The Eastern Conference playoffs are getting closer by the minute and the races are really starting to heat up. Somehow the standings have hardly changed at all even with Cleveland unable to stay out of their own way, but it's looking like this is gonna go down to the bottom with interesting storylines in each tier. Matchups are gonna start being a bigger deal, especially in the middle, and it'll be interesting to see who finishes the year resting and who floors it the whole way through.
52-22, 0GB, key games: @ATL, CHA
The Cleveland Cavaliers can't stay out of their own way. It feels like a miracle that Toronto fell off when they did allowing the Cavs to keep their spot at the top of the conference. Their loss to the Brooklyn Nets was embarrassing especially with how well LeBron James played, and then they followed that up with a major choke job on national TV against the Houston Rockets. Sure, LeBron wasn't playing in that one but at what point is this team going to look like the title contender they consider themselves to be? With games against potential second round opponents like Charlotte and Atlanta this week they have a chance to make a statement. What they'll probably do is crush those two and crap out a loss to Brooklyn again.
49-24, 2.5GB, key games: ATL, @SAS, CHA
Toronto had a great chance to steal the one spot from Cleveland, but losses to the Houston Rockets and Boston might have ended up costing them. They still have a chance at it, but their upcoming schedule isn't the easiest with a short road trip and a handful of games against playoff teams. The Raptors at this point might want to consider locking up the two seed and getting some rest for the playoffs. Their upcoming games against Atlanta and Charlotte will be a nice way for the two sides to feel each other out before a potential second round matchup.
45-30, 7.5GB, key games: @TOR, CLE
The Hawks are incredibly dangerous entering the playoffs right now. They absolutely destroyed March and are currently running behind one of the NBA's best defenses. The best part for them is they're completely under the radar because of last year's playoff performance. They have a chance to go into the playoffs this year surrounded by fire and turn their first round opponent into burnt crisps. After that they get either a vulnerable Cleveland team or likely a Toronto team that we know is good, but we're not quite sure how good. Lucky for the Hawks, they get a chance to feel out those two teams in the upcoming schedule. However, this tough schedule to finish out could prove to bite them with how close the middle of the pack is right now.
43-30, 8.5GB, key games: @POR, DET
Tied in the loss column with Atlanta, the Heat find themselves in a pretty good spot right now. They're winning the games they should and the losses can be explained away pretty easily. They look really good despite all the questions surrounding their identity. A west coast road trip is coming up, and even though it's against not great teams, those are never easy. If the Heat can continue taking care of business they should have the three or fourth spot locked up thanks to tiebreakers. Only real question about them is can they contend with the big boys up at the top of the conference.
43-31, 9.0GB, key games: @POR, @GS
The Celtics managed to correct the course after a stretch of bad play, but the damage has already been done with Miami and Atlanta overtaking them. They're tied for the five spot with Charlotte right now which they only have because of a tiebreaker. It might not get much better for them with a road trip out west including a game against a historically minded Golden State Warriors team. They're also in a rough situation right now due to matchups. Keep the five spot and play a Miami team that is good, but beatable and end up in the same bracket as Clevleand. Get the six spot, which is the easier bracket, but then they have to play a red hot Atlanta team in the first round. Pick your poison Boston.
43-31, 9.0GB, key games: @CLE, @TOR
The Hornets continue their great play of basketball as they finished out a pathetically easy March. They pounded on every easy team they faced and managed to get some big wins to make up for the bad ones. Now they had into April with a chance to make some noise against the top of the conference. They've always given Toronto trouble and it will be nice to see if that holds, and with Cleveland playing so bad this is a great chance for Charlotte to send a message. However, like Boston they're in the same situation right now of having to pick the route with LeBron James on it or the one with Atlanta in the first round. They don't own many tiebreakers so if the Hornets want to move up they're going to need to keep winning games and hope for some luck.
40-35, 12.5GB, key games: @CHI, @MIA
Never count out a Stan Van Gundy team even when the schedule is brutal. The Pistons have managed to take the early part of their tough schedule well and win some big games over the Hornets and resting Oklahoma City Thunder. Ever since the Tobias Harris trade this team has just looked better and more consistent. Van Gundy has them playing great and it's unlikely they miss the playoffs at this point. They still have to finish out the latter half of their tough schedule with games against a desperate Chicago team and a good Miami one, but Detroit has shown they can win against anybody at this point.
39-35, 13GB, key games: ORL, @NY
The loss to Chicago wasn't great, but the one to Brooklyn was even worse. Indiana still has a pretty good lead over the teams chasing them but they can't lose too many more games like that. They've already fallen to eight, and while they're tied with Detroit in the loss column, it's not going to be easy to grab that seven spot back. The Pacers have winnable games against Orlando and New York coming up. They have to win those if they want to get seven back.
37-37, 15GB, key games: Everything
The Bulls should be dead in the water right now. They lost four straight, including an embarrassment in Orlando, and were mentally eliminated from the playoffs by everybody. The only thing keeping Chicago alive right now is a Jimmy Butler game winner against Indiana last night. Even then, they're barely alive sitting at .500 with better teams in front of them. The Bulls are playing far too bad to consider them a playoff threat anymore. They might still be "in it" but nobody actually thinks they are.
36-38, 16GB, key games: Everything
The Wizards had a slim chance at the playoffs and were doing a solid job of making a run, but they've just lost too many bad games at this point to consider them a real threat for the playoffs. They lost to Minnesota last week when they were at a point that they couldn't afford anymore bad losses, because good teams like the Warriors were going to beat them. After last night's loss to Golden State I think it's safe to say that they're alive, but there's too much ground to make up.