With teams beginning to clinch playoff berths in both conferences I figured it would be a good time to predict seeding, in the East at least. (West will come later. It’s rough over there.) The Cavaliers and the Celtics have already secured their respective division titles and the Magic and Hawks have clinched spots in the post season. This leaves the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, and Charlotte Bobcats vying for the last four spots in the East. As of right now the Bulls are one and a half games out of the eighth and final playoff spot which is held by the Raptors.
The top four seeds will likely remain the same with Cleveland in the first overall seed, followed by Orlando, Boston, and Atlanta in that order. The next four seeds are currently occupied by Milwaukee, Miami, Charlotte, and Toronto in that order. The Bulls are on the outside looking in. Milwaukee and Chicago are separated by just five games with Milwaukee’s trouncing of the Clippers last night and the Bulls loss. None of these teams has any room for error.
The Bulls have had a terrible March. They have been plagued with injuries to key players. Out of 15 games during the month (they played a tough game against Phoenix last night coming up just short) they won only four games. They hold their playoff fate in their own hands. Their remaining games are against Washington, Charlotte (twice), Milwaukee, Cleveland, New Jersey, Toronto, and Boston. Four of these games are against teams that just ahead of the Bulls in the standings and have undoubtedly been circled by Vinny Del Negro and his team. Derrick Rose has circled each remaining game. He is certain his team will make it. He expressed such feelings Tuesday after a morning shootaround. “In my mind, we’ll be making the eighth spot. We’ll e playing Lebron; playing Cleveland…Our biggest goal is to make the playoffs, and we’re going to make it.”
Toronto is the hunted. Chicago is only one and a half games behind them and can smell blood. The Raptors have not fared well in the month of March either winning only five games. Their remaining games are against the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia, Golden State, Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and New York. The stretch of games against Cleveland, Boston Atlanta, and Chicago occur over a six day period. Toronto’s playoff hopes will die during these six days. The Raptors have also just placed their key free agent from last summer into a reserve role. Hedu Turkoglu, who signed a $53 million deal with the Raptors and was the only reason the Magic had a chance of competing against the Lakers in last year’s NBA Finals, is now a bench player. To have any hope of keeping Chicago at bay Turkoglu must be a starter. Player frustration and general dissent seems to be coming to a head north of the border. Chicago, meanwhile, has not made excuses for their poor play of late. Because of injuries they have not played as well as they could. Toronto, however, has not played well. No, they have played awful. They will continue to play this way for the remainder of the season as they know no other way. Bryan Colangelo may ascertain dreams of keeping Chris Bosh a Raptor but if you were Bosh and the team you play for continually fails you, would you want to stick around?
Chicago will capture the last playoff spot as the Raptors continue their collapse both on and off the court. The eighth seed is the only one that is honestly up for grabs. The others (Bucks, Heat, Bobcats) will make the playoffs and more than likely keep their respective playoffs seeds. Milwaukee and Miami may swap places in the fifth and sixth seeds but with the way the Bucks are playing this is unlikely; Miami is not as well rounded as a team as they are. So here are the last four playoff spots in the East as I see them:
5. Milwaukee Bucks
6. Miami Heat
7. Charlotte Bobcats
8. Chicago Bulls
Missing the playoffs should be the catalyst for Chris Bosh to leave the great white north for fairer climate. Maybe his hometown even, at least there he could actually see a second round playoff game more frequently. These are merely projections, however. If I know one thing about the NBA it is that anything is possible. Until the last four teams are set in stone we will just have to watch. For the Bulls and Raptors, they must play to win. Circle the date 11 April on your calendars because that’s when the Bulls play at the Raptors. Their fates and playoff positions could very well be decided on that night.