NBA All-Star Breakdown: Analyzing the Eastern Conference Playoff Race
Home-court advantage in a series can be the difference between a win and a loss in a crucial Game 7 (the home team wins 80 percent of the time). Unsurprisingly, only one playoff seed is locked; the San Antonio Spurs will get the No. 1 seed out West barring a catastrophic collapse down the stretch.
Beyond the Spurs’ surprising excellence this season, there are many playoff races that will be entertaining to watch down the stretch.
Certain teams don’t want certain matchups (think No. 1 Dallas vs. No. 8 Golden State in 2007), so positioning means everything. In the home stretch of the regular season, injuries, remaining schedule and recent play are the three biggest determinants of where a team will be seeded or if they’ll be home fishing before the playoffs begin.
I’m here to sort these match-ups and races through.
No. 1 seed
Contenders: Miami Heat, Boston Celtics
Rationale: The Heat have played great basketball as of late, with the rotation starting to finally take form with the return of Mike Miller. Boston, on the other hand, has continued its post-Christmas woes, dropping games they normally win. Combine that with their age and injury history, and I see Miami having home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Heat know that to beat Boston in a potential Game 7 it has to be at home -- whereas the Celtics realized last spring they can win on anybody’s court.
No. 3 & No. 4 seeds
Contenders: Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic
Prediction: Bulls & Magic
Rationale: The Bulls have had a remarkable season, overcoming injuries to their starting big men to retain the three seed. At this point in the season, it's safe to say they will have little trouble holding onto the three seed.
Although the Hawks have a couple game lead on the Magic, this is most likely due to them having played the easiest schedule this season, meaning their last 30 games will be pretty tough. The Magic should reclaim the fourth seed, but regardless of where they finish they will dominate Atlanta in the first round.
No. 6 - No. 8 seeds
Contenders: New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks
Prediction: Knicks, 76ers, Pacers
Rationale: Despite being early season favorites to win their division, the Bucks have underachieved so much this season that I don’t see them getting into the postseason -- even with their easy remaining schedule.
The Bobcats start Kwame Brown and have little depth on their bench, so I see them faltering down the stretch and not making the playoffs. Therefore, I expect the Knicks to barely hold onto the sixth seed, the 76ers to keep the seventh seed with their impressive play, and the Pacers to barely squeak into the playoffs.
Here's how it all breaks down:
6. New York