NBA standings in the East: Top playoff seeds still up for grabs
The 10 postseason teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference are just about set.
In what order they finish – from the first seed to the 10th seed – is not settled with each team playing three or four more regular-season games.
Two games separate first-place Milwaukee from second-place Boston. Just 2½ games are between third-place Philadelphia and fourth-place Cleveland. The Cavs have a three-game lead over fifth-place New York. Sixth-place Brooklyn has a two-game lead over seventh-place Miami, which is two games up on Atlanta and Toronto, who are each a game ahead of 10th-place Chicago.
Let’s take a look at the playoff race in the East heading into Tuesday’s games:
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1. Milwaukee Bucks (56-22)
The Bucks don’t have the top seed secured and don’t own the tiebreaker against Boston, so they have to win to get the top seed and league’s overall best record. They have an easier schedule than the Celtics, too.
Remaining games: at Washington; vs. Chicago; vs. Memphis; at Toronto
2. Boston Celtics (54-24, two games back)
The Celtics have a chance at the top seed and best overall record, but in their position, they need other teams to beat the Bucks and they need to win games. Regardless, the Celtics didn’t have home-court advantage in last season’ playoffs, winning Game 7 of the conference finals in Miami.
Remaining games: at Philadelphia; vs. Toronto; vs. Toronto; vs. Atlanta
3. Philadelphia 76ers (51-27, five games back)
The Sixers are just about locked into the third seed — unless they beat Boston on Tuesday, win their remaining games and the Celtics lose their four remaining games. The Celtics own the tiebreaker if they finish with identical records based on head-to-head win-loss percentage.
Remaining games: vs. Boston; vs. Miami; at Atlanta; at Brooklyn
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (49-30, 7½ games back)
Cleveland could catch Philadelphia for the third seed, but need to win all three games while the Sixers don’t win another regular-season game. The tiebreaker goes to the Sixers if they share the same record. However, Cleveland would fall to the fifth seed (and lose home-court for the first round) if it loses out and New York wins out.
Remaining games: at Orlando; at Orlando; vs. Charlotte
5. New York Knicks (46-33, 10½ games back)
The Knicks, one of the better teams in the East in the second half of the season, have an outside chance to get the fourth seed. Either way, unless the Knicks really stumble, it looks like a Cleveland-New York first-round series.
Remaining games: at Indiana; at New Orleans; vs. Indiana
6. Brooklyn Nets (43-35, 13 games back)
Credit to the Nets for holding it together after trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Mikal Bridges is turning into a two-way star now that he can showcase his offensive talent. A tough closing schedule makes it difficult for the Nets to catch the Knicks. Holding off Miami for the sixth seed is the bigger concern.
Remaining games: vs. Minnesota; at Detroit; vs. Orlando; vs. Philadelphia
7. Miami Heat (41-37, 15 games back)
The Heat, who reached the conference finals last season, would love to sneak in at the sixth seed and avoid a play-in game situation. But that’s going to be difficult since Brooklyn owns the tiebreaker. Not falling a spot or two is also on Miami’s radar, though it has the tiebreaker against Atlanta but not Toronto.
Remaining games: at Detroit; at Philadelphia; at Washington; vs. Orlando
8. Atlanta Hawks (39-39, 17 games back)
The Hawks’ final four games includes two against top teams in the East and another team trying to make the play-in tournament. Owning the tiebreaker against Toronto helps.
Remaining games: at Chicago; vs. Washington; vs. Philadelphia; at Boston
9. Toronto Raptors (39-39, 17 games back)
Not an easy way to finish the season for the Raptors, who have two games at Boston. Moving up to the seventh seed is more likely than the eighth seed given the tiebreaker scenario. But the Raptors have to watch Chicago, too, with the tiebreaker between those two teams going to the Raptors.
Remaining games: at Charlotte; at Boston; at Boston; vs. Milwaukee
10. Chicago Bulls (38-40, 18 games back)
It’s been a difficult season for the Bulls, especially with Lonzo Ball’s unknown future due to knee issues, but all they need to do is win one game and they’re in the play-in game format. Tuesday’s game against Atlanta has tiebreaker implications with the Bulls ahead 2-1 in seasons series.
Remaining games: vs. Atlanta; at Milwaukee; at Dallas; vs. Detroit
11 and 12. Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards (34-44, 22 games back)
Though the Magic and Wizards have the same record, the Wizards have been eliminated from the postseason because they lose the tiebreaker to Chicago. However, if the Bulls were to lose their final four games and the Magic win their final four (brutal schedule, though), the Magic own the tiebreaker and would sneak into the play-in game.
Orlando’s remaining games: vs. Cleveland; vs. Cleveland; at Brooklyn; at Miami
Washington’s remaining games: vs. Milwaukee; at Atlanta; vs. Miami; vs. Houston