Sam Forencich/Getty Images
April 9, 2017
The Eastern Conference playoff picture boils down to three teams vying for two playoff spots. It’s a two-team race for the No. 8 seed in the West.
In crunch time, star players deliver and mediocre teams fall behind. On Saturday, Portland Trail Blazers guard scored 59 points in a 101-86 victory over the Utah Jazz. His performance set a career high and franchise record in points scored in a single game. The Blazers have a 1.5-game lead over the Denver Nuggets in the standings.
With two home games left, will Portland hold onto the No. 8 seed for a first-round matchup with the Golden State Warriors?
What are the final projections for playoff brackets in both conferences?
|NBA Playoff Picture Predictions|
|Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)||Bulls, 4-0|
|Boston Celtics (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)||Celtics, 3-0|
|Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)||Raptors, 3-1|
|Washington Wizards (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)||Wizards, 3-1|
|Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (8)||Warriors, 4-0|
|San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)||Tied 2-2|
|Houston Rockets (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)||Rockets, 3-1|
|Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)||Clippers, 3-1|
Indiana Pacers Ride Win Streak into Playoffs
On Saturday, the Indiana Pacers won their third consecutive game by a double-digit margin:
The BEST of Paul George’s 37 point performance as @Pacers win 3rd straight! https://t.co/dPPKKSLiJX
Since losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in double overtime on April 2, the Pacers beat two playoff teams and won a road game. Earlier in the week, Nate McMillan’s group sat on the outside looking in, now they’re in the driver’s seat for the No. 7 spot:
Indiana Pacers @Pacers
Now in 7th, the #Pacers need two more wins and/or Miami losses to secure a spot in the postseason. https://t.co/VF0Dqyt49a https://t.co/UgkwQQ8GPY
Similar to Lillard, forward put the team on his back en route to a victory. However, we shouldn’t ignore swingman Lance Stephenson’s contributions off the bench. He celebrated with an interesting dance after a big shot:
NBA SKITS @NBA_Skits
Lance Stephenson with the step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer! 🔥
At one point, the Pacers looked disjointed and on the verge of crumbling. Now, they’re playing with swagger and an extra lift from the backups. Many expected this team to secure a higher playoff seed, but they should sneak into the postseason with a strong showing down the stretch.
Soft Schedule Helps Chicago Bulls
Unlike Indiana, the Chicago Bulls don’t look overly impressive. They’ve lost two of their last three games against poor New York basketball teams. However, the remaining schedules between the Bulls and Miami Heat favor the former.
Chicago will play its last two contests at home. On Monday, the Orlando Magic, who’ve lost six of their last seven contests, come to the United Center with the offseason in mind. The defense has been non-existent, allowing 119.2 points per game in April.
The Bulls should be able to beat a lifeless Magic team and avenge their loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. The Miami Heat, Chicago’s competition for the No. 8 seed, finish with two home games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards.
The Heat notched another tally in the win column with a victory over the Wizards on Saturday. The Cavaliers just lost to the Atlanta Hawks’ B-team on Friday:
Georgia Sports Now @GASportsNow
WOW. Even though all 5 starters were out for tonights game, the Atlanta Hawks have defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, 114-100. #TrueToAtlanta
Miami could win out, but it’s an irrelevant accomplishment if the Bulls win their last two contests.
The Blazers Claim the No. 8 Spot
Lillard came up huge against the Jazz. We often forget what he can do on the court with and dominating headlines with triple-doubles.
After setting a personal and franchise single-game scoring record against the top-ranked team in points allowed per game, Lillard seems primed to carry his club to its fourth consecutive postseason.
The Blazers’ win total has dropped in each year since the 2013-14 season. After a slow start prior to the All-Star break, Portland boasts a 16-5 record between March and April. They’ll play against the San Antonio Spurs, who are locked into the No. 2 spot and a New Orleans Pelicans team out of the playoff race.
The Nuggets remain in contention for the eighth seed, but they’ll square off against the Oklahoma City Thunder in two of their last three games. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, Westbrook spent extra time on the Phoenix Suns’ practice court after a poor shooting performance (6-of-25) and a tough loss:
Ramona Shelburne @ramonashelburne
Westbrook is now out on the Suns practice court getting shots up. Literally went straight there after Thunder had a quick postgame chat
Denver may run into a triple-double buzzsaw on Sunday and Wednesday, which doesn’t bode well for its playoff chances even if the Blazers drop their last two games.