With right around five weeks remaining in the 2013-14 NBA season, quite a few Eastern Conference teams are jostling for position.
Seeding for this year’s post-season tournament has special meaning. It will greatly affect the final date in which teams are embarrassed and eliminated, as well as whether this smack down comes at the hands of the Pacers or the Heat.
As a sports fan and connoisseur of the upset, I’d like to say, “You never know”, but deep down I don’t really see anyone taking a 7-game series against either of the big dogs of the East.
Basketball’s the type of game that allows underdogs to achieve unlikely victories through hustling for loose balls, tenacious defense, and of course catching the hot hand. But let’s face it, sports axioms won’t be coming to the rescue of the “other 6” in this year’s field. Even if a team succeeds in pulling off a miracle in the semis, they’ll need to repeat the feat against the other powerhouse the following week.
All that being said, I’m not so certain in my convictions that you’ll see me emptying my bank account in an attempt to double down the kids’ college funds via the sports book. The beauty of basketball, and sports in general, is that even when it’s predictable, it’s unpredictable.
For the record, “kids’ college funds” is used here as an analogy. The spawning of offspring has long since been removed from my personal to-do list.
A league of their own.
No, this is not a reference to Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell starting a women’s baseball league. (Count yourself lucky if you’ve got no clue what I’m referring to.)
Indiana and Miami had their names chiseled in as the number one and number two seeds way back when Philadelphia still had something to play for. Yeah, that long ago.
At this point only two goals remain for the rest of the season:
- Don’t get hurt.
- Earn home court advantage.
Right now the Pacers have got a solid three game lead on the defending champs, but they meet twice (March 26th in Indiana and April 11th in Miami), giving the Heat a decent chance of taking the top slot if they can sweep these two head-to-head match ups.
Aside from needing to split these two games, the Pacers are looking good. Twelve of their final 15 games are against Eastern Conference foes, and they’ve only lost to teams in the East seven times all season.
The thing is, though, last year’s 7-game series between these two teams in the Conference Finals was awesome, so should the favorites hold suit we ought to be treated to one hell of a rematch.
The true meaning of second tier teams.
I’ve been hemming and hawing about how I divide out the “respectable yet incomplete” of the East, and at the end of the day there simply isn’t enough separation between the 3 through 6 seeds to not bundle them all up into the same group.
Toronto, Chicago, Brooklyn, and Washington all have winning records, but over the past ten games, only the Nets have shown any sign of truly heating up.
As I mentioned a couple articles ago, Brooklyn’s aging but talented roster is finally putting two and two together. In my opinion, Garnett and Pierce’s championship experience gives them the best chance of outlasting one of the favorites.
In order to frog jump the Bulls and earn home court advantage in the opening round the Nets will need to keep up their current pace; they are a full two games back and do not have a head-to-head matchup versus Chicago remaining on the schedule.
Chicago’s final seeding may very well be determined over the next three games. They’ve got a gimme home game against the flailing 76ers sandwiched between two contests versus the Pacers. Should the Bulls take care of business with Philly and pull off the split with Indiana they’ll be in great position with a relatively easy schedule left to finish out the season.
But a pair of losses to the Eastern Conference leader might give the Nets a chance to close the gap. Faltering at home to a team breaking records for losses in a row would further weaken their position.
Toronto’s a team that has quietly earned the third seed. They play tough defense, allowing the fifth fewest points in the league, and rely heavily on their guards for scoring. Shooting guard and All-Star DeMar DeRozan leads the team with 22.7 PPG and point guard Kyle Lowry is second with 17.3.
Second year center Jonas Valanciunas is having a strong campaign, averaging double digits in points and 8.4 boards per night, but with less than one block per contest he’s still more of a player with a bright future than someone who can compete against the top post players in the league. Valanciunas is also only playing around 27 minutes a night.
With a three game lead over the second place Nets in the Atlantic Division and an easy road from here on out, the Raptors ought to be able to ride the wave and hold their position as the third best in the conference. The question remains, however, whether or not they can win in the playoffs when they rely so heavily on their back-court players to hit baskets from the perimeter. The deeper you go into the playoffs the more important it is to toughen up and have a go-to guy down low.
The Wizards are a consistent team that are lacking in true star power. With six players averaging double-digit points per game they’ve got a lot of different places to go with the ball.
John Wall was a first time All-Star this season, and he leads the team in scoring, assists, and steals, but he still lacks the take-over-a-game dominance needed to be a true championship contender. In only his fourth season, Wall still has room to grow and he may soon be one of the top players in the league, but he’s not there yet.
Washington has played .500 ball all season long, ranked right about in the middle in every category. I expect them to continue along this vein and wind up right where they’re at, in the sixth seed.
Really, these guys are going to the playoffs?
Charlotte and Atlanta are only in this conversation because the Eastern Conference has taken a licking from the West all season long. Teams with losing records (not just a game or two, but several under .500) ought not be going to the post-season … but rules are rules.
Atlanta’s won five straight, which may lead Hawks fans to false hopes, but let’s not forget that they lost five straight immediately before. More indicative of their “success” than their current hot streak is 5-5 over the past ten games.
The bottom line is that the Hawks allow over 102 points per game. Not gonna cut it.
The Bobcats do play great D (fourth in the NBA at 97.2 PPG) and this has kept Charlotte in a lot of ballgames, but when you are 26th overall in scoring (95.7) it doesn’t do you much good.
If the Heat or Pacers should fall in 2014, it won’t be to either of these teams.
On the outside looking in.
Usually this is one of the most exciting segments for sportswriters to write and sports fans to read. The final push for the final playoff spots! How could it get more exciting than that?
Well … enter the (28-40) New York Knicks. They’re on a seven game win streak and still twelve games under .500.
Do they have a shot of making up the four game deficit they face against the eighth seed Hawks? Yes. Should we give a flying f***? No.
The Carmelo Anthony situation adds some interest to this story, but all in all, this is what I think about the Knicks’ miracle playoff run:
It’s barely more invigorating than watching NASCAR, where spectators sip cheap light beer for six hours waiting for a car to catch on fire.
But don’t despair, basketball fans. Once the playoffs kick in the Eastern Conference may have some entertainment for us yet.
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