With 20 games left on the Raptors' slate over the next 2 months, it's finally time to start taking the Eastern Conference ledger a little bit more seriously as teams jockey and jostle for playoff positioning. After a season that's had its fair share of injuries, inconsistent performances, and recurring nightmares of the past two years, it's commendable that the Raptors sit comfortably in second place in the East.
Here's a look at the current standings:
At their current pace, the Raptors would end the season with 55 or 56 wins (depending on whether you want to round up or down). If we choose to be conservative and say the Raptors will end with 55 wins, considering they'll be playing the 3rd most difficult schedule in the conference, there's still an up-hill climb to the 1-seed. The Cavaliers, though they're going through their own turmoil, are easily the best team in the East on paper.
The Raptors did themselves a huge favour by earning the tiebreaker by winning the season series, meaning that they'd only have to match records with Cleveland to finish ahead of them in the standings. The Cavs would need to finish 11-9 in their last 20 games to finish with a projected 55 wins. Given their 71% win percentage, the odds of that happening are unlikely.
Toronto’s magic number is nine.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 9, 2016
Also of note, the Raptors hold a 5-game lead over the Celtics, with Boston only having 18 games left to make up the margin. At this point, the team is comfortably locked into a top-2 seed and guaranteed home court in the second round, should they get there. The bottom of the East remains a muddled mess, and the Raptors have done well to climb out of the madness and separate themselves. The Celtics are as close to the 8-seed as they are to the Raptors.
Boston, Miami, Atlanta, and Charlotte have all been playing well of late and should take up 4 of the 8 playoff spots. In terms of efficiency, the Indiana Pacers have also outperformed their standing, and they should be able seal a spot. The remaining three teams are the Bulls (injury-riddled), the Pistons and the Wizards.
It's definitely not an easy proposition to chart the Raptors' ideal path to the Conference Finals. Do we want to avoid our previous demons (Washington, Chicago, Charlotte) in the first round? Do we want to avoid a potential bad matchup (Indiana)? Do we want to avoid the team we just got blown out against (Detroit)? If the Raptors do manage to navigate the first round waters successfully, which team do we want to avoid then? Boston's long been a metrics darling, and the Miami Heat have been on a tear of late, and Chris Bosh still hasn't been ruled out for the whole season yet.
Needless to say, these are all exciting possibilities to consider, and I think for once we can say, the Raptors are not appreciably worse than any of these teams.
What do you guys think about the landscape in the East?