The NBA season is sprinting towards the finish line. With just over a month left we are finally getting to what we’re all here for: The Playoffs. How does the East stack up for the stretch run?
Duh. The Cavs are experimenting with new acquisition Deron Williams, giving him 24 minutes in a loss against the Celtics two days after joining the team, and using several small lineups in a record setting three=point performance in a win over the Hawks. It’s a good fit, and the Cavs options even with J.R. Smith and Kevin Love on the shelf are an embarrassment of riches. Andrew Bogut will be suiting up Monday. He shouldn’t have a big role, and he moves at a glacial pace after a series of leg injuries, but he can help in a few ways.
2. Boston Celtics
I have to put the Celtics here or someone in Celtics Twitter will yell at me about be smug. Ok, that’s a joke....they’ll yell at me anyway. The Celtics are second in the East standings and they play crazy hard every game. They got a nice win against the Cavaliers, after recently dropping games to Toronto, Atlanta, and Chicago.
They’re 4-2 without Kyle Lowry, including wins against the Celtics and Wizards. Additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker should make them incredibly well rounded, the second best team in the conference. Sadly we won’t be able to see that until just about playoff time.
4. Washington Wizards
Have lost three of five, including splitting a home and home with Toronto and the Joel Embiid-less Sixers. They’ve shored up a bench that was mostly useless and are only two games behind Toronto in the loss column in the East’s 2-5 jumble.
5. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks would be free falling, except they’re the conferences last good team. A blowout win against Boston represents their only win against a high quality opponent since a road win against the Rockets on February second. Oh, and they also had the Cavs hit a record 25 threes against them....again.
The Bulls are .500 for the season and .500 over their last 10. I dunno. All of these teams after No. 5 are weird.
Fighting for their lives for the No. 8 seed they currently hold with the Heat, Bucks, and Hornets nipping at their heels. They’re a game behind the Bulls for seventh and two behind the Pacers for sixth, but they struggle to beat anybody good.
8. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are the sixth seed, why are they here? Well, they’re 2-8 over their last 10 in a brutal part of the schedule. The two wins are against the Rockets and Grizzlies, so they can play with anybody. But you never know what Pacers you’re gonna get.
9. Milwaukee Bucks
Just one win ahead of the Heat in the loss column. They lost Jabari Parker but got back Khris Middelton. They finally put Malcolm Brogdon into their starting lineup, plugging a gaping hole at point guard, and are playing some pretty good basketball with quality wins against the Clippers and Raptors in their last two.
10. Miami Heat
Erik Spoelstra has always been criminally under-appreciated and he’s showing us why. A career year for James Johnson and recent breakout of Dion Waiters alongside Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside have propelled them into the playoff hunt. Currently just percentage points ahead of the Bucks.
11. Charlotte Hornets
They are not very good for a variety of reasons. They have an outside shot at the 8 seed, only three games back in the loss column, but it’s tough to see them stringing enough wins together. At least they didn’t turn down a mountain of picks to instead draft Fra..... oh no....
12. New York Knicks
Jo Noah has the worst contract in the NBA, Melo and Phil Jackson can’t get along, and oh yeah they have Derrick Rose. Kristaps Porzingis has the talent to be a superstar in the NBA, but he might be trapped in the league’s most dysfunctional situation. (Yeah yeah I know, The Kings)
13. Orlando Magic
What can you say about the Magic? I wish I knew because I am trying to write something right now.
So.... Joel Embiid has a torn meniscus. Jahlil Okafor has a knee issue. Ben Simmons just had a bone marrow infusion because his foot was not healing as hoped. They traded Nerlens Noel for Justin Anderson and two second-round picks because he needs paid this offseason. Year four of the process has yielded 23 wins, 31 masterful performances from Joel Embiid, a super promising start for Dario Saric and a whole lot of questions.
15. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have 10 wins. The next closest teams, Philadelphia and Orlando, both have 23. They have some interesting young talent and a good coach, but without any top end picks, they won’t be a factor any time soon.