As the NBA regular season nears its end, teams continue to jockey for playoff and play-in tournament positions producing some wild races heading toward the finish line. The race in the West is setting up for a photo finish over the last few days, with both playoff and play-in implications on the line. Over in the East, once you get outside the top, it’s not as exciting. Aside from the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat at six and seven, respectively, in the standings, that conference is pretty much set in place.
A single-elimination NBA playoff would change history
Looking at the teams currently occupying play-in spots, not one stands a chance should they make it through this tournament and into the playoffs. Miami, Atlanta, Toronto, and Chicago represent seeds No. 7-10 in the East. There could be some reshuffling within that group, but those teams are all locked in for at least the play-in, with the Heat still having a shot at surpassing the Nets for the sixth seed.
So, it shouldn’t be unfathomable to consider skipping the play-in this year, as none of those are likely to win a game in the first round against either Milwaukee or Boston. It doesn’t really matter the combination. The Heat and Raptors might have the best chance of stealing a game in round one but don’t bet any money on that. Between the Bucks and Celtics, they’ve spent most of the year in either first or second place in the conference.
Are we headed towards a Bucks-Celtics Finals clash?
Milwaukee and Boston seem destined to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Philadelphia being the only team capable of throwing a wrench into those plans. It would be somewhat of a shock if the Bucks and Celtics didn’t run through their first-round opponents. Boston did it last year against Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant’s Nets. But at least there was hope (in some people’s minds) going into it that Brooklyn could make noise from the play-in.
This season is very different, as nobody outside of these fan bases expects anything out of this year’s Eastern Conference play-in teams. Miami clearly hasn’t been the same team that made a run to the No. 1 seed and ECF last postseason, as they’ve struggled to stay above .500 during most of the 2022-23 campaign. The eastern conference play-in isn’t as exciting this time, especially compared to the West. Dallas is still mathematically alive in the play-in race out west with three games remaining and just a half-game back of the 10th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
Of course, this will never happen, but there should be an option to flex out an entire play-in tournament (like NFL Sunday Night Football) if the participants are deemed as having no shot at even winning a single game upon advancing to the first round. But we all know there’s too much money tied to this play-in tournament for that to ever happen. So, we’ll have to sit back and watch these lambs being led to slaughter in the Eastern Conference.
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