The 2014-15 NBA regular season heads into its final day and the playoff picture is still not totally complete.
With this year’s playoff race one of the tightest in recent history, there are still a few teams at the bottom of both conferences fighting to get into the postseason. There are also teams who’ve already secured playoff berths, but they’re still trying to maneuver themselves into a better position. Due to all the different moving parts, it’s easy to miss out on some of the possible scenarios that may arise. But that doesn’t necessarily mean things have to be complicated.
Despite all that’s been happening in the National Basketball Association, we’ve been paying close attention, and are here to lend a helping hand. As we near the finish line of the 2014-15 regular season, here’s your updated Cheat Sheet to the NBA playoff picture.
The Atlanta Hawks have already clinched the top spot in the East. Their team-first brand of basketball with constant ball movement, makes them difficult to defeat. Coach Mike Budenholzer has shaped the Hawks into a true championship contender. And with just five home losses on the year, Atlanta will certainly benefit from home-court advantage come playoff time. However, they are 5-5 in their last 10 games, and this could work out favorably for any team that plays them in the early rounds. Which teams could face the Hawks in the first round? That part’s a little hazy. For, in the Eastern Conference, it’s the bottom of the group where things begin to get a bit messy.
Seven playoffs spots have now been clinched in the East Conference. While the Boston Celtics were once looking at the eighth seed, over the final week they have managed to play their way into the No. 7 spot and a date with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Milwaukee Bucks are firmly secure in the sixth position, but it’s the final spot that it still up for grabs. The Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets are no longer in contention for the eighth seed, and it’s going to come down to the Indiana Pacers and the Brooklyn Nets. At present, the Pacers sit at No. 8, with a 38-43 record. They are up one game on the Brooklyn Nets. If Indiana wins on Wednesday at Memphis, or a Brooklyn loses to Orlando, then the Pacers will grab the last spot. While it’s always nice to make it to the postseason, things will still be difficult for those lower seeds.
The Cleveland Cavaliers struggled at the beginning of the season. But since the All-Star break, they’ve found their groove and are strongly positioned to secure that second seed in the East. If LeBron James and Kyrie Irving maintain their high level of play, and the supporting cast continues to consistently contribute, the Cavs stand a good chance to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. The Chicago Bulls, who have struggled with injuries for much of the year, will look to make a statement come playoff time. They currently sit in third position, but are only a game up on the Toronto Raptors. The Washington Wizards looked to be a threat for the three seed, but they’ll finish the year in the fifth spot. If the Bulls win, then they’ll remain at No. 3. However, if the Raptors defeat Charlotte and the Bulls lose at home to the Atlanta Hawks, then Toronto will finish in the third position.
Chicago center Joakim Noah is convinced that the Bulls can defeat the Cavaliers in a playoff series. It’s good to be confident, especially in the playoffs. But we feel like the Eastern Conference is going to be a two-horse race between the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Things may get a little more competitive in the Western Conference.
The Golden State Warriors are the team to beat in the Western Conference. Coached by Steve Kerr and led by the Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, if they’re firing on all cylinders, then there isn’t another team in the NBA that can keep up with them. Once you remove the Dubs from the equation, then things become a bit complicated out West.
At present, there are three teams in contention for the second spot. The Los Angeles Clippers will finish at No.2 if both the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs lose. However, if either of the teams win, then the Clippers will have to settle for the third seed. With a late season surge, the Spurs are primed to finish in second place out West. But there multiple scenarios where they can finish as low as sixth in the conference. With a win at New Orleans, the No. 2 spot is theirs. Yet, if both San Antonio and Houston lose their final games, then the Spurs will be No. 3. Should Memphis and the Spurs both lose, and the Rockets win, then San Antonio will drop to the fifth seed. However, they can also fall to No. 6 with a loss in their final game and a win by both the Rockets and Grizzlies.
The Houston Rockets find themselves in a similar position as the Spurs. If they beat Utah and the Spurs lose, then the Rockets wrap up the No. 2 seed. However, if the Spurs win and both the Rockets and Grizzlies lose, then Houston will be No. 5. And yet, the Rockets can drop all the way to sixth place if they lose and the Grizzlies win. Memphis can finish as high as No. 5 or as low as No. 6. If they wish to finish in the higher seed, then Memphis needs to win its last game and either the Spurs or Rockets have to drop their final contest. The bottom of the playoff picture out West is considerably less complicated than it is in the middle.
The Dallas Mavericks will finish the season in the seventh spot, but the final piece is still up for grabs. Kevin Durant may be out for the rest of the season, but Russell Westbrook has kept Oklahoma City in the playoff hunt. And yet, the Thunder are currently on the outside looking in. The New Orleans Pelicans are sitting at in the eighth position at the moment. If they beat the Spurs or the Thunder lose to Minnesota, then the Pelicans are in. However, should New Orleans lose and the Thunder win, then it will be OKC that takes the final spot out West. It will be exciting to see how it all plays out.
We would be foolish to count out the defending champion Spurs. They not only have the experience, but they’ve finally put it all together at just the right time. Still, it seems like the Golden State Warriors are just too good right now. They should be the West’s representative in the NBA Finals. Unless, of course, they end up meeting the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference finals. Then things could get interesting. We can’t wait.