Beyond The Heat, East Is Still Wide Open

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Brooklyn Nets host the Chicago Bulls on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), a game that will help sort out the 4-8 seeds in the Eastern Conference.

The 4 seed, of course, comes with home-court advantage in the first round. And the 5 seed comes with an easier opponent than the 6, 7 or 8 seeds come with. But with the way the East has shaped up this season, it would be better to finish sixth or seventh than fourth or fifth.

The Miami Heat are head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference. The Indiana Pacers (2-1 against the Heat) and New York Knicks (3-1) have some confidence in their ability to give the Heat a tough series. But they also have the knowledge, as the 2 and 3 seeds (in an order still to be determined), that they won’t be seeing Miami until the conference finals.

The Nets, Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics should prefer the same path. Both the Bulls and Celtics have played Miami tough this season, but both obviously have a greater chance of making the conference finals from the other side of the bracket.

Some of these teams – namely the veteran groups in New York and Boston – are talking championship, but making the conference finals would be a good run for any East team outside of Miami…

  • New York (48-26) has won just a single playoff game (Game 4 against the Heat last year) since 2001 and hasn’t won a series since 2000. They’re the No. 2 seed, but they also have a lot of questions (especially defensively) to answer in regard to their ability to win in the postseason.
  • Indiana (48-27) is missing Danny Granger, but a trip to the conference finals would be a step forward from last year’s loss to the Heat in the conference semis. They still have a relatively young core, led by 22 year old Paul George, that will benefit from five or six weeks of playoff action.
  • Brooklyn (43-31) is making its first trip to the playoffs in six years. Its core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez is also under contract for three more seasons, so they’re not going anywhere. Like the Knicks, they haven’t played the defense you need to play to make The Finals.
  • Atlanta (42-34) is in a season of transition. Johnson is gone and Lou Williams is done for the season. Cap space is coming, and very little is expected of the Hawks in the meantime.
  • Even if Derrick Rose does somehow suit up some time this month, this has been a lost season for Chicago (40-33), which allowed several key components of the league’s best bench to walk away last summer. And even though Joakim Noah has been more than banged up, Tom Thibodeau‘s bunch has shown a ton of resilience (not that we expected anything less) this season.
  • Like Chicago, Boston (39-36) has shown a remarkable ability to success without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. But the Celtics still have a bottom-10 offense and are still a pretty bad road team. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (if healthy) will never go down easy, but the bottom line is that this is the seventh-best team in the conference.
  • Milwaukee (36-38) … nevermind.

So yeah, while there’s only one champion, a trip to the conference finals would be a pretty successful run for any of these teams. And here’s the thing: Every one of these teams (except the Bucks) has a legitimate chance to get to the conference finals … as long as they’re on the 2-3-6-7 side of the bracket.

New York, with the 16th best defense in the league, is beatable. In fact, the Bulls have beat the Knicks three times in three tries this season.

Indiana, with the 18th best offense in the league, is beatable. Both Boston and Brooklyn are 2-0 against the Pacers thus far.

East teams 2-8, head-to-head

vs. ATL vs. BOS vs. BKN vs. CHI vs. IND vs. MIL vs. NYK TOTAL
Team W L W L W L W L W L W L W L W L
Atlanta x x 1 3 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 0 0 2 9 11
Boston 3 1 x x 1 2 2 2 2 0 1 3 1 3 10 11
Brooklyn 2 2 2 1 x x 1 2 2 0 2 2 2 2 11 9
Chicago 2 1 2 2 2 1 x x 1 3 2 2 3 0 12 9
Indiana 2 2 0 2 0 2 3 1 x x 2 2 2 1 9 10
Milwaukee 0 3 3 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 x x 0 2 9 12
New York 2 0 3 1 2 2 0 3 1 2 2 0 x x 10 8

You can go through all the matchups in the table above and see who has done what against who. Or you can just focus on the final columns and realize that none of the above teams has done all that great against the rest of the group. Chicago has the best record, but they’re obviously vulnerable with an ailing Noah and a below-average offense.

That’s the thing. The Knicks are the only team of the group that has been above average on both ends of the floor. And they’re the thinnest of hairs (103.08 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 103.11) better than the league average defensively.

East teams 2-8, efficiency

Team OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Atlanta 102.7 17 101.6 10 +1.1 12
Boston 100.8 22 100.1 6 +0.7 14
Brooklyn 104.7 9 103.8 19 +0.9 13
Chicago 100.1 24 100.0 5 +0.1 15
Indiana 102.0 18 95.7 1 +6.3 4
Milwaukee 101.3 20 102.6 13 -1.3 18
New York 108.2 3 103.1 16 +5.2 7

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

So, while Indiana and New York have both played well of late and have clearly established themselves as the best of the second tier of Eastern Conference playoff teams, it wouldn’t exactly be shocking if either failed to make it out of the first round. The wrong matchup just might do the trick.

Brooklyn, meanwhile, has the inside track on the No. 4 seed, with a three-game lead in the loss column over the Hawks and a three-game lead in the win column over the Bulls, who will be shorthanded for tonight’s meeting. The Nets play five of their final eight games at home and five against Lottery teams. They’ve never shown much consistency this season, but they have beat both the Pacers and Knicks at home and on the road.

But the Nets basically got pasted three times by the Heat and wouldn’t stand much of a chance in the conference semifinals if they were to get through the first round. While they would have a decent shot at the conference finals should they finish sixth or seventh in the conference, they’ve probably played too well for their own good.

40 Comments

  1. antwan100 says:

    I think the Bulls should try to get Zach Randolph this offseason and start Jimmy Butler at SG

    2013-2014 Starting Lineup: Rose, Butler, Deng , Randolph, Noah #BullsNation

  2. Celts will be unstoppable come playoffs against anybody-nuff said!!!

  3. @ noel-no doubt about that, i def agree w/u-woulda been Celts in no more than 5-maybe even 4.

  4. heat305 says:

    MIA IN 6 AGAINT ANY TEAM.

  5. noel says:

    boston will make miami sweat.. They always do.. If jeff green was in the team last year it would have been a very different story.

  6. GreenAllDay-GreenAllTheWay!!!
    CELTICS-HORAAH-UBUNTU!!!

  7. The Truth says:

    The Celtics BEAT the Heat without Rondo. They almost beat the Heat again without Rondo AND Garnett. Last year the series goes to the game 7. As the guy said, Pierce and KG won´t go down easy.

  8. joe says:

    bullls all the way

  9. Ruffa Kate? says:

    Knicks will be the EC champs!

  10. Fundamentals > Flash says:

    I think the team to watch in the East is the Pacers. The toughness and defense that they bring will challenge any opponent, even Miami. Where they beat Miami is inside, where they are a very good rebounding team, while Miami isn’t. Don’t be too surprised to see Indiana in the Finals

  11. Jordan to Rose says:

    The Bulls will shock everyone. Just wait until Noah,Marco and Rip comeback next week,

  12. BillinFLA says:

    REALLY?? The Heat streak as they DID, and someone is going to take 4 out of 7 from them?? N O P E and I am NOT a Heat fan, Magic but OMG, Really, Heat in 5 against ANYBODY in the Finals for 2nd straight, E A S Y C A L L like KOBE gets!!

  13. maybe next year says:

    The Heat are definitely head and shoulders above the rest in the East right now. However they can definitely be challenged if a team with strong rebounding and super strict defense muscle up against them (as seen by the Bulls breaking the streak). It is however Miami’s to lose in any matchup, but like others have said they aren’t invincible by any stretch, and teams in the East have stepped up since last year. Pacers are the logical choice to challenge as they know themselves day in day out, New York is a wild card b/c if they go on a hot streak they can be unstoppable but over 7 games I just don’t see them being able to consistently pull out an A game. Hoping my team Chicago can make some noise too =) with or without Rose.

  14. Hardhat Lunchpail says:

    I see a lot of people piling on Chris simply for making an observation. Anything CAN happen. Suppose Monta Ellis or Brandon Jennings get hot from the perimeter at just the right time. Suppose the Bucks get some critical shots to fall in close games. Is it unlikely? Of course! But it’s always possible. It wouldn’t be the first time an 8 has upset a 1 and certainly not the last. That said, the Heat have about a 99% chance of winning the series. Still, pointing out the possibility that unexpected things can happen does not make one a hater.

  15. Roy says:

    I honestly think the Pacers and the Knicks can challenge Miami this year. They have both proven they can put the Heat on them (yeaa for puns lol!). They’ve both gotten a lot better since last year as well. We’ll see, the East will provide it’s moments I think.

  16. theholyspectator says:

    the way its lookin playoff picture wise heres what im seeing…

    Heat vs Bucks – Heat 4-0 / 4-1
    Nets vs Hawks – Nets 4-1/4-2

    Heat vs Nets – Heat 4-0/4-1

    Knicks vs Celtics – Knicks 4-2/4-3
    Pacers vs Bulls – Pacers 4-2/4-3

    Knicks vs Pacers – Pacers 4-3

    Heat vs Pacers – Heat 4-2/4-3

    so conclusion to sum up this lil article…heat will be goin to the finals and play against either OKC, SPURS, GRIZZ or NUGGETS and will win the series and their 2nd straight title…on to the next blog

    • Adam Speilberg says:

      ok, so there you have it. You fortune teller mate?

    • #BULLS says:

      3 of the 4 games the BULLS played the pacers, we lost because half of our roster was out during the three losses. When we got Kirk back, he ran the offense and shut down george hill- he was killing poor nate in the 3 losses. We can beat them in 6 If we are healthy and playing efficient.

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  18. DWiley says:

    CHRIS, KEEP DREAMING, NOT A CHANCE THE MILWAUKKEE BUCKS WILL UPSET THE HEAT. NOT IN THIS DAY AND AGE…….

    • Chris says:

      I fail to see how stating my lack of surprise at the idea of an organization I have little to no interest in beating the heat would count as myself dreaming. I threw it out there to make my point that NOTHING in this league would surprise me. The responses I got clearly tell me people are offended by the idea because no one said the bucks actually WOULD win and yet here people are speaking as if such was said. Was this a gross exaggeration? Yes, but my point still stands. In a league full of so many players with so much talent floating around, nothing would surprise me. Not even the big three going down and the heat still winning a championship without them would surprise me

  19. Josh D. says:

    As a Nets fan and season ticket holder, I’m warming up to the idea of the #4 seed. I’m excited to see what the Nets will do in their first playoff series in Brooklyn, having home court advantage. And watching one of the best teams in history in the 2nd round would be exciting in it’s own right, even if we stand no chance against them.

    This was never going to be a championship team, and winning a first round series will be a great accomplishment. Besides, we don’t want to do TOO well or we risk having PJ Carlesimo come back next year.

  20. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    Mark this down in the history books!!

    The LA Lakers CHEATED to try to get into the 2013 NBA PLAYOFFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    You can never rake across the shooter’s arm clearly when the shooter goes up for a shot!!

    WHY DO THE REFS blatantly call games in favor of the Lakers????

    WHY REFS WHY????

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      I knew I was right!!

      I knew the LA Lakers were CHEATING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Mister 215 says:

        So out of 82 games in the season you look at 5 games and and say that the NBA is rigged…??? What about the game in ATL when Jones clearly fouled Kobe and cost the lakers the game??? Or since you mentioned the Mavericks, why didn’t they beat the lakers on Tuesday, instead get blown out by 20!!!!! You haters crack me up…. Ya’ll jus scared of what could happen when they get in…. Also you do realize that they have not clinched a spot yet, right?? I guess the NBA will make sure they do right…. GTFOH!!!!

      • Joshua Greenfarb says:

        @Mister 215

        LAL have been cheating/rigging games like this all season long. This is just a 4-minute sample.

        For examples, they tried to cheat against the Clippers early in the season but still lost, although they got Blake Griffin unfairly fouled out. They got favorable calls in a game at OKC but still lost (how many more FTA did the Lakers get in that game?). Let’s not forget last season’s playoffs when the LAL got 40+ FTA in game 3 of the West Semifinals. The Thunder should have SWEPT the Lakers in that series were it not for that lopsided game (where the refs were ingratiated to skew calls in Laker favor for WHATEVER REASONS). I suspect the refs are getting paid extra money to rig some of these games.

        No, not every game. But the Lakers have cheated like this in quite a few games this season. Especially recently as they desperately try to get into the playoffs … although Utah currently has the 8th seed.

        Some ppl say how the Spurs may win the West instead of the Thunder. Well, with that kind of praise they will defeat the Lakers. There’s one loss. Then, the Lakers have to play Houston — another loss. Lakers lost to the Clippers (of course). Don’t know how Memphis lost to the Lakers. Hmm? Anyway, Portland will get revenge and defeat the Lakers — another loss. And the list goes on and on.

        Utah WILL GET THE 8TH SEED. Lakers should not get into the playoffs (unless they cheat). And when that happens, Dwight Howard will be so frazzled he’ll join a different team this summer. I love this game.

    • Hypocrisy of heat fans kills me says:

      and Dwayne wade smacking Rondo in the face resulting in no foul call during a critical point in last years ECF isn’t suspicious right? Trust me I believe the lakers nonsense is suspicious but when it’s the Heat that look suspicious you’re just a hater. Is there a double standard for Miami or can we just admit refs screw up all the time?

      • Adam Speilberg says:

        oh, so you’re still having nightmares about that, don’t you? You should stop watching basketball, it’s not good for you brother.

  21. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    LET’S SEE IF THIS WORKS!!

    • Big Euro says:

      ???? I am glad I am not the only one who seems to have noticed this push to get the Lakers into the playoffs.

  22. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    They just now took the video down!!

    Someone wants to hide how much the Lakers have cheated this season!!

    • Adam Speilberg says:

      The nerve… Why did they take down the video? Too bad, Batman is retired, who should we call now?

  23. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    Too bad all these East Playoff teams (except Miami) lost a game this season to the CHEATING LAKERS!!

    I think even Atlantla lost a game at LA LAKERS.

  24. standard says:

    wow i will be chocked if that comes to happen i mean come on!!

  25. Chris says:

    Boston will make Miami sweat but ultimately the Heat will come out on top. I don’t know about another championship but as much as I love the Pacers I don’t think anyone in the East will stop the Heat from making the finals, but this is a Sport, not a scripted movie. So lets not guarantee anything as if some writer has predestined the outcome of the Playoffs cause honestly considering this is reality and not a cliche sports film it wouldn’t surprise me if Milwaukee beat Heat first round, not saying it will happen but I would not be surprised.

    • cruzero says:

      how will the bucks beat the heat? and boston? you are playing miami in it’s best basketball form since the big three came together. i know basketball cannot be scripted, but you must be crazy thinking miami is not sure of a finals spot. why? because the knicks win the season series? the bulls stopped the streak? or boston almost beat them withtout rondo? sir you must watch a heat game. and you should see what i mean, please stop covering up the hate saying that this is not scripted. why? so you can say that if the heat win it is scripted. and hey, i dont think boston will make miami sweat.

      • Loki says:

        did I just say the bucks will beat Miami? No I did not. I also did not rule out the possibility where anything can happen. How will the bucks beat Miami? Stuff happens, injuries, etc. I never said it would be a legit win. I also would not call the heat winning the finals scripted, what I see is a rabid Miami fan here easily offended by anything that remotely sounds like “Miami could possibly lose a playoff series.” I really don’t give a damn if Miami wins the finals or not, my favorite players are pretty much gone from the league or on their way out the door I’m looking to watch good basketball, that’s all.

      • Adam Speilberg says:

        You dont think so cruzero? Boston ain’t gonna make Miami sweat? C’mon, this is basketball not solitaire or something. Imagine playing ball for 20+ minutes with no sweat at all? Weird… really weird.

    • DJ says:

      Good joke.

    • dziner305 says:

      …DON’T DO IT ANYMORE… JUST DROP IT…BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH!