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Eastern Conference playoffs: Race for the final two seeds

The Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics all want to make the playoffs. Sure, being in the NBA Draft Lottery would probably be better for the long-term health of the franchises, but sports are about winning.

In the Eastern Conference, five spots have officially been clinched in the postseason while the Milwaukee Bucks have all but wrapped the sixth seed. However, the final two slots remain open with the Nets and Celtics currently holding down the seventh and eighth spots, respectively.

Brooklyn (35-41) is a half-game ahead of Boston (35-42), with Indiana (34-43) and Miami (34-43) a game behind the Celtics, and Charlotte lagging 1.5 games back (33-43). So who gets in and can anybody do any damage?

According to Vegas Insider, the best odds for any of those teams to actually win the title are for the Pacers at a robust 200/1. The Heat and Nets follow at 250/1, with the Celtics at 300/1 and the Hornets at 2000/1. In other words, don’t start reaching for your wallet unless you feel like losing some money. The best odds to simply win the East also belong to Indiana, checking in at 75/1.

Looking at the remaining schedules, this is what we see:

Brooklyn: Trail Blazers, Hawks, Wizards, @Bucks, Bulls, Magic
Boston: @Pistons, @Cavaliers, Cavaliers, Raptors, @Bucks
Indiana: @Knicks, @Pistons, Thunder, Wizards, @Grizzlies
Miami: Hornets, Bulls, Raptors, Magic, @76ers
Charlotte: @Heat, Raptors, @Hawks, @Pistons, Rockets, @Raptors

It appears the Nets have the best chance of punching a playoff ticket. First off, Brooklyn only leaves the Barclays Center once and that is for a contest against the sputtering Bucks. At home, they draw a Blazers team looking to rest a bevy of players along with the sad-sack Magic. If Brooklyn can simply go 1-2 in the other games, the Nets should be in the postseason.

The Heat have the easiest road of any team in the aforementioned group. Miami has four games at home including a pair against teams worse than it. Then, the Heat draw the insanely bad 76ers on the road to finish the season, something of a lay-up if Miami needs a victory.

The Celtics and Pacers both have challenging slates ahead. Indiana gets the Knicks and Pistons, but then has a murderous end of the campaign. The Pacers are also in the position of having to make up ground. Indiana likely has to go at least 3-2 and perhaps 4-1 to earn the eighth spot. Boston does not have an easy game left after playing Detroit, getting the Cavaliers twice along with Toronto and Milwaukee.

Charlotte is all but cooked with four road games over its final six contests, and home dates against the Raptors and Rockets. The Hornets would need nothing short of a miracle to make up 1.5 games in that stretch.

It may not be pretty basketball, but the East is sure entertaining.

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