Monday 23 October 2017 / 10:41 PM

THE FINAL TILT: WHO’S ON THE BUBBLE IN THE EAST & WEST

As we get you ready for the postseason, we’re taking a look at the last few spots left in the postseason in both conferences, and seeing just how this thing is going to shake out. So let’s see what you need to be watching for in the last week of the season.

Western Conference

Portland Trail Blazers (38-38) 8th in Western Conference

The Blazers are occupying the last spot left in the West, and currently hold a two and a half game lead on their spot. They’ve got a relatively simple path to .500 if they win the games they’re supposed to, but they wouldn’t be .500 if they wont the games they’re supposed to. They’ve got Utah and Minnesota twice, and then San Antonio and New Orleans to close the season. The bright side: Utah and San Antonio don’t have much left to play for, and may be resting players by then.

Denver Nuggets (35-40) 2.5 games back of 8th in the West

The Nuggets have been slowly sliding since they traded away their big fella to the Blazers. And it doesn’t look like playoffs are the utmost priority for a young team that’s overachieving. Still, the Nuggets face a rough final stretch, with five of their last seven on the road, and games against OKC (twice), Dallas, and Houston on that road trip. Yeah, that’s brutal.

How It’ll Shake Out

This one is simple: Portland is going to hold on, and they’ll probably have some cushion. Now to the fun conference:

Eastern Conference

Milwaukee Bucks (40-37) 5th in Eastern Conference

The Bucks have been one of those odd teams that made a stretch run to vault into the playoffs, only to have their run halted and them now be fighting for positioning. They’ve got the best positioning of the group, and only have five games left. But a bad three game stretch could leave them out of the playoffs, how crazy is that? Not to mention that four of their last five are against teams fighting for playoff positioning.

Atlanta Hawks (39-37) 6th in Eastern Conference

The Hawks are only on this list because things have gotten kind of tight the last few days, much like the Bucks. Atlanta is struggling in a bad way right now, and are struggling in a big way to just stay alive. And their schedule to close out is by far the most brutal of any team left, facing all teams fighting for their playoff lives, including the Cavaliers twice. This is not a time to be a confident Hawks fan.

Chicago Bulls (37-39) 7th in the East

The Bulls are so dang confusing. Just last week, they were dead in the water and missing Dwayne Wade. Then, they rattled off three straight wins over the Bucks, Hawks, and Cavs, and now are looking pretty good in their last six games: all of them are against teams that are lottery bound. The Bulls may actually have the edge here going forward.

Miami Heat (37-39) 8th in the East

The Miami Heat are in a deadlock with the Bulls for that last spot, but things aren’t as rosy in South Beach. Injuries are ravaging this team, and it could mean that the Heat will just run out of gas down the stretch. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t fighting, as Miami is still playing winning basketball. But a final stretch that includes two bouts with Washington, then Toronto and Cleveland? Ouch.

Indiana Pacers (37-39) – games back of 8th

Of the teams that their currently deadlocked with, the Pacers have the best shot in terms of schedule. But an early tilt with Cleveland and Toronto may put them out of the running before their more forgiving last four games. The Pacers need their defense to come alive, as they haven’t held someone under 100 since March 15th.

Charlotte Hornets (36-41) 1.5 games back of 8th

The Hornets have been the hottest team of the last few weeks, and have erased a five game deficit of just a few weeks ago down to just a game and a half. The Hornets have a rough close to the season though, with trips to Washington, Milwaukee and Atlanta, and home tilts against Miami and Boston. But that also means the Hornets control their own fate with the Heat and Hawks.

Detroit Pistons (35-42) 2.5 games back of 8th

The Pistons are on life support, with the chances of finishing .500 completely gone. Now, they turn their attention to a schedule that may have them eliminated before too long, with the Raptors, Rockets, Grizzlies, and Wizards looming in their next four. That spells disaster down the stretch.

How It’ll Shake Out

5. Bucks
6. Hawks
7. Bulls
8. Hornets
9. Pacers
10. Heat
11. Pistons

The Bucks are the best positioned team and have the best record, so I don’t see them falling too far out of the race. Now the next group: the Bulls have by far the easiest schedule, but I just don’t trust them to end up anywhere near the top of the pack. They’ll make the postseason, but I don’t buy them jumping Atlanta. And as for the final playoff spot, the Pistons are too far out. But the Hornets are playing scorching basketball, and the Heat and Pacers are struggling. The Hornets have the more forgiving schedule, and more games at home. I’ll favor them down the stretch.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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