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The bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture is a mess

It’s pretty clear that there are five really good teams in the Eastern Conference: The Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers. Barring something crazy, those five will be the top five seeds once the postseason rolls around in April.

But how will the rest of the East playoff picture shake out?

The Milwaukee Bucks have been steady all season, and they currently hold the No. 6 spot with a record of 23-22. The Bucks have a potential All-Star in Brandon Knight, a budding star in Giannis Antetokounmpo, nice depth and a hellacious defense. It’s a shame stud rookie Jabari Parker tore his ACL earlier in the season, because he was showing promise. While nothing is guaranteed, it would be a pretty safe bet that Milwaukee will finish exactly where they are right now. The Bucks likely aren’t good enough to get into the top five, but it’s tough to see them getting passed up.

Photo Credit: FoxSports.com

Photo Credit: FoxSports.com

The seventh seed is currently held by the Miami Heat, who sit at 20-25. It feels like the Heat should be better than they are given the talent on the roster, but they have terrible point guard play and injuries have been a problem all season. Dwyane Wade has played at an All-Star level when he has been on the court, but health is always a question mark with Wade. The shooting guard has already missed 10 games this season, and he’s expected to miss more time with a strained hamstring. Josh McRoberts is out for the season with a torn meniscus, and other players have shuffled in and out of the lineup. On a positive note, D-League reclamation project Hassan Whiteside has been a monster off the bench.

The Charlotte Hornets are just a game behind the Heat and have a tenuous hold on the No. 8 seed. Kemba Walker just underwent surgery for a torn meniscus and is out a minimum of six weeks. The Hornets’ offense has been bad all year, and losing their top scorer in Walker won’t help on that front. The defense has picked up after a poor start, and Charlotte is going to really have to grind out games with Walker sidelined.

Speaking of point guard injuries, the Achilles injury to Brandon Jennings is a huge blow to the Detroit Pistons, who have lost three straight games and sit in 11th place.  Jennings and the Pistons were playing really well in the aftermath of the waiving of Josh Smith, and they looked like a surefire bet to make the postseason. But now Detroit will have to get by without Jennings, and D.J. Augustin will have to play a significant role, just like he did with the Bulls last season.

The other teams currently in the mix include the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics, who sit at the No. 9 and No. 10 spots, respectively. The Nets have really struggled of late and the Celtics have been trading away everybody, but they remain in it because nobody else wants to step up. The Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic are technically still in play as well, but nobody should expect them to make a push.

If we assume the Bucks stay put at No. 6, that leaves two spots open for a large group of mediocre/bad teams. A mostly healthy Heat team would be a good bet to nab one of those final spots, but who knows how much time Wade will miss. Injuries and generally bad rosters plague the other teams in the mix, so this really will be a wide open race to see who will have the honor of getting torched in the first round of the playoffs. At this point, it looks like the final two spots will be held by teams well below .500.

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