Although the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference will still be up for grabs when the NBA’s eight “seeding” games begin on July 30, that race has lost much of its luster as a result of the injuries, COVID-19 cases, and opt-outs that have decimated the Nets‘ and Wizards‘ rosters.
Technically, the Magic (30-35) are the No. 8 seed at the moment, but they’re just a half-game back of Brooklyn (30-34) for the No. 7 spot and seem likely to pass a Nets team that will be without at least seven players, including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, and DeAndre Jordan.
That would leave the Nets to hang onto the No. 8 seed by holding off the Wizards (24-40), who will be missing Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, and John Wall, but could force a play-in tournament if they finish within four games of Orlando or Brooklyn. Washington is also currently without Thomas Bryant (coronavirus), Gary Payton II (coronavirus), and Garrison Mathews (personal), though some or all of those players may eventually rejoin the team.
While that race for the seventh and eighth seeds may not be quite as dramatic as the NBA would like, there could still be some interesting jockeying for position further up the standings in the East.
The 53-12 Bucks have a 6.5-game cushion over the 46-18 Raptors, so Milwaukee will likely clinch the top seed even if they’re on cruise control during the seeding games. But Toronto’s lead on the third-seeded Celtics (43-21) is just three games, and Boston’s eight-game schedule looks less daunting than the Raptors’ slate.
Five of the Celtics’ eight games are against the Nets, Wizards, Magic, Grizzlies, and Trail Blazers, all of whom are at or near the bottom of the playoff race. The Raptors, meanwhile, will face Orlando and Memphis, but also have games against the Lakers, Heat, Nuggets, Sixers, and Bucks. The Celtics and Raptors face each other as well, in a game that will have important tiebreaker implications.
That No. 2 seed isn’t as important as it once was, given the lack of home court advantage available, but it could mean facing the Magic instead of the Pacers, which should be a more favorable matchup even with Victor Oladipo sidelined.
Speaking of the Pacers, they’re currently tied at 39-26 with the Sixers, with the No. 5 seed up for grabs. Clinching that fifth seed would likely mean securing a first-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Heat instead of the Celtics or Raptors.
The Heat, meanwhile, are 41-24, putting them two games behind Boston and two games ahead of the Sixers and Pacers. They seem like a relatively safe bet to hold their position in the No. 4 vs. 5 matchup, but a hot or cold streak in Orlando could affect their spot in the standings, especially with games vs. Boston, Toronto, and Indiana (twice) on tap.
What do you think? What do you expect the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference to look like by the time the playoffs begin? Will they look relatively similar to the current standings, or will there be some shuffling that results in some unexpected first-round matchups?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!