We’re one month away from the end of the NBA’s 2020/21 regular season, which means we’re entering the home stretch of the postseason race. And the introduction of the play-in tournament adds an extra wrinkle to this year’s playoff push.
In the Eastern Conference, as has been the case for months, three teams have set themselves apart from the pack — three games separate the top-seeded Sixers (38-17), Nets (37-18), and Bucks (35-20), with Milwaukee holding the No. 3 spot by a comfortable 5.5-game margin.
The next tier of the East starts with the Hawks, who have played well since Nate McMillan replaced Lloyd Pierce on the sidelines and currently have a 30-26 record. They’re tied with the Celtics (30-26), and both teams are a game up on the Knicks (29-27).
If the season ended today, those would be the six teams assured of a playoff spot, since the play-in tournament involves the four teams between seventh and 10th. That’s bad news for the seventh-seeded Heat (28-27), who will need to move up at least one spot in the standings to avoid having to earn their postseason berth in a play-in game. The Hornets (27-27) and Pacers (26-28) also remain very much in the hunt for a top-six seed, but would be play-in teams if the standings don’t change.
Finally, the 10th spot in the East remains very much up for grabs, in what has been the least inspiring part of this year’s playoff race. The Bulls (22-32) are still the No. 10 seed for the time being, despite losing four in a row and and 10 of their last 13. That’s only because the Raptors (22-34) have been in an even worse slump, having lost 19 of their last 25 games. Both teams are currently missing key players, including Zach LaVine and Kyle Lowry.
Chicago’s and Toronto’s struggles have opened the door for seemingly lottery-bound teams like the Wizards (21-33) and Cavaliers (20-35) to remain in the mix for that No. 10 seed. Whichever club claims that spot would need to win two play-in games to make the postseason, but that’s not inconceivable, given the competition.
What do you think? How do you expect the top six (and top three) seeds to play out in the East? Which four teams will end up in the play-in tournament, and which two will survive?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your predictions!