While the playoff picture is coming into focus in the Western Conference, there is still much to be decided in the East. There are many possible suitors for the eighth seed, and not much separating fifth from eighth. With ten or fewer games left for most teams, the marathon of the NBA season is coming down to one last sprint.
1. Golden State Warriors last week 4
Andre Iguodala has been one of the biggest keys to the Warriors’ recent success. The veteran wing is showing he still has gas in the tank, while Steph Curry is reminding doubters just how good he is. The Warriors have won seven straight games.
2. San Antonio Spurs last week 1
The Spurs have won narrowly against the Wolves, Grizzlies, and Knicks in order to maintain their position in the West. At this point, it seems unlikely that the team will be able to catch the Warriors for the top seed, given the roll Golden State is on.
3. Houston Rockets last week 2
James Harden is the MVP. He combines the jaw-dropping numbers of Russell Westbrook with efficiency, team success, and yes… even some defense. Unless you have an unhealthy obsession with whole numbers, the decision is fairly obvious.
4. Boston Celtics last week 5
The Celtics have won four straight games and have tied the Cavaliers for the first seed in the East. Home court seems to matter more to Boston, given the Cavs’ tendency to continue resting players. This means the April 5 showdown between the conference leaders could wind up deciding who gets the first seed.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers last week 3
How much stock do you put in the struggles of a team that has shown they can flip a switch in the past? Well, while the effort isn’t there yet, a banged up Tristan Thompson could be a massive problem come playoffs. While others can flip the switch, a wounded defensive anchor would make the path much more difficult for the Cavs.
6. Toronto Raptors last week 7
Their newly found defensive identity has suited the Raptors well, as they’ve won five straight games without the services of Kyle Lowry. DeMar DeRozan has stepped up his play-making and defense lately, showing a willingness to put the team first.
7. Washington Wizards last week 8
The Wizards have won three straight games, including a win over the Cavaliers on a second night of a back to back. Washington’s defensive play has been uneven lately, but John Wall has the offense clicking at a very high level.
8. Portland Trail Blazers last week 13
The Blazers have won three straight games and are officially back in a playoff position. Their remaining schedule is fairly weak in comparison to Denver, so expect Damian Lillard and company to once again return to the playoff stage.
9. Milwaukee Bucks last week 12
The Bucks have won five of their last seven games and are currently tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The prospect of facing Antetokounmpo and Middleton in the first round should be extra incentive for the Toronto Raptors to get out of the fourth seed.
10. Utah Jazz last week 6
Why must the Jazz make everything so difficult? They are getting all the help they could possibly ask for from the Clippers in order to get the fourth seed, yet they can’t come up with consistent play. Utah has lost three of its last four, including a loss to the Clippers. They still have a one game lead over L.A. for fourth, but they continue to make things difficult for themselves.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder last week 9
The Thunder have been on a roll recently. Sure they were dismantled by the Warriors and Rockets, but they’ve gone 6-2 over their last eight games. The team has routinely taken care of business against lesser opponents, and are tied with the Clippers in the loss column at 31.
12. Memphis Grizzlies last week 10
Three straight losses for the Grizzlies have put them a game and a half back of the Thunder for sixth in the West. Outside of games against the Spurs and Thunder, their remaining schedule is fairly easy. When they host the Thunder on April 5, it’s likely that playoff seeding will be on the line.
13. L.A. Clippers last week 11
After beating the Jazz, the Clippers came up with a massive choke-job against the Sacramento Kings. They blew an 18-point lead with only five minutes left in the game. No matter how good the roster is, the Clippers seem to find a way to disappoint. Can’t help but feel this is the last year that this team is together.
14. Denver Nuggets last week 14
The Nuggets got good wins over the Cavaliers and Pacers before getting man-handled by Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Denver plays seven of their last nine games on the road to close the season. If they’re going to make playoffs, they will have to earn it.
15. Indiana Pacers last week 17
The Pacers finally broke their pattern of alternating between wins and losses as the Nuggets handed them their second loss in a row. Indiana rebounded from that with a win over the Sixers, but the recent play from the team remains uninspiring.
16. Miami Heat last week 15
The Heat have lost two straight games to the Celtics and Raptors. Miami is still in a playoff position, but they finish their season against the Cavs, Raptors, and Wizards twice in a four game span. The Heat will need to take care of business now, in order to take pressure off that stretch.
17. Dallas Mavericks last week 16
Playing the Warriors, Clippers, and Raptors in a row was a tough week for the Mavericks. While they got a win to show for it, at three-and-a-half games back of the playoffs, their hopes for an extended season seem all but faded.
18. Chicago Bulls last week 20
Somehow there is still hope for the Bulls making the playoffs. They are just a half game back of the Heat for eighth after their recent slide. The Bulls have actually played fairly well recently, showing you just how good Jimmy Butler is.
19. Detroit Pistons last week 18
Losers of three straight games, the Pistons are one of the biggest disappointments of the season. Their playoff hopes aren’t dead yet, but their inability to take care of business against lesser opponents doesn’t inspire hope.
20. Atlanta Hawks last week 19
The nosedive continues as the Hawks have lost seven straight games. If the Cavaliers fall to the second seed, the Hawks may wind up with a nightmare scenario of facing the Cavs for a third straight year and serving as the first round slump buster.