With about 10 games to go, the race for the last two playoff tickets in the East is one of the more intriguing stories in the NBA right now. In the West, the Thunder will probably hold off the Suns and the Pelicans for eighth spot. In the East, however, the final two spots are still up for grabs, and a number of teams are battling for those last two coveted positions: Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, and Indiana Pacers, and Brooklyn Nets. Five teams, two spots, all within two and a half games.
Currently in seventh spot at 34-39, the Heat maintained their position last week, going 2-2 on their four-game road trip against the Thunder, Bucks, Celtics and Hawks. Their last nine games, of which four of the last five are at home, will determine whether Miami can get into the playoffs without LeBron James, with whom they went to the NBA Finals four straight years (’10-’14). With Chris Bosh out for the remainder of the season, the Heat will rely heavily again on Dwayne Wade, who has been excellent lately.
Games vs other teams in contention: Apr 6 @ Ind, Apr 8 vs Cha
The Nets (32-40) hold eighth spot at the moment and are favorite to reach the play-offs. They have the easiest schedule, playing seven of their last 10 games at home. Brooklyn have made a surge lately, going 7-3 in their last 10, with a healthy Brook Lopez playing at an All-Star level, averaging almost 29ppg in his last 6 games. They still have to play the top-seeded Hawks twice, however.
Games vs other teams in contention: Apr 1 vs Ind
The Boston Celtics (32-40) are only half a game behind Brooklyn, splitting their last 10 games. They have the toughest schedule of all five teams in contention and rely on a very young roster. With only two players that have been in the league for four or more years (Wallace and Bass), their play is very inconsistent. As it stands right now, they will have a hard time sneaking into eighth.
Games vs other teams in contention: Mar 31 @ Cha, Apr 2 vs Ind
The Indiana Pacers are tied with the Celtics at 32-40. They started out hot after the All-Star break, winning nine of their 10 games, but have cooled down since, losing six of their last eight. The Pacers have been plagued by injuries all season: Paul George hasn’t played a game (but is looking to check back into the game come play-off time), and Hill and West have both missed a substantial amount of games. They will need a fit George to make any noise – but rest assured, teams on top of the standings will not want to face a completely healthy Indiana team, trying to prove the naysayers wrong. Four of their last 10 games are against one of the other four teams in contention.
Games vs other teams in contention: Mar 31 @ Bro, Apr 2 @ Bos, Apr 4 vs Cha, Apr 6 vs Mia
Only half a game behind the Pacers and Celtics, the Charlotte Hornets (31-40) are looking to make a final push. With Mo Williams in the line-up, the Hornets are a much better offensive team, but traditionally they rely on the defense to win games. The high-profile addition of Stephenson has not been a success, but Al Jefferson is playing like an All-Star and with the return of Walker, the Hornets are a tough team to beat and might just slip into eighth spot before the playoffs.
Games vs other teams in contention: Mar 31 vs Bos, Apr 4 @ Ind, Apr 8 @ Mia
One final note: All five teams have some games against each other left (all between Mar 31 and Apr 8), and with the standings the way they are, tiebreakers will probably come into play. Most of the tiebreakers between all teams are still up for grabs, but the Heat are favorite to make it (holding the tiebreaker against Brooklyn and Boston). Are you ready for the photo finish?