The regular season is winding down, which means….you guessed it: a wacky Eastern Conference Playoff Picture! At the bottom half, only 3 games separate 7th-11th place, with teams gaining (and losing) ground each and every day.
While we won’t try to sort out that dumpster fire, we’ll countdown who we would like to see in the last couple of spots in terms of “watchability.” Sorry in advance, Brooklyn Nets fans.
5. Brooklyn Nets- The Nets are just there, it seems. Not good enough to contend, not horrible enough to bottom out, not talented enough to warrant excitement, not awful enough to ignore completely.
Brook Lopez’s resurgence (reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week) is impressive but the surrounding parts (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young) don’t generate enough buzz for fans to sit through another “pointless” first-round loss.
4. Charlotte Hornets- Charlotte, much like Brooklyn, has struggled mightily with consistency and injury for the majority of the season. Kemba Walker & Al Jefferson have been in and out of the lineup, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has missed a lot of time and Lance Stephenson was a HEALTHY scratch in the Hornets’ last game!
A potential Kemba game-winner is the only reason why they’re in front of the Nets.
3. Indiana Pacers- It’s pretty simple, actually…if Paul George is healthy and ready to go, the Pacers are a no-brained for the top spot on this list. But since his status is still unclear, Indiana’s mix of wily veterans is just enough to place them ahead of Brooklyn and Charlotte.
George Hill, CJ Miles, and Rodney Stuckey are all gelling at the right time, so a rematch with Atlanta does not look like a damning situation any longer. Okay, we won’t go as far to predict an upset but the Hawks and Pacers will be an ugly, grind it out series if it takes place.
Now if George returns, Indiana has a chance to make some noise.
2. Boston Celtics- Placing Boston over Miami was a difficult decision but one we definitely had to make considering Paul George’s uncertain status. But they are a fun group to watch for a number of reasons, most notably Brad Stevens and their two-headed-defensive-monster-of-a-backcourt: Avery Bradley & Marcus Smart.
Coach Stevens has one of the best basketball minds out there already. Matching wits with Mike Budenholzer and the versatile Hawks should lead to some fun matchups (Paul Millsap v. Jonas Jerebko, Kyle Korver v. Marcus Smart, DeMarre Carroll v. Jae Crowder). Throw in Isaiah Thomas’s explosiveness, Evan Turner’s random triple-doubles and the ultra-finesse combo of Kelly Olynk & Tyler Zeller…you’ve got yourself a nice opening round tilt!
At least until the Hawks blitz them with outside shooting.
1. Miami Heat- The Miami Heat top our list for obvious reasons. Dwyane Wade v. LeBron James in Round 1. Book it, it’s happening. And it will be a lot closer than anticipated. Although Cleveland is absolutely rolling, a healthy Miami Heat squad (Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng, etc.) could steal a game or two at home.
Without Chris Bosh, however, the upset is out of the question. But Wade and James’ impending battle is more than worth the price of admission. For sheer entertainment value, an opening round matchup between the Heat and Cavs would drive ratings through the roof.