NBA AM: Gearing Up For Playoff Stretch – East

The Eastern Conference may not be as talented as the Western Conference, from top to bottom, but the playoff race will be fun to watch unfold.

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As the 2013-14 regular season  winds down, the playoff chase has started to increase in intensity. The Eastern Conference has been dominated all season by the Indiana Pacers and Miami HEAT, but the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors have continued to gain momentum as the season has progressed.  Out in the Western Conference, things are a bit more balanced from top to bottom with six teams on pace to win at least 50 games. Think about this, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns would be playoff teams if they were in the Eastern Conference but both squads are currently on the outside looking in at the postseason.

For now, let’s take a look at the race for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference:

Eastern Conference – Playoffs Clinched

Indiana Pacers (46-17)
Current Seed: 1
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  9
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 10

The Pacers were the first team in the league to clinch a playoff berth this season, but the team is struggling down the stretch; they are losers of four straight and five out of their last 10. The trading of veteran forward Danny Granger at the deadline could be impacting their team chemistry or the team could just be hitting a lull before their real season begins.

Miami HEAT (44-17)
Current Seed: 2
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  11
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 10

Despite the Pacers leading the East for the majority of the season, Miami is only one game behind them in the standings for homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. With All-Star guard Dwyane Wade rounding into form, the battle for the number one seed will be entertaining down the stretch

Eastern Conference – Most Likely In

Toronto Raptors (35-27)
Current Seed: 3
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  6
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 14

The stars are aligning for the Raptors to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 campaign with the majority of their games remaining versus sub .500 opposition.

Chicago Bulls (35-28)
Current Seed: 4
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  8
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 11

Between former league MVP Derrick Rose’s knee injury and the trade of former All-Star Luol Deng, most had the Bulls dead in the water. However, center Joakim Noah has put the team on his back by routinely stuffing the box score on a nightly basis. The team has a legitimate shot at surpassing Toronto.

Washington Wizards (33-30)
Current Seed: 5
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  6
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 13

The decision to give dynamic point guard John Wall a max contract extension has been golden up to this point. Wall earned his first All-Star nod and has the Wizards poised for their first postseason appearance since 2008.

Brooklyn Nets (32-30)
Current Seed: 6
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  7
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 13

While the Nets won’t live up to their preseason hype, or $180 million payroll, give them credit for turning around their season after it got off to an extremely brutal start. The team is 22-9 over its last 31 contests, after starting the season 10-21.

Eastern Conference – Battling for last two spots

Charlotte Bobcats (30-34)
Current Seed: 7
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  9
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 9

The Bobcats won a total of just 28 games the last two seasons so in many ways the team’s play this year is already a success. A playoff berth would be the icing on the cake. The hiring of head coach Steve Clifford and signing of center Al Jefferson last summer has paid immediate dividends.

Atlanta Hawks (27-35)
Current Seed: 8
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  10
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 10

The Hawks’ current playoff streak stands at six, but getting number seven secured will be tough as the team continues to rebound from a rash of injuries. Elton Brand has proven he has game still left in the tank, but can the old wily veteran center hold it together heading down the stretch?

New York Knicks (25-40)
Current Seed: N/A, Ninth place
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  10
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 7

Totally disappointing season ongoing in New York, but as soon as you start counting the Knicks completely out they seemingly respond accordingly. The team is currently on a four game winning streak and are just three and a half games behind Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

Detroit Pistons (24-39)
Current Seed: N/A, Tenth place
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  10
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 9

Pistons owner Tom Gores entered the campaign with playoff aspirations. What he has received so far is another head coaching change and a free agent investment in forward Josh Smith, which hasn’t exactly panned out. Despite the struggles, Detroit remains only three and a half games out of a playoff spot with ample time left to make a strong run. It still may not be enough to save president of basketball operations Joe Dumars’ job, though.

Cleveland Cavaliers (24-40)
Current Seed: N/A, Eleventh place
Games Remaining  versus winning teams:  10
Games Remaining versus sub .500 teams: 8

Mathematically the Cavaliers still have a shot at the playoffs, being only four games behind the Atlanta Hawks. But in reality, the team is more than likely going to be enjoying the postseason festivities from their own living rooms. The team has lost three straight contests and seven of their last 10 overall.

Eastern Conference – Lottery Bound

Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks

Warriors’ Klay Thompson Earning High Praise For Defense

The first thing that comes to mind when you typically think of Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson is his elite shooting range and pinpoint accuracy. However, the sharpshooter has started to earn praise on the defensive side of the floor as well.

Warriors head coach Mark Jackson believes Thompson is rising up the ranks as one of the league’s most improved perimeter defenders this season.

“Klay has made himself a big-time defender,” Jackson told Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. “He does a great job of guarding the best perimeter guy on the other team. He has size, length and deceptive athletic ability. He pays attention to game-plan discipline, and he’s able to get back into the picture with smaller guards and contest shots.

“The amazing thing about it is that he didn’t come into the league that way. It’s awfully impressive the commitment he’s made and how dedicated he is to being a big-time defender.”

But this isn’t to say Thompson’s offensive game has suffered any with the rise of his defensive awareness. The third year guard is averaging a career-high 17.8 points per game on 41 percent shooting from three-point range.

“The game is easy for Klay,” Jackson said. “You get people who say he shouldn’t be shooting. Until I leave, he’s going to have the light. He’s as good a shooter as I’ve seen. He’s a guy who could care less whether he made his last nine or missed his last nine. He’s not afraid of the moment.

“He’s a guy who gives life to his team with his ability to knock down shots. I played alongside Reggie Miller and saw the impact it had on opposing teams – how it takes the life out of them. They do everything that they could possibly do defensively, and a guy with size, length and ability to shoot the basketball knocks down the shot. Klay is a special player.”

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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