-17) currently hold the fourth seed, but they’re only separated from the 11th-seeded Hawks (16-20) by four games. In between those two teams, the Knicks (19-18), Heat (18-18), Hornets (17-18), Raptors (17-19), Bulls (16-18), and Pacers (16-19) are all jockeying for position — it wasn’t uncommon in recent days for a team to jump or fall four or five spots in the standings based on the outcome of a single night’s games.

Entering the season, the Celtics, Heat, Raptors, and Pacers were viewed as solid playoff contenders, with Atlanta expected to be in the mix as well. The Knicks, Hornets, and Bulls are the upstarts here, but career years from Julius Randle and Zach LaVine and a breakthrough performance from LaMelo Ball have helped make the case we should be taking them seriously.

With only five teams in the East above .500, most of the current lottery clubs realistically remain in the hunt for a play-in spot as well. The Wizards (14-20), Cavaliers (14-22), and Magic (13-23) don’t have good records, but Washington is within 1.5 games of the No. 10 seed, and even Orlando is only 3.5 games back.

With the All-Star break underway, we want to get your thoughts on the Eastern Conference playoff picture heading into the second half.

  • Which team will grab the top seed?
  • Which three teams will join the Sixers, Nets, and Bucks in the top six, assuring themselves of a guaranteed postseason spot?
  • Which four teams will finish in the 7-10 range and participate in the play-in tournament?
  • Will unexpected playoff contenders like the Knicks, Hornets, and Bulls wind up in the postseason?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your opinions on where things are headed in the East!

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20 thoughts on “Community Shootaround: Checking In On Eastern Playoff Race

  1. Sillivan

    Except the Nets
    Heat and Celtics can defeat any teams in the first round playoffs
    The Heat and Celtics will make big trade

    If one player were injured for top 4 seeds, Raptors can take them out in first round too

  2. WallyWood

    Boston, Miami, and Toronto should round out the top 6.

    That would leave 8 teams: NY, Charlotte, Chicago, Indiana, Atlanta, Washington, Cleveland, and Orlando battling to make the play-in tournament.

  3. DeathbyDeathwest

    I like the Heat, Hornets, and a healthy Knicks out of the sub-Celtics group. I’ll be interested to see if the Knicks get tempted to Knick, and trade for another short term guy for this season like Rose to get them in and maybe on to round 2..

    Hornets and Knicks should still be looking toward the future. Success this year is gravy. Don’t trade your future for this year.

    I think the Raptors sell, because it’s the smart move. I don’t trust the Bulls, and if they miss they should sell in the offseason. Indy is the next best team so I’ll give them my 8th seed.

    If Drummond gets bought out, he could seriously tip this race – by going to the Lakers and sealing the irrelevance of the East altogether. Adam Silver should keep Drummond in Cleveland for the rest of season. Buy-out rules need reform as others said in the Blake Griffin articles.

    • Cap & Crunch

      Drummond for Otto Porter and a 2nd to save the day please !

      I never understood the “have to do good” by the player bit….Isn’t that’s what the $$$ is for?

      • DeathbyDeathwest

        Yes I do kind of agree about the money, but it’s about team brand. Future free agents and the other guys look at how the team deals with player situations all the time, and I’m sure that plays into the closer decisions on where to sign.

  4. KnickerbockerAl

    A few teams will look at Drummond. And he can help Raptors, Knicks, Hornets solidify playoffs. Hayward is the guy who’s put Hornets in playoffs. Imo they should trade for Drummond.
    Heat, Celtics are part of top 5 in east. Both probably make move by TD. Raptors, Hawks, Knicks, Pacers, Bulls, Hornets even Wizards will make a run at top 10. Teams are getting healthy and can make moves by TD. That’s what we have to wait and look for. Gotta feeling Knicks are going to make a big move. Not major major but solid. I prefer to keep our picks next yr.

    • Cap & Crunch

      Hornets are faceless, its a different guy every night imo ; but Hayward excels at being a glue guy and its a perfect fit in Cha so perhaps he’s the glue that holds it together?

      I dont like the Drummond fit here , they are a passing club and Drums a dark hole- Plus Id like someone who could run the PnR with Ball and that wouldn’t be Andre

      I dont think this player reasonably exists in the next 19 days for Cha tho, they should aim high when it does which should be very very soon

      • KnickerbockerAl

        Drummond gets a bad rap imo. Hornets need his reb. It also helps their D, one possession. Anyone can play PnR in NBA, they are pros. They don’t have to be Stockton to Malone. Plus no one in NBA is big PnR team now. All more swing the ball extra pass now. He is a guaranteed 17 a gm and opens up the shooting for Hornets. Few teams he is a good fit for. Hornets are a good fit. They can challenge for 4th seed. I would do especially considering how long they been wanting to win. No one else out there can do this so cheap.

  5. ray win

    Celtics, Heat, Raptors fill out the top 6. Pacers and Knicks are 7 and 8. Wizards and Hornets are 9 and 10.

  6. x%sure

    Sixers, Nets, Bucks. Heat, Celts, an interesting 4/5. Nix, Hornets, Pacers, Raps. Wiz rise. CLE wants to be sellers… oh all right… 11th.

  7. El Don

    Funny how last year Morant got so much hype for takin’ his team close to the playoffs, with plenty of good players in it, not just himself…
    This year LaMelo is doing exactly the same with a team that is hardly as good as Morant’s had last year.
    Morant played kind of good last year, but LaMelo is playing sooo much better this year than Morant did last year, counting that he was coming off the bench for half the season & had 2 good guards ahead of him.
    As I said LaMelo is just been sooo much better than Morant, but doesn’t seem to be getting the hype that Morant did, also a big difference is that LaMelo is the best rookie this season.

    • El Don

      As a matter of fact LaMelo is even playin’ better this year than Morant, just a lil’ bit, there you are!

      • Cap & Crunch

        Nobodies dissin LaMelo these days lol

        Your {trying} to create a narrative that doesn’t exist

        Try Twitter for more bites

    • KnickerbockerAl

      One word ……….. Hayward.
      You really should look at both rosters before you boast.

  8. I believe the Knicks can make some noise and moves up in the standings by trading for an all star caliber player. New York has been a surprisely good team head coach under Tom Thibodaux.

  9. formerlyz

    Not gonna lie, I really like Charlotte if they can get one more shooter at the 2/3 spots.

    I’d like to have seen the Celtics more healthy, plus more of lineups with Pritchard and Nesmith mixed in with Smart Tatum, Brown, Grant Illiams/Ojeleye, or one of their bigs. Really wanted to see what theyd do in lineups with Langford and a lot of length on the floor, but that hasnt happened. They keep using myltibig lineups that I think makes them a decent amount worse in most matchups

    Heat still need to do something defensively at the 4/3 spots.

    Toronto needs another shooter, and maybe another floor spacing big, or a defensive big

    Indiana should be interesting when Levert comes back

    Knicks need more shooting at the 2/3 spots

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