Nothing is certain, yet, in the race for the last few playoff positions, but after last night, the picture is a little clearer. Heading into Sunday, Milwaukee, Denver, Houston, Phoenix, and Utah were all jockeying to hold or grab spots in the postseason. With about two weeks left in the season, the race to playoff seed is heating up.
Just a week ago, the Bucks were hot but have since hit a snag as they have faced some stiffer competition in the likes of the Thunder, Knicks, who they are trying to catch for eighth in the East, and the Pacers. They lost each of those contests. With six games remaining the Bucks need to either win out, there is likely no other option as they are two and a half games behind New York. Three of their remaining games will be against teams who are currently slated to make the postseason. They play the Pacers again, the Sixers, and the Celtics to close the regular season. Out of those three teams, Philadelphia is the most interesting.
The Sixers are currently experiencing a Mets-ian collapse since the All Star break. It looked, for a time, that they were going to run away with the Atlantic Division but now Boston has a firm grasp on the division title. Philadelphia has lost six of their last ten games and are now tied with the Knicks in last place in the playoff picture. A further fall from grace could lend a hand to Milwaukee as they fight to make the last seed.
Per usual, the West is cluttered when it comes to who is going to be the last couple of seeds heading into the postseason. Three and a half games separate the sixth seed Mavericks from the Jazz, who are currently tenth in the West. At this point it would take a complete collapse for Dallas to miss the playoffs but they could certainly fall in the standings. Denver and Houston are tied in the standings and currently hold playoff spots. However, Phoenix is nipping at their heels sitting two and a half games back. Just a half game behind the Suns are the Jazz, who have surprised just about everyone this season as head coach Tyrone Corbin have molded into a formidable and balanced team. He needs to be mentioned in the Coach of the Year discussion, especially if the Jazz weasel their way into the playoffs.
An interesting twist to the race for the last two seeds in the West is that the Rockets and Nuggets play each other in a home and away Sunday and Monday. If either team drops both of these games it leaves the door wide open for the Suns and Jazz. Houston recently fell to both the Jazz and Suns and needs to sweep Denver today and tomorrow to essentially lock up a playoff spot.
Meanwhile, the Jazz and the Suns face off in Salt Lake City on April 24 in what could be a crucial meeting if the Rockets or Nuggets fall on consecutive nights to the other. Utah has a much easier schedule to end the season than the Suns as they face the Blazers, sans LaMarcus Aldridge, twice and the Magic, who are without Dwight Howard. The Suns, on the other hand, also face the Blazers but then must play the Thunder, Clippers, Nuggets, then the Jazz, and they close the regular season against the Spurs. To put it succinctly, the odds are not stacked in Phoenix’s favor.
The most interesting aspect of the rounding out of the playoff teams is that all the teams in the Eastern Conference could enter postseason play with winning records. It has been since the 2004-05 season since every team in the East in the playoffs had a winning record. Unfortunately for all the teams vying for those last few spots, their season will likely end with a first round exit.