Which NBA team will get that elusive playoff spot in the Eastern Conference?
Knowing which NBA team gets the eighth seed will give us an idea who the Atlanta Hawks will face in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks have been lording it over the East for a great majority of the year. Not even LeBron James doing away with his headband is enough to stymie Atlanta’s dominance.
The race for the East’s eighth spot is as tight as it gets. Check out how the concerned teams stack up through March 31, per ESPN:
- 8. Boston Celtics 33-41 (.446)
- 9. Brooklyn Nets 32-40 (.444)
- 10. Indiana Pacers 32-41 (.438)
- 11. Charlotte Hornets 31-42 (.425)
Barring a late-season collapse by the 34-39 Miami Heat (who have won six of their last 10 games) and/or a last-minute surge by the 28-45 Detroit Pistons (who are 5-5 in their last 10 games) , the race for the eighth spot will boil down to these four teams.
In order to analyze each team’s chances, we have to look at the offensive and defensive stats, strength of schedule, experience and overall health.
Whatever the outcome, this will be one of the closest playoff-seed races in recent memory. Buckle up for a wild and wooly finish, NBA fans.
The last time the Boston Celtics made the playoffs was during the 2012-13 NBA season. They wound up 41-40 during the regular season and lost to the New York Knicks in the first round, per LandOfBasketball.com.
Since then, they have been in rebuilding mode after losing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets two years ago.
Now, head coach Brad Stevens is slowly but surely leading his Celtics back to respectability.
Boston is essentially a middle-of-the pack team in terms of offense (14th, 100.7 PPG) and rebounding (12th, 44.1 RPG). They’re an excellent playmaking team (fifth, 24.2 APG) but an atrocious one when it comes to defense (24th, 101.6 PPG allowed).
The knock against the Celtics is their inexperience. Their five starters (Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller) have combined for exactly 100 playoff appearances through March 31, per ESPN.
In contrast, Tony Parker already has played in 196 playoff games, according to ESPN.
If the Celtics do make the playoffs, their inexperience and below-average defense will do them in against a team like the Hawks, who make opponents pay for every mistake they make.
This season, the Celtics have been winning against mediocre opposition and losing to great competition. If they are to salvage a playoff sp0t, they must stop this trend because four of their last nine games will be against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors.
Things have not gone as planned for the Brooklyn Nets in head coach Lionel Hollins’ first year at the helm.
After missing the postseason from 2007-13, the Nets were looking to build on their playoff success in 2014-15. Back then, they made it to the second round with an aging roster (Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were still on board). However, the Miami Heat beat them in five games, per LandOfBasketball.com.
Now, Hollins and Co. are fighting to stay alive.
Brooklyn has been blowing hot and cold this month just like another East team which is on the bubble, the Indiana Pacers. After losing five in a row, the Nets have won seven of their last nine.
Center Brook Lopez has been a pillar of strength during that surge, averaging 28.8 points and 9.3 rebounds in his last six starts.
Despite Lopez’s recent tear, one must consider the quality of opposition the Nets faced: of those seven teams they beat, six had records below .500.
Brooklyn has its work cut out as six of its next 10 opponents are playoff-seeded teams. For the Nets to make the playoffs, they have to spread their options on offense and not rely on Lopez too much.
One player who must get his stroke back is point guard Deron Williams, who has been shooting a paltry 38 percent, per ESPN.
This much we know about the Paul George-less Indiana Pacers: we don’t know which team will show up on any given night.
Consider the fact Indy won games seven in a row several weeks ago before losing six straight immediately after. It has been that kind of season for the Blue and Gold.
Without PG-13, the Pacers are just a shade of what they were the past two seasons: bona fide title contenders. They were trying to reclaim the glory days of Reggie Miller but now find themselves scrambling for a playoff spot.
Under Frank Vogel’s guidance, Indiana has always been an in-y0ur-face team in terms of defense. As of March 31, the Pacers are fifth overall in points allowed (97.3 PPG) and seventh in rebounds (44.5 RPG), per ESPN.
Even though the Pacers have improved somewhat in assists (17th, 21.4 per game) with a starting combo guard (George Hill), they are still struggling offensively (24th, 96.9 PPG).
Nonetheless, their experience (their starters have combined for 218 playoff games) and defensive swagger bode well for them.
Indy has a chance to make some headway as its next six opponents have records which are below .500. For the Pacers to squeak in the postseason, they need more frontcourt scoring from the recently inconsistent tandem of Roy Hibbert and David West.
After a 12-year hiatus, the Charlotte Hornets are back.
However, they are not exactly buzzing.
The Hornets have largely underachieved all season long. Their fans are also desperate for a playoff win. The last time the city of Charlotte experienced a playoff victory was in 2002, when the old Hornets beat an Orlando Magic squad featuring the likes of Darrell Armstrong and Bo Outlaw.
The Hornets’ successors, the Charlotte Bobcats, have an 0-8 playoff record.
Charlotte is that hungry for playoff success.
Just like the three other teams vying for a playoff spot in the East, Charlotte has been a very streaky squad. At one point, Michael Jordan’s crew was 10-24 before winning nine of its next 11 games to stay in the hunt.
However, the Hornets are not doing themselves a favor by losing nine of their last 12 games. This is a team which is bad offensively—it is not surprising to see the Hornets put up 66 or 69 points on any given night.
The good news is Charlotte makes up for its shortcomings by being a tough defensive (7th in points allowed at 97.4 PPG) and rebounding (ninth, 44.3 RPG) team.
As for the Hornets’ remaining schedule, four of their last five games are against playoff contenders. If they are to make the playoffs, they have to play better offensively.
For starters, first-year Hornet Lance Stephenson (8.3 PPG on 38 percent shooting) has to get back on track.
The Parting Shot
This begs us to ask the question again: Which team will get the eighth playoff spot in the East?
It will be a very tough call.
Based on our findings, the four teams concerned are all inconsistent. Any of them can win four in a row this week and then lose another four consecutive the following week.
Whittling the field boils down mainly to experience and health.
The Pacers clearly have the edge when it comes to experience among the four hopefuls. However, they still don’t have their franchise player. As inconsistent as they have been, how they play down the stretch will be anybody’s guess.
In terms of health, the Celtics have their lineup intact, per ESPN.com. The Hornets are the hardest-hit squad, with Cody Zeller (shoulder) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (ankle) both sidelined. Center Al Jefferson is not 100 percent as he just had his knee drained twice in a span of a week, according to The Charlotte Observer (via ESPN).
As for the Nets, forward Thaddeus Young remains questionable for the March 31 game against Indy, per The Record (via ESPN).
Fearless forecast: The Boston Celtics are the front-runners to lock up the eighth spot in the East, with the Indiana Pacers a close second.