The Race for the Eastern Conference’s First Seed
With the NBA playoffs set to begin on April 16, intensity has ramped up across the league as teams look to close out the season on a strong note.
In the Eastern Conference, the Celtics, 76ers, Heat and Bucks are separated at the top by just a game and a half.
Getting the first seed will bring home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. While the fifth seeded Chicago Bulls sit only four games back of the top seed, it will be tough for them, along with the rest of the East, to make up that ground.
That being said, let’s look at the race for the first seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics’ turnaround this season has been nothing short of incredible. On January 22, Boston sat at tenth in the conference with a 23-24 record.
Led by their defense, which is first in the league in defensive rating, the Celtics have been on fire since. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have silenced any talk of their games not producing winning basketball.
Tatum’s 27.1 points per game is among the league’s best, and Brown has become one of the game’s best all-around talents.
Between Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart, Boston has multiple defensive stoppers on the perimeter. However, they recently lost Robert Williams III, their starting center, to an injury that could keep him out into the playoffs.
Williams, second in the league in blocks per game, has been a huge part of Boston’s success. They will need Al Horford to step up in his absence if they are going to take the one seed.
Last year’s NBA champions are certainly hungry for another ring, led again by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Having Antetokounmpo on the floor gives the Bucks a chance to compete with anybody, and they are even better when Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday share the court with him.
There is reason to be concerned with Milwaukee’s depth. Outside of the starting five and a few pieces on the bench, they don’t have the kind of depth they did during last season’s championship run.
The path to the first seed will not be easy for the Bucks either, as they have dates against Boston, Brooklyn, Dallas and Chicago over their last eight games. Having Antetokounmpo, an MVP candidate once again, on the floor will keep their chances for the first seed high, however.
Philadelphia’s title aspirations skyrocketed after acquiring James Harden via trade. Since the trade, the Sixers have had their highs and lows.
Barring the health of Joel Embiid and Harden, the key for the Sixers throughout the rest of the season and into the playoffs will be the play of their bench, which was left thin after the Harden trade. The starting lineup has had dominant stretches lately, but when Embiid is off the court, they struggle.
Another big storyline will be how healthy Harden looks. At some points this season, he has looked like the nightly triple-double threat and deadly scorer he was in Houston, but at others, he has had a clear lack of burst in his first step.
Philadelphia may have the easiest remaining schedule of these teams. Their only games against teams over .500 left are against the Raptors, Cavaliers and Hornets, all of whom are at the sixth seed or below in the conference.
The Heat looked to be running away with the first seed not too long ago, but things have started to unravel lately. Before a win over the lowly Sacramento Kings, they were on a four-game losing streak, including losses to the Knicks and a Sixers team missing their two best players.
Team chemistry may not be high either, as there was a heated exchange between star Jimmy Butler, head coach Erik Spoelstra and veteran Udonis Haslem on the bench last week.
When the Heat are playing well, they are a very talented team that plays hard on both ends of the floor. Butler and Tyler Herro have become their go-to guys.
Miami will have to turn it around quickly, with only six games left in their regular season and five of those against teams that would currently make at least the play-in tournament.
Daniel Mader is a second-year majoring in digital/print journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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