The race for the final three seeds in the Eastern Conference Playoffs will likely come down to the last day of the NBA regular season. Five teams are currently vying for three spots, with seeds six through ten currently separated by just three games, while seeds six through nine are currently separated by just one game. Unlike the Western Conference, where all eight teams are already set, the Eastern Conference regular season should be exciting through the final day of the regular season, as all five of these prospective playoff teams will play, and four of them will actually play each other, with the Magic going to Charlotte to face the Hornets and the Heat going to Brooklyn to battle the Nets.
Just by looking at the Net Rating of the Pistons, Nets, Heat, and Magic, we can see truly how close together these teams are in terms of performance this season.
Detroit Pistons (season): -0.4 Net Rating (16th in NBA).
Orlando Magic (season): +0.0 Net Rating (14th in NBA).
Brooklyn Nets (season): -0.5 Net Rating (17th in NBA).
Miami Heat (season): -0.3 Net Rating (15th in NBA).
The Pistons currently hold the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and are currently just one game up on the ninth seeded Miami Heat, with each team having just four games remaining. Despite this razor thin margin of error, the Pistons have a great chance to finish the season in the playoffs.
Detroit Pistons (since the All-Star Break): +2.7 Net Rating (9th in NBA), 55.7 TS% (16th in NBA) 50.0 PIE (14th in NBA), 13-9 W-L (7th in NBA).
While they have been mediocre in their past ten games, the Pistons were without Blake Griffin for a chunk of that span, and as a whole have been pretty good since All-Star Break. But, the primary reason they have a great chance at being a playoff team is their remaining schedule. The team’s schedule is relatively easy. The Pistons have a better Net Rating than their final four opponents both since the All-Star Break and over the past ten games.
Detroit Pistons (remaining four games): -2.44 SOS (best in Eastern Conference).
Opponents (since All-Star Break): -2.1 Net Rating (Oklahoma City Thunder), -4.5 Net Rating (Charlotte Hornets), -2.3 Net Rating (Memphis Grizzlies), -10.3 Net Rating (New York Knicks).
I would be shocked to find the Pistons out of the playoff picture when the season ends.
The Nets currently have the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference because they own the tiebreaker over the Orlando Magic. The Nets have just three games remaining and hold just a half game lead over the Miami Heat. I don’t like their chances as much as I do for the Detroit Pistons, but the Nets still have a decent chance to make the postseason.
Brooklyn Nets (since the All-Star Break): -1.1 Net Rating (17th in NBA), 55.1 TS% (20th in NBA) 49.4 PIE (17th in NBA), 9-11 W-L (16th in NBA).
The Nets haven’t seen the same success as the Pistons since the All-Star Break and have struggled even more over their past ten games. In addition, they have a fairly difficult remaining schedule.
Brooklyn Nets (remaining three games): 3.76 SOS (2nd worst in Eastern Conference).
Opponents (since All-Star Break): +7.7 Net Rating (Milwaukee Bucks), +0.1 Net Rating (Indiana Pacers), +0.5 Net Rating (Miami Heat).
Their chance of making the postseason could greatly increase if either the Bucks or Heat rest some of their key rotation pieces against them, however, since we don’t know whether that will happen or not, it’s better to assume everyone that is healthy on those teams will play. Assuming no one is rested, the Nets have a difficult road to make the postseason, however, it certainly helps that they own the tiebreaker over the Pistons and the Magic.
The Magic are currently the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference by virtue of the aforementioned lost tiebreaker to the Brooklyn Nets. Despite this disadvantage, the Magic have a better chance at making the postseason than the Nets because they have been better as of late and have a much easier schedule to close out the season.
Orlando Magic (since the All-Star Break): +3.2 Net Rating (8th in NBA), 54.7 TS% (25th in NBA), 52.3 PIE (9th in NBA), 12-8 W-L (10th in NBA).
It is clear by their True Shooting Percentage that as a team the Magic have been fairly inefficient since the All-Star Break. They have been winning games by playing great team defense, which is expected by Steve Clifford coached clubs. Also, they have a slow pace of play, which generally (the Houston Rockets, an all-around excellent team, is an exception) favors defensively-oriented teams.
Orlando Magic (defense): 107.5 Defensive Rating this season (8th in NBA), 106.6 Defensive Rating since All-Star Break (5th in NBA), 105.4 Defensive Rating over past ten games (7th in NBA).
Orlando Magic (pace): 98.56 Possessions/Game this season (25th in NBA), 98.14 Possessions/Game since All-Star Break (28th in NBA), 98.33 Possessions/Game over past ten games (23rd in NBA).
In addition, the Magic do have a very easy schedule to close out the season when compared to both the Brooklyn Nets as well as the rest of the league.
Orlando Magic (remaining three games): -1.24 SOS (5th best in Eastern Conference).
Opponents (since All-Star Break): -0.6 Net Rating (Atlanta Hawks), -1.3 Net Rating (Boston Celtics), -4.5 Net Rating (Charlotte Hornets).
Despite being at a disadvantage because they lost the season series to the Nets, the Magic do have a very good chance to make the playoffs. They have a better chance than the Nets but not the Pistons.
The Miami Heat are currently sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. They are pretty close to entering the playoff picture, however, it will be even tougher for them to make the postseason then it would’ve been otherwise with starting guard Josh Richardson sidelined for the next two weeks.
Miami Heat (since the All-Star Break): +0.5 Net Rating (12th in NBA), 54.9 TS% (23rd in NBA), 51.2 PIE (11th in NBA), 12-10 W-L (13th in NBA).
Similar to the Magic, the Heat’s offense has been relatively inefficient. Also similar to Orlando, the team counteracts that inefficiency on offense by playing stout defense and slowing down the game.
Miami Heat (defense): 107.1 Defensive Rating this season (7th in NBA), 108.5 Defensive Rating since All-Star Break (10th in NBA), 105.2 Defensive Rating over past ten games (6th in NBA).
Miami Heat (pace): 98.61 Possessions/Game this season (23rd in NBA), 97.82 Possessions/Game since All-Star Break (29th in NBA), 97.75 Possessions/Game over past ten games (26th in NBA).
While the Heat have been solid since the All-Star Break, their schedule to close out the season is extremely difficult.
Miami Heat (remaining three games): 1.49 SOS (3rd best in Eastern Conference).
Opponents (since All-Star Break): -5.1 Net Rating (Minnesota Timberwolves), +7.1 Net Rating (Toronto Raptors), -0.2 Net Rating (Philadelphia 76ers).
While this schedule could look a lot easier if any of these teams elect to rest some of their key players, they will have to face all of them without their best two-way player (Josh Richardson). Because of this tough schedule and the Richardson injury, it will be difficult for the Heat to make the postseason.
The Charlotte Hornets, unlike the aforementioned teams, are practically out of the playoff race. They are mathematically still alive, but it is going to be difficult for them to close the two-and-half game gap between themselves and the eighth seed with just four games left for them to play.
Charlotte Hornets (since the All-Star Break): -4.5 Net Rating (24th in NBA), 54.7 TS% (26th in NBA), 46.7 PIE (25th in NBA), 9-12 W-L (17th in NBA).
The Hornets have been relatively subpar since the All-Star Break. Their playoff hopes are kept somewhat alive because their remaining schedule is somewhat good.
Charlotte Hornets (remaining four games): -1.11 SOS (7th best in Eastern Conference).
Opponents (since All-Star Break): +7.1 Net Rating (Toronto Raptors), +2.7 Net Rating (Detroit Pistons), -5.5 Net Rating (Cleveland Cavaliers), +3.2 Net Rating (Orlando Magic).
That schedule could be even easier if the Raptors rest some of their key players. However, the Hornets almost have to go a perfect 4-0 or close to it to have a shot at the postseason. They almost have to win against the Magic and Pistons. The Hornets certainly have a small chance of making it to the postseason.
If I had to choose, I’d say that the Pistons will finish as the six seed, the Magic will finish as the seven seed, and the Nets will finish the eight seed.
Buckle up your seatbelt folks; we are going down to the wire in the Eastern Conference!
Dylan is a NBA analyst who loves the game, has been covering it since 2015, and became a UniquESports+ contributor this year. You can reach him and enjoy more of his content via his Twitter and his Instagram, @topnbaanalysis.
The statistics listed in this article are from nba.com and basketballreference.com.