Analyzing the NBA Eastern Conference playoff race

NBA Eastern Conference

We took a look at the NBA Western Conference playoff race (Click Here to view), so now we turn our attention to NBA Eastern Conference.

Taking a quick look at the current standings, one thing is apparent, the Eastern Conference is awful. The conference will most likely have two teams that finish the season with a record below .500, yet make the playoffs. That is unheard of; especially when you consider that whichever team gets in as the eight seed in the Western Conference playoffs will most likely have to reach the 50 win mark.

So let’s be frank here: No team other than the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat has a legitimate shot at making it out of the playoffs as the Eastern Conference Champions.

Some will argue that perhaps the Chicago Bulls could give either one of them a run for their money, but those who speak this are in a clear minority. The Pacers and Heat are in a class of their own and really, we hardly need to pay attention to the Eastern Conference playoffs until those two teams meet in the conference championship series. But for the purposes of this article, we’ll still take a look at the playoff chase.

Here’s a look at how the bottom of the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoff race is shaping up:

7.  Charlotte Bobcats – Record:  28 – 33

Analysis: It’s amazing that we are talking about a Michael Jordan owned and run team making the playoffs. They are the seventh seed as of now, and will most likely jockey for position between the seventh and eight seeds. It not unrealistic for them to catch up to the Brooklyn Nets, who currently hold the sixth seed, but the Bobcats are three games back of them and the Nets are peaking, winning their last four games.

The Bobcats are on a nice little stretch here, winning six of their last 10 games, and they are getting good production from their center Al Jefferson. He’s averaging 21.2 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game, the first time he’s averaged 20 and 10 in the last five years. They also have an underrated young backcourt in point guard Kemba Walker (17.9 points per game, 5.5 assist) and shooting guard Gerald Henderson Jr. (14.6 points per game).

Bobcats first-year head coach Steve Clifford has his team playing tremendous defense, as the Bobcats are fifth in the NBA in points allowed per game at 97.3. But to beat the likes of the Pacers and Heat, you need to score points, and the Bobcats unfortunately are 26th in the league in points per game at 95.5.

They may finish the season under .500, but the Bobcats have shown vast improvements in their play, which ultimately led them to making the playoffs and that is a great accomplishment for them.

8.  Atlanta Hawks – Record:  26 – 33

Analysis: The Hawks are only a game back in the standings to the Bobcats for that 7th seed, but really, we are splitting hairs here. Whether a team finishes as the seventh seed or eighth seed, they will have the fine pleasure of having to facing either the Pacers or the Heat in the first-round of the playoffs. Enjoy!

If you had looked at the Hawks roster at the start of the season and then compared it to their record now, you would think this season is a major disappointment for them. But the Hawks have been riddled with injuries this season. They lost their best player in center Al Horford for the year with a torn pectoral, and up-and-coming point guard Jeff Teague hasn’t been fully 100 percent healthy for much of this season. So this year has been a lost season for the Hawks.

The Hawks have been spiraling downward of late, going 1-9 in their last 10 games. However, with Teague, power forward Paul Millsap (17.6 points per game and 8.3 rebounds), and shooting guard Kyle Korver (11.9 points per game and 47 percent from three-point range), the Hawks should have enough production left in the tank out of these three to hold onto that eight seed in the playoffs. The question remains though, do they even want to make the playoffs?

9.  Detroit Pistons – Record:  24 – 37

Analysis: Yes, we are actually talking about a team with 24 wins having a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. Speaks loud and clear to how bad the Eastern Conference has been this season.

The Pistons are three games back of the Hawks for that “dreaded” eighth seed. I say “dreaded” because being the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs means that not only do you get to have your brains beat in by either the Pacers or the Heat, but you also lose out on being in the NBA Draft Lottery and having a chance at winning the #1 overall pick in a talent-rich draft. The Pistons also haven’t done themselves any favors in trying to overtake the Hawks, as they have gone 2-8 in their last 10 games, whether that is by design or not remains to be seen, or rumored about.

The Pistons as a team are a hot mess. They spent a ton of money this offseason in signing small forward Josh Smith (16.4 points per game and 5.6 rebounds) to a contract way over his head, in the hopes that he would help lead them to the playoffs.  But instead, it’s been nothing but headaches; leading to the stunting of growth to their young core and a first-year head coach (Maurice Cheeks) getting fired half way through the season. For the betterment of your franchise, consider sitting this playoff season out.

10.  Cleveland Cavaliers – record:  24 – 38

Analysis: The Cavs have a mandate by their owner, Dan Gilbert, to make the playoffs this season; and their front office has made moves and trades in order to meet that mandate. It may be a little late in the game, but it seems to be working.

It’s no secret that Gilbert wants to win now, as he continues to want to save face and play the role of scorned-lover from the whole LeBron James saga, but if it just so happens that they miss the playoffs; it might not be a bad thing. Adding one more young talent to their roster sets them up nicely for a playoff run next season. And with their luck (winning two of the last three draft lotteries), they might actually win the Draft Lottery again.

But we are focused on the now, and when you actually take a look at their roster, it’s not as bad as you think. They are well-balanced, and more importantly young. Obviously it doesn’t hurt to have an All-Star point guard in Kyrie Irving, but they feature six players who are averaging double-digits in points per games. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games, and with the acquisitions of center Spencer Hawes and small forward Luol Deng, the Cavs are starting to play like a team bound for the playoffs. If the Cavs can continue their upward tick, they might make the playoffs as either the seventh or eighth seed, and by doing so, are probably doing either the Hawks or Pistons a favor by knocking them out of the playoffs.

So keep doing what you’re doing Cavs, because you have no bigger fans rooting you on than the Hawks and Pistons.