Four teams - the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards, have been head and shoulders above the rest in the East this season, setting up a tense final few days for everyone else in playoff contention. The Milwaukee Bucks look like a shoo-in, but the Atlanta Hawks have begun to nosedive over the past few weeks and face three difficult games before meeting fellow hopefuls Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers.
The Chicago Bulls are in decent enough form to get over the line, especially as none of their remaining fixtures are against teams in the playoff hunt. The Miami Heat are in danger of surrendering eighth place after losing their way since Dion Waiters’ injury last month, and they have three straight away games before they finish the regular season with a couple of tough home matches against Cleveland and Washington. The Indiana Pacers would be in the best position to capitalise, especially with two home fixtures up next, but they have also hit a dip at just the wrong time and lost four in a row. The defeats have all been very narrow, though, and if they can get back on track quickly, the final-day clash with Atlanta Hawks could be a showdown for a playoff spot.
- Top Tip: Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers to reach playoffs
Seven of the playoff spots had already been confirmed with one week of the regular season still to play, whilst five teams are now eliminated from contention and just three are left to battle it out for the one final place in the postseason. The New Orleans Pelicans’ hopes are only hanging by a thread and they are dependent on Portland Trail Blazers choking, but the Denver Nuggets still have an excellent chance of edging into the playoffs.
The Nuggets still have to face both New Orleans and playoff-bound Oklahoma City Thunder twice, and only two of their final six matches are at home. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Portland have the better head-to-head record and would go forward in the event of a tie. The Trail Blazers have run into form at just the right time, winning six in a row prior to their one-point defeat by Minnesota Timberwolves. Damian Lillard has come very much to the fore, averaging 29 points a game over the last month, and even though Portland face the prospect of a series against Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs, they have momentum on their side.
- Top Tip: Portland Trail Blazers to make playoffs