Final Countdown: NBA Eastern Conference Playoff and Play-in Race Guide for the Last Two Weeks of the Season

The race for the NBA Eastern Conference playoff seedings is reaching its final stages. While the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics have all secured their positions, the final qualification spot is still up for grabs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks have also claimed playoff positions, but the No 6 seed – the final qualification spot – is still there for the taking.

Outside of the top six, those between seventh-10th will compete in a play-in tournament for the final two places in the post-season.

If two teams finish with the same record, their position will be determined by a tiebreaker, the first of which is the head-to-head record between the sides.

So, how will it all look when the dust settles?

Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn Nets' Mikal Bridges.
Image: Brooklyn Nets’ Mikal Bridges

Current position: 6th

Season win/loss record: 43-35

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The good times keep rolling on for Mikal Bridges, but the rest of his team-mates have not caught on yet.

While the 26-year-old averaged a sizzling 28 points per game in March, the Nets failed to follow suit, winning just one of their last seven games.

The most recent meltdown against the Cavaliers on Thursday made it evident that Jacque Vaughn has work to do in redeveloping and bolstering his roster.

Can they make it across the playoff line with the bits that work at the moment? Their 129-100 victory over the Miami Heat went a long way to making it happen; they have the tiebreaker in their hands now with the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA.

They face the Minnesota Timberwolves next – a game that has permutations for all the competing teams – before playing against the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, and Philadelphia 76ers.

Remaining fixtures: Timberwolves (H) – April 5, Pistons (A) – April 6, Magic (H) – April 8, 76ers (H) – April 9

Miami Heat

Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro looks to the net while defended by Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher.
Image: Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro looks to the net while defended by Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher

Current position: 7th

Season win/loss record: 41-37

The Heat have had a turbulent season, and it is finally catching up with them.

They have managed to balance being wildly inconsistent with having one of the best team records in the league. But when they do not have their preferred starting five on the court, things go south.

That much was apparent in last Tuesday’s defeat to the Toronto Raptors. With no Jimmy Butler to headline the offence, they slumped to a 106-92 defeat. They could not even pick up a win against the freefalling Nets.

If they can make it to the play-ins, they will need a capable secondary unit that allows players like Butler, Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo to take game breaks. Better still, they will need to find some form of stability.

It does not get any easier for them to do that this week. They face the Philadelphia 76ers before clashing with the Washington Wizards in a mammoth match-up.

Remaining fixtures: Pistons (A) – April 4 , April 6, 76ers (A) – April 7, Wizards (A) – April 8, Magic (H) – April 9

Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young looks to pass between Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks and guard Tyus Jones.
Image: Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young looks to pass between Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks and guard Tyus Jones

Current position: 8th

Season win/loss record: 39-39

Here is an odd stat: the Hawks have been within a game of .500 for the last 30 games. Through coaching changes, player spats and various trade debacles, they have stuck to that line.

That level of devotion to consistency is admirable, especially while Dejounte Murray is still around to keep things ticking over on the offensive.

Keeping him around in Atlanta while rival teams tried their best to prise him away in February’s trade window was monumental then – and will be the case moving forward.

Thy will need him in fiery form as they look to put some distance between themselves and the Raptors in eighth place and chase Miami into seventh place.

Big wins against the Wizards and the 76ers this week will go a long way in cementing that.

Remaining fixtures: Bulls (A) – April 4, Wizards (H) – April 5, 76ers (H) – April 7, Celtics (A) – April 9

Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors forward Precious Achiuwa dunks against the Miami Heat.
Image: Toronto Raptors forward Precious Achiuwa dunks against the Miami Heat

Current position: 9th

Season win/loss record: 39-39

Toronto’s victory over shorthanded Miami last Tuesday allowed the Raptors to match the Hawks’ win/loss record and continue to challenge for eighth place in the standings. More detrimentally, it also means they handed them the series.

The fact there may only be one win that separates seventh and ninth makes things all the more heated; any of the games in the final 10 days of the season could cause a swing in the pendulum.

Nick Nurse’s side will dig deep to prove it should be them. Their next four games are against tricky opposition. They face the Charlotte Hornets before gearing up for three big games against the Celtics and the Bucks.

Whether or not the top two seeds rest their stars could be the difference between a comfortable and rocky ride to the play-ins.

Remaining fixtures: Hornets (A) – April 5, Celtics (A) – April 6, Celtics (A) – April 8, Bucks (H) – April 9

Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine smiles after scoring against the Los Angeles Clippers
Image: Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine smiles after scoring against the Los Angeles Clippers

Current position: 10th

Season win/loss record: 38-40

There is no doubt in Chicago that the Bulls will make the play-ins as the 10th seed in in the East.

Can they go one further? They only trail Atlanta and Toronto in eighth by one game, and they have the return of Alex Caruso to help fortify their defence.

The Bulls can put their renewed backcourt to the test this week against the Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks – teams that have not looked the most cohesive in the final stretch of the season and could be susceptible to giving away points and big wins.

Remaining fixtures: Hawks (H) – April 5, Bucks (A) – April 6, Mavericks (A) – April 8, Pistons (H) – April 9

Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma.
Image: Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma

Current position: 11th

Season win/loss record: 34-44

The Wizards have shut down Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma for the rest of the season, which can only mean one thing: they will be the team to miss out on the postseason action this year.

Anyone who has had one ear to Kuzma’s dialogue will have known it for months. He will be a free agent in the summer and although the franchise have mentioned contract extensions, he will likely be on the first plane out of Washington.

What that means for Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and other members of the core is still up in the air. The Wizards need to add depth to their roster and should look to keep as many members of the existing team as possible.

The collective focus should now be on the trade lottery and what next season might look like for the franchise.

Remaining fixtures: Bucks (H) – April 5, Hawks (A) – April 6, Heat (H) – April 8, Rockets (H) – April 9

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