We’ve tried to clear this picture up every week, and yet somehow it continues to resist. The playoff seeding for the NBA’s Eastern Conference is just as muddled in its sixth to tenth spots as it ever was. This, despite there being just a few — literally three or four — games left for the teams involved.
Everything else is the same for the Raptors. We know the Bucks are in first. Toronto is in second. And their second round opponent would be the Sixers (assuming they get past the first round, which feels incredibly likely). There is some debate as to who will get homecourt advantage between the Celtics and the Pacers, currently tied in the four- and five-spots, but that is neither here nor there.
This is the playoff picture for the East right now.
Look at those teams at the bottom from six to ten. Somehow the Pistons, Nets, Magic, Heat and Hornets are all in the mix for those final three playoff spots, and one of them is going to play the Raptors in the first round.
If you’ll recall, last week we tried to make some predictions as to how each team’s schedule would play out so as to best determine who would end up where in the standings. In the intervening time, here’s what happened:
I was almost right — they did indeed beat the reeling Blazers, but then lost both follow-up games to the Pacers. They’ve got four games left and cling to sixth with a .500 record, just a half-game up on the Nets and Magic.
The prediction was they’d go 2-4, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re right on pace for that after beating the Celtics and then getting beat up by the Bucks and Raptors. They’re tied with the Magic, but hold the tiebreaker and as such are still in seventh. At the same time, Brooklyn has three games left, and their last game of the season will be against the currently ninth-place Heat — it’ll be something to watch.
The Magic have climbed past Miami over last week and now lay claim to the eight-seed. My picks here were exactly backwards — I had them losing to the Pacers, beating Toronto, and losing to the Knicks or Hawks. So far they’re 2-1, with the one loss coming against the Raptors. Three games remain for them. Good on you, Orlando!
Meanwhile the Heat kept themselves afloat by beating the Knicks, but then lost to the Celtics twice. They’re 1-2 with four games left and it may really come down to that game against Brooklyn on the last game of the season. (I have them losing, but we’ll see.)
We’re doing it, we’re adding the Hornets to the mix. Charlotte has four games left — at home vs. Toronto, on the road vs. Detroit and Cleveland, and then a final showdown with the Magic at home. As of yesterday, according to Jacob Goldstein’s model, they’ve got just a 3.2 percent chance at the eighth seed. A long shot for sure, but you know what? Stranger things have happened.
All of this is to say: my eyes have now shifted from the Heat as the Raptors’ first round opponent to the Magic. Again going back to Goldstein’s model, and my own useless gut feeling, they’ve now got the best chance to hold onto seventh. And if nothing else, a Toronto-Orlando series will be something we haven’t seen in some time (and will likely have a better result than the last time it happened.)