With just over a hand full of games left in the 2018-2019 NBA regular season, teams are making their final push to capture (or keep) their playoff positions. In the Western Conference, the top 8 are all but decided (seed shifting aside) as the 9th ranked Sacramento Kings are 6.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs who hold the 8th slot. The Eastern Conference is another story altogether with a total of 5 teams within arms reach of a playoff appearance.
During the 82-game regular season, it’s easy to brush off losses since there are just so many games to play. However, the playoff race often comes down to just 1 a game when it’s all said and done. For example, two years in a row before this season the Denver Nuggets missed out on the playoffs by 1 game. As dramatic as it may sound, every game, every quarter, every minute and every possession counts.
The picture below shows the current Eastern Conference standings. The Milwaukee Bucks have maintained first place all season long, and they should be able to hold that lead into the post-season. Second through fifth place is also fairly decided at this point with several games separating each team’s position with the one exception of the Boston Celtics. With a couple of wins, Boston could move up into fourth place ahead of the Indiana Pacers, but it’s unlikely they’ll pass up the Philadelphia 76ers who are 4.5 games up.
From sixth to tenth place, there are only 3.5 games separating the spread of teams, and with just a couple of weeks left, there could be some major shifts taking place. The Brooklyn Nets are trending upward with 2 wins in a row whereas the Detroit Pistons have dropped their last 2 going only 5-5 in the last 10. The Miami Heat are 7-3 in their last 10 with the Orlando Magic hot on their trail just one game out of 8th place, but the Heat has back to back games against the Celtics at the beginning of April that could prove tough to beat.
Orlando is working on a 4 game winning streak of their own, and with 9 games left in their schedule, they have some very winnable games against teams like the Knicks, but also some tough competition against teams like the Charlotte Hornets, and the Heat who are looking to beat them out for the 8th slot. The Hornets are only two games out of 8th place, but they only have 6 games left in their schedule. Unfortunately, Charlotte has several contests against tough Western Conference teams like the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Utah Jazz so their remaining schedule may be stacked against them.
My prediction is that the Pistons will fall below the playoff line given that they only have 6 games remaining with 3 of those games on the road. Their road record is 14-23, and if that’s not tough enough, they’re taking on teams like the Nuggets, Pacers, and Thunder while traveling in their final games. The Heat and the Magic will use their last ten games to lock in on making the playoffs and surpass the streaky Pistons.
Overall, I expect the Heat to capture the 7th position followed by the Magic at 8.
I’m looking forward to see who finishes strong in the East this year. With LeBron James‘ departure from the Eastern Conference, the throne is up for grabs. Right now, it looks as though Giannis Antetokounmpo has assumed the crown, but I expect that to be a developing story for seasons to come.