Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> OK, so it’s Miami and Indiana. How do you see the rest of the East shaking out?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No one should want to be No. 7 or No. 8, no matter how vulnerable Miami or Indiana has looked in recent weeks. That creates some serious pressure from down under in the East bracket even if the newly invigorated Knicks do not. Six games separate Nos. 3-8, which could make for a wild finish. But I expect the current order to hold. Toronto is the best of the bunch overall, followed by the ever-overachieving Bulls. Brooklyn and Washington each might think it is better off facing the Raptors, but then, there’s that nuisance of going back and forth through customs in a long series. Charlotte is just happy to be there and Atlanta, as the sub-.500 entry, is just lucky to be there. Viva la status quo! (Oh, and the Raptors, Bulls and Bobcats have the best chance of making upset mayhem in the conference semifinals, depending on matchups.)
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Since the Knicks have won six in row, we know from past experience that things will soon turn bad. I don’t expect them to creep into the playoffs just because of Phil Jackson’s Zen magic. The Cavs are also dead. So we have the eight teams. It’s only a question of the order. I could see the Nets beating out the Wizards for No. 5. But do they want to walk into a possible 4-5 first round meeting with the meat grinder that is the Bulls? I could really look forward to a first round series between the Heat and Bobcats. Charlotte is a team that finally has a purpose and a direction and Al Jefferson could make things interesting.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Of course you have to be impressed with Toronto and the job coach Dwane Casey has done in the final year of his contract. And coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls, what more can be said about this group’s resiliency? But check out the Brooklyn Nets. Coach Jason Kidd has figured out a thing or two, not the least of which is how to stalk a sideline. The talent on this team has really shown itself since the calendar turned to 2014. Deron Williams has endured injury and struggle and is playing some of his finest ball of the season. Joe Johnson‘s been solid. Paul Pierce has seemed to finally embrace the journey. The addition of Marcus Thornton has provided a nice jolt. Put it all together and the Nets are a savvy, veteran ballclub that won’t wilt under pressure.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bulls get past the Raptors, the Nets get past the Wizards, and the Bobcats stay in the top eight. Most of all, I see the playoff group is set. The Knicks have some forward momentum so breaking in wouldn’t be the biggest surprise. But the jockeying will mostly be within, the order of the first eight. One of the subplots will be getting to at least sixth to avoid a 1-8 or 2-7 with the Heat and Pacers.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Bulls have the easiest remaining schedule (they have six more games against the Sixers, Bucks, Celtics and Magic), so they should grab the 3 seed, with Toronto, Brooklyn and Washington finishing behind them in that order. There’s very little chance that Charlotte or Atlanta budge or win more than one game in the first round. Those 3-6 and 4-5 series should be a lot of fun (even though Bulls games are the ugliest in the league) and the teams with the experience (Chicago and Brooklyn) should have the edge. But I love that we have some fresh blood in there with the Raps, Wiz and future-Hornets.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams we’ll see in mid-April are the same eight teams that are occupying those spots today. New York and Cleveland had their windows of opportunity to catch the Hawks for that eighth and final spot in the standings (the Hawks lost almost every time they hit for the floor for dang near an entire month and still had a cushion). Whatever that 3 through 8 breakdown is at the end of the this regular season is almost inconsequential to me. In fact, I joked to Lang Whitaker and Rick Fox last week on the Hang Time Podcast that we should go ahead and play the No. 3-vs-No. 6 and No. 4-vs-No. 5 series, whoever matches up in those spots, give the Pacers and Heat a first-round bye and tell the bottom two teams that we appreciate all of your hard work but there is no need in you getting your noses bloodied merely for our entertainment.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: One of the teams that is currently in the playoff picture — but only one team — will not make the postseason. I think Atlanta is due for a run, after their long losing streak, and even as well as Charlotte has played of late, my guess is they’ll hit a tailspin as we head down the stretch. Which means? That’s right, Phil Jackson’s New York Knicks will make a late push and qualify for the playoffs. They don’t have their own Draft pick anyway, so why not go all out?
Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I think it will stay as-is, meaning that the Knicks won’t make it. The eight teams that are in there should stay, it’s just going to be a question of where they’ll all finish and who will secure third and fourth position – and that hugely important home court for the first round. Charlotte and Atlanta seem to be the obvious candidates to finish in seventh and eighth, but the battle between Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Brooklyn will be intriguing. Just 2.5 games separates those four teams.
XiBin Yang, NBA China: The Bobcats really played some good games after the All-Star break. Al Jefferson has reached his summit of career, and he demonstrated that he could play some solid defense, if the coach is able to establish an effective system. Maybe they could make a leap in the last month. The schedule of Brooklyn is better. So, if the Nets continue to embarrass their opponents, maybe it’s not so far away to see them eventually seize a home-court advantage in the first round.