As the conclusion of the NBA regular season nears, things are beginning to heat up in the middle of the Eastern Conference.
By Amith Dayananda (‘18)
With the NBA playoffs in close proximity, teams are scrambling for those final few postseason spots. The Eastern Conference has had a reputation for being the worse of the two conferences year after year, yet teams such as the Detroit Pistons have struggled to earn their berth into the playoffs that would result simply from a finish in the East’s upper half. The Pistons did scoop up the eighth seed last year, though, only to lead to a disappointing first round sweep courtesy of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This season, there are seven teams on the “brink” of making the postseason; three of which (the Bulls, Pistons and Hornets) are out of the playoff picture as of today. With seven units in the East all within a few games of one another, this race is beginning to look like a competitive one.
The Hawks are currently at the top of the close battle as the 5th seed with a record of 39-36, tied with the Milwaukee Bucks. Nevertheless, Atlanta’s recent skid as of late (3-7 over their last 10 games) may just be what Milwaukee and Indiana (37-39 overall) need to ascend their conference rank.
Meanwhile, the Heat, who currently hold the 7th spot in the East, have quietly transformed into a dominant team. This newfound success has been the product of efficient guard Goran Dragic, as the Yugoslav native is averaging 19.3 points, 4.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds over his last ten games on 42% shooting from the field. Miami’s tandem of Dragic as well as clutch shooting guard Dion Waiters has proven to be one of the Eastern Conference’s most deadly backcourt duos, and could lead the Heat to their second postseason appearance in the post-LeBron era.
As of right now, the Pistons are the 10th seed in the East, right under the Chicago Bulls. Detroit’s ball movement over their past ten games has been abysmal, resulting in a 2-8 record during that stretch. This kind of play is unacceptable, especially near playoff time as teams scramble for wins that could make or break their year. Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson-who has struggled mightily ever since coming back from knee surgery in December-has been announced as inactive for the rest of the season due to “rest”, as suspiciously explained by head coach Stan Van Gundy. With Ish Smith now starting at the point guard position during the campaign’s final period, it is imperative that the team turns their offense around and finishes the season with victories that could gift them their second consecutive playoff entrance.
In addition, the Bucks are heating up as well, winners of seven of their last ten as Giannis Antetokounmpo leads the team with 23.1 ppg at a whopping 53% clip. Milwaukee may be young, but don’t be surprised if this Jason Kidd-led-squad makes some noise as they enter their first playoff series since 2015.
The Eastern Conference postseason race is heating up, as teams put their all onto the court in an attempt to secure a playoff spot by season’s end. This is what every single unit has been pushing for ever since the 2016-17 campaign began in October, and now they finally get the chance to achieve their year-long goal.
For some squads, however, simply making the postseason isn’t enough. A select few rosters have their sights set on something higher than the opportunity to play into the spring. These units have their eyes on a championship, and anything short of the Larry O’Brien trophy would and should be considered a failure. So while some teams may be winding down over the next few weeks, others will be just getting started, ready to leave their imprint in history as they enter the season’s most important stage.