The Eastern Conference playoffs are just about a month away from starting, and the Charlotte Hornets currently sit at fifth in the conference. With them right in the thick of a playoff seeding race against the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks it makes sense to have weekly updates keeping track of tiebreakers, games left against key opponents, and potential seeding.
This week, Charlotte made a major jump in the standings up to five with Atlanta taking a small tumble. The Hornets are the hottest team in basketball right now, and with their schedule looking pretty easy coming up it's hard to not see them at least at some point gaining possession of the fourth seed. That would mean home court advantage in a playoff series. Something this franchise hasn't had since they left for New Orleans long ago.
There's also been some noise up top with the Cleveland Cavaliers struggling, and the Toronto Raptors right on their tail. The Boston Celtics seem to be the one consistency in the conference at the three seed. Too good to fall lower than that, but not good enough to jump into contention with the top two. Meanwhile at the bottom, the Chicago Bulls have fallen out of the playoffs with the Detroit Pistons taking their place at the eight spot. Indiana is barely hanging on for dear life at the seven spot.
46-18, 0GB, key games: @LAC, @UTA, @MIA
The Cavs are not playing what one would call great basketball at the moment. They're failing to wake up against teams they should throttle, and their performances against the elite across the NBA has been less than impressive. Yet, they still remain as the top seed in the entire conference. Some may call it boredom, but the leaks and rumors off the court indicate that it could be something more. They have a really tough stretch of games coming up with games against the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, and Miami Heat. Cleveland theoretically should win all three, but just two would be enough to silent some critics. However, if they lose to Miami that could stir up some talks about potential upsets in a second round series.
44-20, 2GB, key games: @Ind, BOS
The Raptors are currently the biggest threat to Cleveland, despite their defense falling off a cliff since the All-Star break, but there's a lot of concern over them due to not being able to escape the first round in previous years. That said, this is a different Toronto squad that has won tough games against conference opponents all season. Of course, nobody is going to take them seriously until they can finally win in the playoffs, but with key games against the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics coming up they can certainly build up their resume and possibly even catch up to Cleveland.
39-27, 8GB, key games: @IND, OKC, @TOR
Boston's cushion they had on the rest of the east is starting to slip. They're only one game ahead of Miami, and 1.5 ahead of Charlotte, but they do own the tiebreaker over the Hornets so that's more like two. Even so, the Celtics upcoming schedule is just brutal. The Pacers are not an easy win by any means, and then they have to play the Oklahoma City Thunder at home before hitting the road to Toronto. The Celtics are good enough to steal two wins of these three, but there's real potential for three straight losses here. They could fall all the way to five before the week is up. More likely though they'll still be at three, because Brad Stevens is either a wizard or has dirt on half the teams in the NBA.
38-28, 9GB, key games: CHA, CLE
Miami has been playing some incredible basketball despite being without Chris Bosh for most of it. Moving Hassan Whiteside to the bench has done wonders for them, and the addition of Joe Johnson has paid off dividends. Goran Dragic is starting to look like he did in Phoenix thanks to the floor being opened up, and there are talks of a potential Bosh return. Everything is looking good for Miami as two huge games come up. They have a matchup at home against the Hornets that could lockup tiebreaker for them while adding some distance in the standings, and then they play Cleveland. Miami would like nothing more than a win against the Cavs with the standings currently set up to have a second round meeting between the two. It would fill the Heat with confidence, and could potentially get them right in the heads of everybody in Cleveland.
37-28, 9.5GB, key games: DAL, @MIA
The Hornets schedule has been nothing but easy and/or winnable games since March began and that trend continues this week with matchups against the Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets, and Dallas Mavericks. The Dallas game could be sneaky, but with the Hornets playing as great as they are right now that should be another win. Which is exactly what they want going into their game against Miami. A win there would not only tie up the season series, but could put them right at the fourth spot for home court advantage in a first round series. Potentially even the three depending on what's going on with Boston. This is a big week for Charlotte as far as the standings go.
37-29, 10GB, key games: IND, @DET
Atlanta funny enough has not been one of the better shooting teams this year and that's why they've fallen all the way down to six. However, they have one of the best defenses in the NBA right now and it is carrying them. If they can ever get their shooting on track then this is still one of the more dangerous teams to play in a playoff series. However, right now they need to focus on not falling any farther in the standings. With games against the Pacers and Pistons coming up they can do just that.
35-30, 11.5GB, key games: @ATL, BOS, TOR, OKC
Ohhhhhh no, the Pacers upcoming schedule is just absolutely brutal. With a game against the Hawks today, and the rest of the week all against teams ranked third or higher in their conference this could get ugly. They might fall out of the playoffs by the end of the week if it ends up being worst case scenario. However, they could still manage to win one or two of these so they aren't dead yet, it just doesn't look good.
34-32, 13GB, key games: @WAS, ATL
The Pistons have finally clawed their way into a playoff spot thanks to some excellent basketball from Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. The Tobias Harris acquisition at the trade deadline continues to look better every game, and now the Pistons are going to look at moving up if possible. They have a chance to do that with a game against Atlanta, but they have to make sure to beat Washington otherwise Detroit could slip right back out. However, a relatively easy schedule surrounding these games could save them if the Pistons somehow lose both.
32-32, 14GB, key games: @TOR, @WAS, BRK
Due to a mix of injuries and bad basketball the Bulls have fallen out of the playoffs. It's not great that they've been without Jimmy Butler, but they've had too many losses to bad teams to say it's all injuries. Chicago just isn't playing well right now at the worst possible time. They have some upcoming games against Washington and Brooklyn where they can gain some ground, and a win over the Raptors would do wonders for their confidence. However, the way they've been playing lately, it's much more likely they're not going to do much with these opportunities.
30-35, 16.5GB, key games: DET, CHI
The Wizards are flirting with being too far out to be considered playoff relevant anymore. They need to rack up some wins fast against fellow potential playoff teams. They've been battling injuries all year just like Chicago, but the basketball has been frustratingly inconsistent. There are moments where they look like the team that almost made the conference finals last season, and then there are moments where they look like the 10th seed team they are. With last night's loss to Denver they're at five straight losses. Things are not good in Washington.