Making The Playoffs – Eastern Conference
With the trade deadline now in the rearview mirror it’s time to evaluate which teams have positioned themselves to make a strong playoff run and which franchises are more than likely going to be participating in the upcoming draft lottery.
Record: 38-10 (19-4 home – 19-6 away)
Games remaining: 18 (10 Home, 8 Away)
Games versus +.500 opposition remaining: 9
Current Position: 1st Place, Eastern Conference
Breakdown: The Bulls surprised many by finishing last season with the best record in the league. As an encore Chicago is poised for a repeat performance in 2012. The team has been on fire for most of the season despite two of their All-Stars, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, missing significant time due to various injuries. But like all successful teams they’ve shown the ability to overcome all types of adversity thrown their way.
The Bulls are one of the rare teams in the league who perform consistently at home and on the road. The squad also leads the league in point differential (+9.1) per contest.
The question isn’t whether the Bulls can hold onto a playoff spot, they’re basically locks, but whether they can hold off a late charge from the Miami HEAT for Eastern Conference supremacy.
The primary area of concern for Chicago heading down the stretch is the health of Rose, the reigning league MVP.
Late Season Schedule Watch: The Bulls face the HEAT twice over the last two weeks of the season. These will be pivotal games as they’ll likely determine who walks away with home court advantage throughout the East playoff bracket.
The last week of the season find the Bulls hosting the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and traveling to Indiana to face the Pacers, who have emerged as a pesky nemesis.
If Playoffs Started Today: Chicago would face the New York Knicks in the first round. The Bulls currently lead the regular season series over the Knicks 2-0, but have won those contests by a combined margin of only 8 points.
Record: 33-11 (19-2 home – 14-9 away)
Games remaining: 22 (12 Home, 10 Away)
Games versus +.500 opposition remaining: 13
Current Position: 2nd Place, Eastern Conference
Breakdown: The Miami HEAT are one of the most top heavy teams, in terms of talent, in the league. The trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are perennial All-Stars and the club consistently ranks as one of the best defensive teams in the league.
The HEAT want to make a run at Chicago for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but the tests remaining on the schedule down the stretch show that it won’t be a cakewalk.
The HEAT will face Dallas, Oklahoma City (twice), Chicago (twice) and Boston (three times) over the next month.
Late Season Schedule Watch: A serious dose of home cooking and slew of non-playoff teams await.
During the month of April, Miami has sixteen games scheduled with ten of those contests coming within the comfy confines of American Airlines Arena.
The HEAT will also play non-playoff teams such as Charlotte, New Jersey, Toronto and Washington (twice) over the last two weeks of the season.
If Playoffs Started Today: Miami would face the Boston Celtics in the first round. The HEAT defeated Boston 115-107 at home in the team’s lone matchup of the season. The teams will face each other three times in the month of April (twice in Boston, once in Miami).
Record: 29-18 (16-8 home – 13-10 away)
Games remaining: 19 (9 Home, 10 Away)
Games versus +.500 opposition remaining: 10
Current Position: 3rd Place, Eastern Conference
Breakdown: Despite all of the drama surrounding All-Star center Dwight Howard and whether he’d stay or go; the Magic have firmly entrenched themselves as the third best team in the Eastern Conference without question.
Now, with just over a month to go in the 2012 campaign and no worries about Howard’s future with the franchise (until next year at least) the Magic enter the stretch run with the opportunity to focus solely on basketball.
Late Season Schedule Watch: Hope the Magic are ready to become road warriors. The team won’t have the luxury of playing consecutive games at home during the month of April.
The final week of the season has the Magic facing playoff hopefuls Boston, Utah, Denver and Memphis on the road.
The Magic are just 2.5 games ahead of the fourth place Philadelphia 76ers so if they falter late they could potentially be catapulted in the standings.
If Playoffs Started Today: Orlando would face the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. Not long ago the Magic would be considered overwhelming favorites against Atlanta but times have changed. The Hawks ousted Orlando in the first round of the playoffs last year and currently lead the season series 2-0 over the Magic.
MOST LIKELY IN
Record: 26-20 (16-9 home – 10-11 away)
Games remaining: 20 (8 Home, 12 Away)
Games versus +.500 opposition remaining: 9
Current Position: 4th Place, Eastern Conference
Breakdown: There’s no denying the impact head coach Doug Collins has had since he arrived in Philadelphia. He’s been able to re-energize veteran guys (Elton Brand), turn guys into first time All-Stars (Andre Iguodala) and raise the profile of younger players (Spencer Hawes, Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks).
But what plagues the Sixers, like most young teams, is their inconsistency away from home. The club is playing sub .500 ball on the road this season and 60 percent of their remaining games involve travel.
The Sixers only enjoy a 1.5 game lead over the fifth place Indiana Pacers for home court advantage in the first round.
Philadelphia must overcome some of those road demons down the stretch.
Late Season Schedule Watch: Pack the luggage. Nine of the Sixers’ last eleven games of the season are on the road, where Philadelphia has been inconsistent all season long.
The road stretch includes Boston, New Jersey (twice), Toronto, Orlando, Cleveland, Indiana, Milwaukee and Detroit.
While this isn’t your typical murderers’ row of the league’s elite there are enough potential pitfalls here, if not avoided, that can send Philadelphia tumbling down the playoff pecking order.
If Playoffs Started Today: Philadelphia would face the Indiana Pacers in the first round. The season series is tied 1-1 with both teams notching double-digit victories on their home courts. The team will face each other twice over the last week of the season.
Record: 25-18 (13-6 home – 12-12 away)
Games remaining: 23 (14 Home, 9 Away)
Games versus +.500 opposition remaining: 10
Current Position: 5th Place, Eastern Conference
Breakdown: Before the season began the Pacers were a trendy pick to reach the top three in the Eastern Conference. The ascent hasn’t transpired as rapidly as originally forecasted but the Pacers have improved significantly over their 2011 campaign heading into the playoffs.
The improvement has been sparked by center Roy Hibbert’s evolving into an All-Star level performer, power forward David West’s arrival and second year standout Paul George’s emergence.
But there are still question marks.
Point guard Darren Collison has been inconsistent throughout the season and depth at guard remains a concern – although newly acquired Leandro Barbosa will likely play a key role plugging the gaps late in the season.
Late Season Schedule Watch: Home is where the heart is. The Pacers have fifteen games on the schedule in April, with ten of those games coming at home.
Looking deeper, nine of their final twelve games of the season are at home which includes a four game home stand to end the campaign.
The Pacers are by no means automatic at home, but having the Oklahoma City, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago coming to your place as you jockey for playoff position has to be considered a plus late in the season.
If Playoffs Started Today: Indiana would face the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. The season series is tied 1-1 with both teams notching double-digit victories on their home courts. The team will face each other twice over the last week of the season.
Record: 26-20 (13-7 home – 13-13 away)
Games remaining: 20 (13 Home, 7 Away)
Games versus +.500 opposition remaining: 8
Current Position: 6th Place, Eastern Conference
Breakdown: The Hawks are poised to make their fifth consecutive trip to the postseason – if their health can hold up.
The Hawks’ training staff has been earning every cent of their checks this season. The team has lost Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Jason Collins, Marvin Williams, Tracy McGrady, Willie Green, Kirk Hinrich and Vladimir Radmanovic at various points throughout the season.
Yet, the Hawks can still make a legitimate run for the third seed in the Eastern Conference (2.5 games back) over the last month of the season.
The team has been resilient all season long, the question is can they muster one final month to maintain their playoff footing.
Late Season Schedule Watch: Can the Hawks capitalize on last home stand? With so few games separating teams in the Eastern Conference playoff race it appears final seeding will likely come down to the wire.
If that’s the case, the Hawks must close the show in resounding fashion and capitalize on the five game home stretch at Philips Arena to end the season (Detroit, Boston, New York, Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas).
If Playoffs Started Today: Atlanta would face the Orlando Magic in the first round. Not long ago the Magic would be considered overwhelming favorites against the Hawks but times have definitely changed. The Hawks ousted Orlando in the first round of the playoffs last year and currently lead the season series 2-0 over the Magic. The latest dominance without All-Star center Al Horford in the lineup.
Record: 24-21 (16-8 home – 8-13 away)
Games remaining: 21 (9 Home, 12 Away)
Games versus +.500 opposition remaining: 12
Current Position: 7th Place, Eastern Conference
Breakdown: Just when you’re ready to close the door on the veteran laden Boston Celtics, the team responds to the challenge by playing inspired basketball.
But one concerning factor for such a veteran dominated team is their woeful performance on the road this season. Since the team won’t be competing for home court advantage in the first round it is imperative they use the final portion of the campaign, which is road heavy, to shore up some of those issues.
Late Season Schedule Watch: Must beat the underdogs. It isn’t illogical to think the Celtics can improve their playoff positioning over the last month, but to do so they have to conquer the road demons which have plagued them throughout the year.
Keep an eye on their performance April 13-18. The team faces Toronto, New Jersey, Charlotte and New York on the road. All winnable games, the Celtics must … well, win.
If Playoffs Started Today: Boston would face the Miami HEAT in the first round. The Celtics lost to Miami 115-107 on the road in the team’s lone matchup of the season. The teams will face each other three times in the month of April (twice in Boston, once in Miami).
DOWN TO THE WIRE
New York Knicks
Record: 21-24 (13-10 home – 8-14 away)
Games remaining: 21 (10 Home, 11 Away)
Games versus +.500 opposition remaining: 11
Current Position: 8th Place, Eastern Conference
Breakdown: It has been a whirlwind season for New York.
From injuries, new player signings, coaches resigning, adjusting to a new coach, trade rumors involving franchise players and of course LIN-sanity the 2012 season has been full of highs and lows for the Knicks.
The team is playing strong basketball under new head coach Mike Woodson as we enter the last leg, but can the inconsistent Knicks sustain the positive momentum?
Late Season Schedule Watch: Although the team is on the road for most of the last week of the season, only two of those games are against playoff teams (Clippers and Hawks).
On the other hand, the team starts the month of April with a brutal stretch against Indiana, Orlando and Chicago (twice).
If Playoffs Started Today: New York would face the Chicago Bulls in the first round. The Bulls currently lead the regular season series over the Knicks 2-0, but have won those contests by a combined margin of only 8 points.
Record: 20-24 (11-9 home – 9-15 away)
Games remaining: 22 (13 Home, 9 Away)
Games versus +.500 opposition remaining: 9
Current Position: 9th Place, Eastern Conference
Breakdown: Seemingly out of nowhere the Bucks have won five straight games and are just a half game out of the last spot in the Eastern Conference,
The impressive part of Milwaukee’s run is it has come without two guys expected to be the core of any success the team had this season – Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson – playing large roles.
Late Season Schedule Watch: Need to start month of April strong. The Bucks will be tested in April with games against Oklahoma City, Indiana, Boston and Philadelphia looming, but to start the month are very winnable games versus Washington, Cleveland, Charlotte and Portland.
As stated earlier, the Knicks have a brutal stretch early in April so if Milwaukee is looking to gain / increase ground over New York … this is the time to do it.
If Playoffs Started Today: Milwaukee would miss out by just a half game.
PLAYING THE LOTTERY
Cleveland Cavaliers (17-26): you must give the young Cavs credit as they’ve surpassed most projections behind the play of rookie of the year frontrunner Kyrie Irving.
Detroit Pistons (16-29): there have been some reasons to smile this season if you’re a Pistons fan, but asking for a playoff run might be a stretch. The team has 11 games left with +.500 teams down the stretch with the majority of those coming on the road.
Toronto Raptors (15-30): the Raptors have the most games versus teams with +.500 (13) than any other squad in the Eastern Conference over the last month of the season.
New Jersey Nets (15-32): losers of three in a row and six of their last ten … it appears the steam is running out in New Jersey.
Washington Wizards (10-34): The Wizards have won just 10 games all season. They’re 11 wins away from matching the eighth seeded New York Knicks’ current total.
Charlotte Bobcats (7-37): although not mathematically impossible, the Bobcats aren’t thinking playoffs by any stretch of the imagination