For the longest time, the Western Conference has always received more buzz over the East, and rightfully so. Record-wise, their side is consistently home to more superior teams. It’s the “Wild, wild West,” as people would always say.
Lost in all of the attention, however, is the collective grittiness in the often overlooked conference. It’s also been amped up over the last couple of years since legit contenders have risen and other top guys originally in the West moved to the other side.
In fact, as another regular season closes, we may once again see that the East is actually the more exciting conference. Aside from the top three teams (Nets, Sixers, and Bucks) all having serious cases for a championship, the next six are also complete wild cards. They may not have a legit shot a title, but each are capable of upsets and making unexpectedly deep runs.
Here’s the current standings out East from No. 4 to No. 10. Keep in mind that all teams only have less than 14 games left. (Editor’s note, we’ll update this table again after all of the games finish on Monday in Manila time.)
|4 New York Knicks||34||27|
|5 Atlanta Hawks||33||27|
|6 Boston Celtics||32||28|
|7 Miami Heat||32||29|
|8 Charlotte Hornets||29||30|
|9 Indiana Pacers||28||31|
|10 Washington Wizards||26||33|
Quick note on how the play-in tournament works: no. 7 and no. 8 will face each other to officially earn the seventh playoff spot. The loser will then face the winner of 9 vs. 10 to determine who will have the eighth and final playoff spot.
Let’s discuss the current teams in the 4-6 spots:
Considering the lead and the amount of games remaining, we can probably expect the Knicks to stay above the dangerous play-in spots at the very least. They are playing good team basketball on both ends, and have won a current NBA-high nine-straight games – oh, and they also own the best defense in the league.
This team has seemingly unlocked a new level ever since Nate McMillian took over as head coach last March 1st. They have gone 19-7 under his tutelage and looked like a classic upstart core. However, they don’t have that much breathing room as of the moment since Trae Young (ankle) and Clint Capela (back) are both nursing injuries.
The Celtics rattled of six consecutive wins in April to jump back into the East’s top 6 spots, but it’s hard to gauge them as you just don’t know which version of themselves will show up. If they’re good, they’re really good, if they’re bad, they tend to get too experimental and self-destruct.
There’s no denying the fact that they have three bona fire 20-plus scorers, though. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker can light up any opponent at any given night.
Now let’s get into the current play-in group:
This is one of the benefits of the play-in: we’re going see less tanking at the tailend of the season. With less than a month left, each of these teams still have a chance to climb up and avoid the risk-heavy tournament. No one will be a pushover as all are equipped to suddenly go on a tear.
If there was ever an award for “Most Inconsistent Team,” the Heat will be the runaway winner. They have racked up multiple three or more winning and losing streaks since February, probably more than anyone in the league.
But, of course, let’s not forget last season. This is basically the same Heat squad that was stumbling prior to the COVID-19 hiatus, only to shockingly breeze their way into the NBA finals. Remember that their path was a first-round sweep, a 4-1 upset of the league-leading Bucks, and a 4-2 edging of the Celtics that didn’t exactly look close.
With their star rookie LaMelo Ball suffering a fractured wrist in late March, the surprising Hornets have come back to earth after months of shocking everyone. Fortunately, though, he’s not out for the season and will reportedly return soon.
Ball is a run-and-gun playmaker that instantly made the once-super boring Charlotte offense explosive and entertaining. They even led the NBA in assists and jumped to third in fastbreak points per game for some time.
The Pacers might be the least threatening team on the list, but it won’t be wise to discount the talent leading the charge. Domantas Sabonis is an all-around All-Star big man, Malcolm Brogdon is a no non-sense point guard that can score, and Caris LeVert is a solid swingman that can provide damage anywhere on the floor.
Once rotting at the bottom of the conference, the Wizards are now one of the hottest teams in the league. They have won seven in a row thanks to the deadly tandem of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, who are finally learning to play together and lead their young supporting cast.
With Beal’s all-out scoring and Westbrook’s monstrous performances, the Wizards just might be a team that can make quite the waves come play-in and playoff time.