The Race at the Top of the East
The NBA’s Eastern Conference is usually seen as the inferior conference compared to the Western Conference. This season, there is parity in the East.
In a race for the top seed at the end of March, it was tough to determine who would rise to grab the No. 1 seed. The Miami Heat went on a three-game losing streak after a fight between Jimmy Butler, Erik Spolestra and Udonis Haslem on March 23.
Following the rough stretch, the Heat found their groove, winning their past five games and can clinch the No. 1 seed by winning one of two remaining games against the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic.
If the Heat were to lose both games, the door would open for other teams.
One team that came out of nowhere after a shaky start was the Boston Celtics. The Celtics, after starting the season 16-19, came alive by going 34-11 in the past 45 games. Much of this can be credited to their No. 1 defense, allowing just 104.3 points per game.
The loss of Robert Williams for the time being hurts, but they can potentially get an easier matchup as the No. 1 seed if they can win their final two games. That’s going off if the Nets win the first play-in game, as a duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving could upset one of the top seeds.
In one of Boston’s final two games, they play the Milwaukee Bucks, who are No. 3 as of right now. Coming off an NBA championship, the Bucks are 49-30. Some of that can be attributed to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday each missing more than 10 games.
The Bucks defense has regained its form, currently ranking as the seventh-best defense in the league by only giving up 111.9 points per game.
Now, with everyone back healthy, the Bucks will once again be an NBA Finals contender. They are out of contention for the No. 1 seed, but it could be good to avoid the Nets. Their final two games after the Celtics game are against the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers.
If the season ended today, the Bucks would play the sixth-seeded Chicago Bulls, who are 2-21 against the top seeds in the NBA.
To wrap up the top of the conference of teams fighting for playoff seeding, there is the Philadelphia 76ers. Since the James Harden trade, the 76ers are 14-7.
Joel Embiid continues to play at an MVP-level, currently leading the NBA in points per game at 30.4. Tyrese Maxey is continuing his development as a future star, dropping 30 points against the Pacers on April 5.
Harden, while shooting below 40% from the field since the trade, cut his turnovers down to 3.3 a game in March. Over the past three games, he has recorded over double-digit assists.
With an offense of Embiid, Harden, Maxey and Tobias Harris, there’s enough firepower to go far. The key X-factors for the playoffs will be how the bench performs. Coach Doc Rivers will need to make adjustments and Harden and Embiid must adapt if they do not get the same calls in the playoffs.
Thursday’s game against the fifth-seeded Raptors could be a first round preview if the 76ers don’t move up any spots. The 76ers final game is against the Indiana Pacers.
Timothy Lonas is a third-year majoring in digital/print journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org