The Eastern Conference playoffs are looking more interesting every day. The Cleveland Cavaliers are shrouded in drama and doubt with the Toronto Raptors hot on their tale. At the bottom, the Detroit Pistons cling to the eight spot for dear life while the Chicago Bulls push them. Meanwhile, the middle of the pack changes on an almost daily basis at this point. All four of these teams look evenly matched with the season nearing it's conclusion, and any one of them of them could end up facing each other in a first round match up.
51-20, 0GB, key games: Themselves
The Cavs might be the current hot topic when it comes to drama in the NBA, but they're still in first place and they were the first team in the conference to hit 50 wins. Their upcoming schedule is laughably easy and the only thing that should stop them from going on a tear of wins is themselves. At this point the only questions surrounding them that relate to this season are can they actually flip the switch when the playoffs arrive, will they hold on to the one seed, and is LeBron James a robot that goes through his day with modes? Playoff mode. Chill mode. Grocery shopping mode.
48-22, 2.5GB, key games: OKC, ATL
The Raptors are right on the Cavs heels. If they can just keep on winning games while Cleveland sleep walks through the rest of the year they might be able to grab the one seed. They lost a tough one to Boston, but they had to lose a game eventually. Unfortunately for Toronto, their schedule is about to get really tough with games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Atlanta Hawks coming up. If they want to stay within ear shot of Cleveland then they'll have to win at least one of those.
42-30, 9.5GB, key games: @DET, @CHI, @TOR
The Hawks are on fire right now. They've only lost twice in March and their defense is currently top five in the NBA. It's been an inconsistent year for them, but like Charlotte, they're hitting their stride at the perfect time with a chance to create some distance between them and the pack. Their upcoming games are all against potential Eastern playoff teams and wins over them would be huge. Especially that game on the road in Toronto. Atlanta has control over their own destiny right now as far as seeding goes and the best way to keep that is by winning games.
42-30, 9.5GB, key games: @LAC, @POR, @GS
The Celtics were in a pretty good situation for much of the season but they've hit a rough patch at a really bad time. Most of their losses have come to fairly good teams like Toronto and Indiana, but they really needed to win some of those games as everybody around them is starting to warm up. Making things worse for Boston is they're about to go on a trip out West in the middle of this funk, and with Jae Crowder fighting injuries we could see a fall from grace take place with the Celtics.
41-30, 10GB, key games: ORL
The Heat might not be as hot as some of the teams around them, but they're certainly just as dangerous. Things have started clicking for them ever since Hassan Whiteside started coming off the bench, and Luol Deng started playing small ball at the four spot. Joe Johnson is making over 50 percent of his 3-pointers, and they just smacked the heck out of Cleveland in Miami. The Heat have to be feeling pretty good about themselves as an easy patch in their schedule comes up. However, it's hard to see them as a true contender unless Chris Bosh makes a return to the roster.
41-30, 10GB, key games: @DET
Bad loss to Denver aside, the Hornets are still shooting red hot flames out of their hands when they walk on to a basketball court. They're coming off huge wins over the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. Their schedule continues to ease up on them with two games against the Philadelphia 76ers coming up to finish out the month. Their biggest challenge will be a Detroit team fighting really hard to stay in the playoff race, but the Hornets have shown that they should win those games. The losses they did have this month weren't great, but everybody not named Golden State has to lose at some point. The only real problem for Charlotte right now is that they don't have a tiebreaker over Miami due to a worse record in the division. They're gonna have to avoid ties if they want the highest possible seed they can get.
37-33, 13.5GB, key games: HOU, CHI
The chances at moving up any higher than seven are starting to slip away for Indiana. They've played good basketball and have gotten some solid wins, but they just have too much ground to make up in not enough time. Their goal right now should be to maintain seven and hope that they can give Toronto or Cleveland a rough time in the first round. They can do some work on holding on to that seven spot this week when Chicago comes to town.
38-34, 13.5GB, key games: Everything
The Pistons had fallen out of the playoffs for a little while, but am easy scheduled topped off with a win over the Orlando Magic followed by a Chicago loss moved them right back up to eight. Unfortunately for them that's where their luck ends. Their upcoming schedule is absolutely brutal with games vs CHA, ATL, OKC, and DAL before they have to hit the road play Chicago and Miami. That Bulls game is going to be a must win, because they could very likely have lost three or four games at that point.
36-34, 14.5GB, key games: ATL, @IND
The Bulls just fell out of the eight spot, but with Detroit getting ready to face off a ninja warrior course this is a great chance to move back up. They have a chance at redemption against the New York Knicks tonight, but they should really be circling in on that game at Indiana. If Detroit does fall out then Chicago might be able to make a play for the seven seed, and of the top two seeds the team they'll want is Toronto. The Bulls have given the Raptors fits all season for no explainable reason, and that mental edge might be just what they need to pull off an upset.
35-36, 16GB, key games: MIN, @LAL, @GS
Props to the Wizards for keeping themselves relevant in the playoff race. They're still a game below .500 and are in need of some luck, but they've won enough games at this point to where they have be considered at least a threat to sneak into the eight seed. However, they have to go out West on a road trip and while they're mainly playing lottery teams, plus Golden State, those trips are difficult no matter the opponent. Either way, they have to win if they're going to stay relevant in the playoff race.