The National Basketball Association (NBA) is in the stretch run for the mad dash to the finish called the Playoffs. With a few games left out of 82 played in the regular season teams have (virtually) clinched some playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
The squads which are already in and just waiting for the final positioning are the Indiana Pacers (52-22); Miami Heat (50-22); Toronto Raptors (42-31); and Chicago Bulls (41-32).
Teams which are still mathematically probable to be ousted but have one foot in the postseason are the Brooklyn Nets (39-33), Washington Wizards (38-35) and Charlotte Bobcats (35-38).
Those teams cover the first to seventh seeds in the conference and three teams—Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers are still in the running for the eighth and final postseason slot. (The Detroit Pistons are at 26-47 and still have a chance but they are the Pistons…)
Here’s a quick look the virtual three-team race for the 8th spot, the number of games left and the quality of opposition for the respective teams’ remaining schedule:
Battle for the 8th Seed – Eastern Conference
Atlanta Hawks (31-41) Games Remaining – 10 left (7 home, 3 away) – vs. 76ers, vs. Bulls, vs. Cavaliers, @Pacers, vs. Pistons, vs. Celtics, @Nets, vs. Heat, vs. Charlotte, @Bucks
New York Knicks (31-43) Games remaining – 8 left (4 home, 4 away): @Jazz, vs. Nets, vs. Wizards, @Heat, @Raptors, vs. Bulls, @Nets, vs. Raptors
Cleveland Cavaliers (30-45) Games remaining – 7 left (4 home, 3 away): @Magic, @Hawks, vs. Bobcats, vs. Pistons, @Bucks, vs. Celtics, vs. Nets
Strength of Schedule – Game Analysis
The Hawks have what appears to be a friendlier schedule compared relative to the Cavs’ and Knicks’; they play seven of ten games at home with 10 left to play. Four of those games come against lottery-bound squads (Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston and Milwaukee). They do get tested with road games against playoffs-destined squads Brooklyn and Indiana plus a trip to the defending champions’ home floor.
The crucial game will come April 4 when they face off with the Cavaliers, which has seven games left in the regular season. Cleveland has two other road games—both against ran-on teams Orlando and Milwaukee. Without Kyrie Irving, the Cavs can take care of Detroit and Brooklyn at home. But can they hand the playoff squads Charlotte.
For the Knicks, the road to the playoffs is paved with bigger challenges. New York has eight games left and seven of which come against teams currently in the playoff picture. This includes a game versus the Heat in Miami; the Raptors in Toronto; and the Nets in Brooklyn.
Who will take the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference?
Prediction: Atlanta has lost six in a row while New York has a tough schedule. Cleveland has a good opportunity to steal it too… Hawks will continue to fall, Cavs just don’t have enough left at this point of the season and at the end of the day, it’s the team with a star (Carmelo Anthony) that will step up late in the regular season and lead his team to the playoffs.