In the Eastern Conference, the unspoken truth among all teams not hailing from Miami is that nobody wants to finish 4th or 5th because of the looming threat of Miami in the second round. Makes you think about the playoff structure itself. In the playoffs, when match-ups become critically important, choosing your opponent might be equally important to home court advantage.
Eastern Conference Playoff Outlook
Imagine that the first round works exactly as it currently does: 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6, 4 vs 5. But consider a wrinkle to the way the second round works. Where there are four teams left in each conference, the new wrinkle would give the choice of opponent to the team's with the highest two remaining seeds in each conference. Assuming the top seeds win in the first round, this would mean that they would be able to choose their opponent in Round 2. If Miami and Oklahoma City had to choose whether or not to face the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th seed (depending on which two teams advanced), that would avoid the playoff maneuvering that often happens in the last two or three weeks of the season. It would take away some of the anticipation of those championship teams likely paths to the Finals, but it would add a level of mystery to the second round, and would also add underlying drama. Imagine this scenario, to end the regular season: The seeds (with games behind) look like this:
The Likely Division Winners
LeBron. Hats off. Incredible season. Making his mark. Loving the 4-spot.
2. New York (7.5)
After tonight’s TNT bout with OKC and a home date with Utah, the Knicks are about to embark on a difficult road trip, similar to Boston’s recent Western swing, where they face Golden State, Denver, Portland, the Clippers and Utah, over the span of eight days. These next seven games may cut that 5 game cushion in half. Remember, the Celtics play New York two more times at the end of March. If Kidd and Smith can regain that early season touch/swagger, and Felton and Anthony can show the defensive prowess and play-making they had in the first half, the Knicks will survive this stretch. If not, things could get very interesting in the Atlantic.
3. Indiana (8)
Paul George has as much upside as any player in the NBA, but he’s still learning. Last night’s loss to Boston was an example of what happens when a team doesn’t have a pure point guard or a pure 4th-Quarter finisher. Indiana is very dangerous, but still flawed offensively.
The middle bunch
4. Boston (12.5)
5. Atlanta (11)
6. Brooklyn (11.5)
7. Chicago (12)
The log-jam between the 4th and 7th seeds is very much uncertain. Doc Rivers has made it clear that he’s going to rest Garnett and Pierce until the playoffs, which might keep the Celtics from winning a game or two, but the invigorated bench play of Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Terry might keep those losses from happening.
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Thanks for reading and Go Celtics!