NBA Playoff Picture 2017: Predicting Final Bracket Entering Season’s Final Week

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PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 8: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers is seen during the game against the Utah Jazz on April 8, 2017 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

Sam Forencich/Getty Images

Maurice MotonFeatured ColumnistApril 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 Damian Lillard 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
NBA Predictions

 

Indiana Pacers Ride Win Streak into Playoffs

On Saturday, the Indiana Pacers won their third consecutive game by a double-digit margin:

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:

Similar to Lillard, forward Paul George 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:

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:

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 Russell Westbrook and James Harden 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:

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. 



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