The Eastern Conference Playoff Race: Who’s in and Who’s Out?

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Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat gets the ball during the Toronto Raptors vs Miami Heat NBA regular season game at Scotiabank Arena on November 25, 2018, in Toronto, Canada (Toronto Raptors win 125-115) (Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

While most of the top seeds in the eastern conference playoff race have been all but decided, the bottom of the conference is very tight. Just three games separate the six seed from the nine seed. These four teams are the Detroit Pistons, the Brooklyn Nets, the Miami Heat, and the Orlando Magic. All of these teams have a case to make the playoffs but some are stronger than others. With the way some of these teams have been playing, there may even be an upset, or at the very least, a seven-game series.

The Eastern Conference Playoff Race: Who’s in and Who’s Out?

Detroit Pistons

Why They Will Get In

With the season coming to an end, teams need their star players to step up their game. Luckily for the Pistons, they have arguably the best player amongst these teams. They also may be the only team with two legitimate stars. Blake Griffin is averaging 24.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game this season. Andre Drummond is averaging 17.4 points and 15.5 rebounds per game. His 15.5 rebounds per game currently lead the league. The Pistons are currently in sixth place in the eastern conference, 0.5 games ahead of the Nets and 2.5 games ahead of the team in eighth. They are also 7-3 in their last ten games in which they beat the Toronto Raptors twice and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Why They Won’t Get In

The only thing that might hinder the Pistons’ chances of making the playoffs is the fact that they recently traded Reggie Bullock to the Los Angeles Lakers for Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Bullock was third in minutes per game for the Pistons and their best shooter. However, they signed Wayne Ellington off the buyout market and are 12-5 since. The Pistons are third of the four teams in simple rating system amongst these teams. Simple rating system combines a team’s average margin of victory and strength of schedule to calculate how good the team really is. This means that the Pistons may have been a little bit luckier than the other teams in this race.

Brooklyn Nets

Why They Will Get In

The Nets are currently in seventh place in the eastern conference, two games ahead of the team in eighth, and 2.5 games ahead of the team in ninth. The Nets also just got Caris LeVert back about a month ago. LeVert started off the season averaging 18.4 points per game in the first 14 games. He then got injured, and has been back for 17 games but has only been averaging 9.0 points per game on very poor efficiencies. Nevertheless, LeVert’s play should improve and he should help the Nets win some more games. Spencer Dinwiddie has also just come back from injury a few weeks ago. Since then, he has played eleven games and has averaged 18.2 points and 3.4 assists per game.

Why They Won’t Get In

Out of all the teams mentioned, the Nets rank last in simple rating system. They have had the easiest schedule amongst these teams and in the entire NBA. Their remaining schedule features just one team that aren’t currently in the playoffs: the Sacramento Kings. D’Angelo Russell has also been playing worse than usual lately. From the Nets 60th to 71st game, Russell averaged 19.8 points and 7.3 assists per game with an effective field goal percentage of 46%. Effective field goal percentage is an efficiency stat that measures three-pointers as 1.5 times the amount of a two-pointer. League average is 52%. However, in the last three games he’s played, he’s averaged 32.3 points and 11.7 assists per game with an effective field goal percentage of 59%. This likely isn’t sustainable but it is good to see him getting back on track when it matters most.

Miami Heat

Why They Will Get In

The Heat currently occupy the eighth seed and are 0.5 games ahead of the ninth-seeded Magic. Justise Winslow has been playing pretty well since the all-star break. He has been averaging 14.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 5.2 assists to only 1.9 turnovers per game. He is doing this while having an effective field goal percentage of 59%. Goran Dragic has just come back which should help the Heat a lot. Not only is Dragic a good veteran presence to have, but he has also been playing pretty well since returning. In his last eight games, he has averaged 12.9 points and 4.0 assists per game while having an effective field goal percentage of 57%. The Heat also lead these five teams in simple rating system and are the only team with a net rating that is positive. They are also 7-3 in their last ten games, having beat the Pistons, Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the San Antonio Spurs.

Why They Won’t Get In

The Heat have a relatively difficult schedule ahead of them. They play the Boston Celtics twice, the Raptors, and the Philadelphia 76ers. On top of this, the Heat don’t necessarily have a star player. While Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow have done enough to lead this team to a playoff berth so far, their lack of star power may be the cause of them not making the playoffs. The team below them, the Magic, had an all-star this year while the Heat did not. They also have two key players- Winslow and Rodney McGruder– injured currently. While they are both day-to-day, it is something worth monitoring.

Orlando Magic

Why They Will Get In

The Magic are second amongst these teams in simple rating system. Their best player, Nikola Vucevic, is one of the best players amongst these teams. He is averaging 20.7 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game this season with a 55% effective field goal percentage. Jonathan Isaac has improved his play recently. On the season, he is averaging 9.4 points and 5.4 rebounds with a 0.493 effective field goal percentage and a 31% three-point percentage on 3.3 three-point attempts per game. Since the all-star break, in fourteen games, he is averaging 10.6 points and 5.7 rebounds with a 52 effective field goal percentage and a 39% three-point percentage on 4.2 attempts per game. His improved shooting will cause teams to play him tighter on the perimeter, allowing Nikola Vucevic to do more damage down low in the paint.

Why They Won’t Get In

The Magic are 0.5 games out of the eighth seed currently. They are 6-4 in their last ten games which isn’t bad by any means, but the Heat, who are ahead of them are 7-3 in their last ten games. The Magic, like the Heat, have a difficult schedule ahead of them. In their final ten games, they play the 76ers, the Indiana Pacers, the Celtics, and the Raptors.

Is There Upset Potential?

While the Eastern Conference playoff race will be fun, it is unlikely there will be an upset. In order for there to be upset, one of the teams would have to beat either the Bucks, Raptors, or 76ers in a seven-game series. The Pistons are 1-7 against the Bucks and 76ers but are 3-0 against the Raptors. However, their average margin of victory was just 3.33 in those three games. Also, in one game, Kawhi Leonard didn’t play and in another Kyle Lowry didn’t. Still, a Pistons-Raptors matchup has the most upset potential. The Nets are just 1-4 against the Bucks and Raptors but are 2-1 against the Sixers. Furthermore, the Nets average margin of victory was 14 against them. However, one of them was before the Jimmy Butler trade and none of them have come after the Tobias Harris trade. In one of the wins, Butler didn’t play. The Heat only have one win combined in nine games against these three teams. The Magic are 1-2 against both the Bucks and the 76ers but are 2-1 against the Raptors. Their averaging margin of victory was 22 in these games. However, once again, Leonard missed one of these games and Lowry missed the other. While an upset is very unlikely, the series shouldn’t be sweeps, instead, they should be a little more competitive.

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