With the real All Star taking place after Team LeBron’s 178-164 win over Team Giannis, it’s time to tackle real issues before the games resume on Thursday. One of the biggest questions out there is how the Eastern Conference playoffs unfold.
Currently, there are five teams solidified in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the NBA at (43-14). They could lose every game the rest of the way and still make a postseason run. However, we do not advise that strategy. Although the Bucks have the best record in the NBA, they only have a one game lead with 25 games remaining. Remember, they added Nikola Mirotic in a trade deadline deal. The Bucks should have plenty of perimeter shooting in the postseason.
The Toronto Raptors are nipping at the heels with a (43-16) record. The Raptors have won six games in a row. They are also no stranger to winning the regular season crown. However, their mission is to play great in the postseason. As a result, the Raptors should be less concerned with where they finish in the standings. They need all of their players to be healthy in the final 23 games.
Now, here is where things get interesting. With Victor Oladipo in the lineup, it would be easy to see the Indiana Pacers (38-20) finish the regular season with the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference race. However, Oladipo is out for the season and the Pacers are still trying to figure out what they will be when the postseason begins. They are 5.5 games out of first place. The Pacers are only a game ahead of the No. 5 spot. Meaning, they may have home court advantage, playing a team around .500. Or, the Pacers may start the playoffs on the road against one of the four east favorites.
Those favorites are the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Both teams are (37-21) and feel they should be the representative to win the East. Yet, if the playoffs commenced today, those two storied franchises would be in a battle to likely face the Bucks in the second round.
All of those races are intriguing. However, the final three spots are really up for grabs. Overall, there are five teams within three games of the final three playoff seeds. Moreover, the Washington Wizards are 5.5 games out and they will try to sneak into the final playoff seed by season’s end.
The love affair with the Brooklyn Nets is well deserved. Currently, they are holding the No. 6 seed with a (30-29) record. Nobody pictured them in this position and they were struggling earlier in the season. However, the Nets must continue to stay over .500 if they expect to maintain that playoff spot. They have dealt with numerous injuries to players like Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. The Nets also had D’Angelo Russell earn his first All Star nod. If the season ended today, they would match against the undermanned Indiana Pacers. Now, imagine the Nets in the second round of the playoffs.
The rest of the teams are below .500, so they always have work to do. For example, the Charlotte Hornets have had their moments. However, they are only (27-30) and holding onto the seventh seed by a thread. Currently, they are a half game ahead of the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat at (26-30). In reality, most NBA fans would love to see Dwyane Wade go out in one more playoff push. Yet, they will be in a tussle until the final week of the season if the first 56 games were any indication.
All three teams would also have a chance to advance in a seven game series. Unlike most years, the top two teams haven’t been dominant in the playoffs. Keep in mind, the Bucks have not won a playoff series since 2001. Based on 2018-19, Giannis Antetokounmpo and company should be able to coast into the second round of the playoffs. However, Antetokounmpo is winless in three playoff trips. Could the veteran status of the Heat challenge in a 1 vs. 8 matchup. Only time will tell.
The final intriguing team engaging in a playoff push is one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Introducing the Orlando Magic (27-32) into the playoff race. They are a half game out of the final spot, but down two games in the loss column. The Magic have won five games in a row. Only the Raptors have a better streak going in the NBA.
Playoff Matchups – All Star Break
1 Milwaukee Bucks (43-14) vs. 8 Detroit Pistons (26-30)
2 Toronto Raptors (43-16) vs. 7 Charlotte Hornets (27-30)
3 Indiana Pacers (38-20) vs. 6 Brooklyn Nets (30-29)
4 Boston Celtics (37-21) vs. 5 Philadelphia 76ers (37-21)
Outside Looking In