With less than ten games left in the regular season and teams clinching playoff spots, it’s time to look at how the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament might turn out. At the moment of this writing, the current standings are as follows
- 5. Chicago Bulls (44-32)
- 6. Toronto Raptors (44-32)
- 7. Cleveland Cavaliers (42-34)
- 8. Brooklyn Nets (40-36)
- 9. Charlotte Hornets (40-37)
- 10. Atlanta Hawks (39-37)
The Chicago Bulls had a hot start to the season, surpassing expectations quickly. DeMar DeRozan was balling like an MVP candidate, and Zach LaVine picked up where he left off last season. But a bad bite from the injury bug hit them at a tough time. The Bulls also haven’t played well against contending teams this season. This raised some questions as to how good they can be in the postseason. Now they are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference and a couple of bad losses away from competing in the Play-In Tournament.
The Toronto Raptors have found a spark, going 11-7 since the All-Star break. In that stretch, the Raptors beat the Brooklyn Nets twice, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Phoenix Suns, the Denver Nuggets, and most recently, the Boston Celtics. No matter how the Raptors finish their season, they are bound to give their first-round matchup a run for their money. The rest of their schedule doesn’t look too challenging for the Raptors, so they should be able to keep the sixth seed or move up to the fifth seed, depending on how the Bulls finish their season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers surprised everyone with their play to start the season. Darius Garland became the team’s first All-Star since LeBron James left Cleveland once again. Plus, the impressive play from bigs Jarrett Allen and rookie Evan Mobley has been essential to the Cavs’ success this season. The Cavs took a little bit of a dip in the standings, but nothing too detrimental to keep them from making the playoffs this season. At the moment, they would be hosting a Play-In game against the Brooklyn Nets for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
The Brooklyn Nets have had quite the season, and being in the Play-In was certainly not in the plans. The Nets went on an 11-game losing streak following Kevin Durant’s MCL sprain, moving them from first in the conference to a Play-In spot. There’s been a lot of drama surrounding the team, but most of it has been cleared up, and the Nets can really start to focus on their main goals. The best scenario for them is to either climb their way up to the seventh seed or have Toronto stay where they’re at in the standings. Either case gives them the chance to have Kyrie Irving play in the Play-In Tournament, which ultimately increases their chances to win.
The Charlotte Hornets have been fun to watch this season. This young squad is full of talent and has loads of potential. They can light it up at any time, but they’re still a year away from making some noise in the playoffs for real. Their season this year landed them right where they were last year. Something to keep in mind is that they have the tiebreaker between them and the Nets. If both teams end up with the same record, they would move up a spot and have to play the seventh seed instead of the tenth seed. This team has what it takes to make it out of the Play-In Tournament but is likely to see a first-round exit if they do. Their matchup against the Atlanta Hawks should be fun to watch.
The Atlanta Hawks are seeing an opposite outcome this season from the one before. Dealing with injuries and inconsistency, they went from fifth place in the East last season to potentially finishing in tenth this season. But in a one-game Play-In, the Hawks have the ability to come out on top. All-Star Guard Trae Young could just catch fire that night, and the Hornets might not have an answer for it. Or this could very well be the last game of their season. They are more than enough games ahead of the New York Knicks in the standings to secure a spot in the Play-In Tournament.
The Play-In Tournament should be entertaining again this year as we have some good teams competing for a spot in this year’s playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see which teams make it past the Play-In and into the first round and beyond that. Maybe one of them can have a shot at the NBA Championship if things go their way.