Unlike their friends in the West, there really is no playoff chase in the East.
The top eight teams are pretty much locked in, starting with Miami as the one seed down to the Bucks, the current eight seed. The Sixers are six games back of the Bucks for that final playoff spot, so while it is mathematically possible Philly makes the playoffs it’s more likely they’ll just keep grumbling about Andrew Bynum and thinking about the lottery.
What’s interesting in the East is the struggle for seeding during the final couple weeks of the regular season.
Top three seeds. Miami has the top spot sewn up, but the battle for the two-seed is a good one.
The Pacers technically have a half-game lead on the Knicks, but Indiana has also played three more games. The Knicks have one less loss as of right now. In addition, both teams are hot right now — New York has won eight in a row, Indiana eight of nine.
The problem for the Knicks is the Pacers have the easier schedule from here on out. Indiana has seven games left, four at home with four against playoff teams. The Knicks have 10 games left, six on the road and seven against playoff teams. The Pacers could essentially be the team posting a good number in the clubhouse and forcing the Knicks to birdie the last hole to beat it. One other question to consider in this fight: Is the three seed better off because they likely the Bulls or Hawks in the first round while the two seed likely gets the Celtics?
This Knicks/Pacers struggle could come down to one game — Sunday, April 14, the Pacers at the Knicks. Head to head. The Pacers have won two of the previous three meetings, win this one and they get the tiebreak. Lose and it and the tiebreak comes down to better record against teams in their conference (currently the Pacers have that edge 30-13 to 30-16).
Four, five, six seeds. The Nets, Hawks and Bulls at all within 1.5 games of each other for the three middle seeds. There is motivation here to get the four seed and the home court in the first round. Also, there is motivation to be at least the five seed — all three of these teams are relatively even and have a legitimate shot to advance if they face each other in the four/five playoff matchup. However, fall to six and you get a tougher task against a Knicks or Pacers.
Seven, eight seed. This is really the battle to avoid the Heat in the first round. Currently the Bucks are 1.5 games back of the Celtics for the seven seed (and no easy matchup, but better than the Heat).
The good news for Boston is they have an easier schedule from here on out — five of their eight games are at home and only three are against playoff teams. The Bucks have six of nine on the road and have five playoff teams. Brian Robb breaks it down in great detail at CelticsHub, but looking at the numbers you’d think the Celtics should hang on to that last spot. Then again, watching them play without Kevin Garnett to anchor their defense, this race feels a lot more like a toss up.