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!