NBA Playoffs: SportsTips’ Eastern Conference Predictions for Playoff Seeding

NBA Playoffs: SportsTips’ Eastern Conference Predictions for Playoff Seeding
Mon 3rd May 2021

With just two weeks to go until the end of the regular season, we have taken the time to come up with our Eastern Conference predictions for the 2021 NBA playoffs.

The standings are taking shape and the top three teams have separated from the pack while there is a tussle in the middle for who gets the other three locked in playoff spots.After that, the teams who will be the four play-in seeds are getting more and more clear, as Washington’s spectacular second half to the year has them all but locked in now. 

Here is the current standings in the Eastern Conference as of May 2nd, 2021:

Team Record Eastern Conference Odds
1.   Philadelphia 76ers (x) 43-21 +440
2.   Brooklyn Nets (x) 43-22 -110
3.   Milwaukee Bucks 40-24 +350
4.   New York Knicks 36-28 +4200
5.   Atlanta Hawks 35-30 +3600
6.   Miami Heat 35-30 +1500
7.   Boston Celtics 34-31 +1800
8.   Charlotte Hornets 31-33 +16000
9.   Indiana Pacers 30-33 +5500
10. Washington Wizards 29-35 +12000
11. Chicago Bulls 26-28 +19000
12. Toronto Raptors 26-29 +16000
13. Cleveland Cavaliers 21-43 +25000
14. Orlando Magic (o) 20-44 Off The Board
15. Detroit Pistons (o) 19-45 Off The Board

(x = clinched playoff berth, o = eliminated from playoff contention)

The following article disects each team’s remaining schedule as well as how we think they will go with just 14 days left until the end of the season. Will your favorite Eastern Conference team make the final cut? Find out our predictions for the finishing order of the Eastern Conference below!

Philadelphia 76ers (43-21)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +1200
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +440

After their win over the Spurs last night, Philadelphia moved half a game ahead of the Nets for top of the conference and now have the easiest remaining schedule of the top three Eastern Conference seeds. 

In their eight remaining games, Philadelphia plays just one team that is seeded eight or higher in their respective conference and four teams that are out of playoff contention. This easier schedule should allow Philadelphia to secure the number one seed and get the much easier second round matchup, should they get there.

Remaining Fixtures:
@CHI, @HOU, vNOP, vDET, @IND, @MIA, vORL, vORL

Brooklyn Nets (43-22)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +220
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: -110

The clear favorites for the Conference are the Brooklyn Nets. When they traded for James Harden, many were ready to declare the Nets as Champions already, but the injury bug has plagued them this season. Harden has played in just one of the last 16 games and is still ‘a ways off’ returning while Kevin Durant has played in just 27 of their 65 games. 

They clearly have the most superstar talent on their roster out of any team in the league, but given their minimal time played together, postseason success would be unprecedented. While they have the talent to get the job done offensively, their defense leaves a lot to be imagined and they also have the hardest fixture of the top three seeds, playing three teams ranked eighth or higher while playing just one team out of playoff contention.

Remaining Fixtures:
@MIL, @ DAL, @DEN, @CHI, vSAS, vCHI, vCLE

Milwaukee Bucks (40-24)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +750
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +350

The Milwaukee Bucks have been winning games that matter and it is helping their postseason chances. They have been blessed with two home back to back sets against Philadelphia and Brooklyn, sweeping the Sixers and beating Brooklyn in the first leg of theirs. If they go on to sweep Brooklyn as well, they would hold the tiebreaker against both teams, should it come to that, and peg one game back in the standings.

From their eight remaining games, Milwaukee’s only opponents seeded eighth or higher are Brooklyn and Miami, both of whom they play at home. Road games against San Antonio, Charlotte and Chicago could be seen as danger games, with all three teams having something to play for, but Milwaukee would still likely go in favorites. Can they win enough games to get into the two seed to host a second round matchup though?

Remaining Fixtures:
vBKN, vWAS, vHOU, @SAS, vORL, @IND, vMIA, @CHI

New York Knicks (36-28)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +16000
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +4200

The exciting surprise out East is the exceptional play of the New York Knicks. Behind the breakouts of both Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, the Knicks would be hosting a playoff series if the season ended today, an incredible accomplishment given their recent history.

Their remaining schedule is a bit of a worry though. New York has the hardest remaining schedule of any playoff hopeful team, with five of their last eight games coming against opponents seeded eighth or higher in their respective conference. They have five games left on their West Coast road trip and they need to win at least two of them to be a chance to stay in fourth place.

Remaining Fixtures:
@MEM, @DEN, @PHX, @LAC, @LAL, vSAS, vCHA, vBOS

Atlanta Hawks (35-30)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +16000
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +3600

After spending big in the offseason and a slow start to the year, many questioned the Hawks’ decisions and the leadership of Trae Young. However, after firing Lloyd Pierce and promoting Nate McMillan to head coach, the team has turned things around and had the best record in the conference since that time. 

The Hawks have a genuine chance at stealing the fourth seed from the Knicks and being able to host a first round playoff series. They host the Blazers and Suns in their next two games and then their remaining five fixtures are against teams with losing records, four of which are at home. 

Remaining Fixtures:
vPOR, vPHX, @IND, vWAS, vWAS, vORL, vHOU

Miami Heat (35-30)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +4200
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +1500

After making the NBA finals last year, the Miami Heat have had quite a disappointing season, but to be fair, they have had a rough go at it due to COVID-19 protocols and injuries along the way. To be currently seeded sixth and five games above 0.500 after everything they have been through is quite impressive and this team doesn’t fear any matchup. 

They are currently slated to play the Bucks in the opening round of the playoffs, if the season were to end today, but five of their remaining seven games come against opponents seeded eighth or higher. The most important of those is a tough game series in Boston which could very well determine which team is a playoff lock and which team is forced into the play-ins. 

Remaining Fixtures:
vDAL, vMIN, @BOS, @BOS, vPHI, @MIL, @DET

Boston Celtics (34-31)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +5000
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +1800

The Boston Celtics have seriously struggled this season, in part due to COVID-19 and injuries, but mainly due to their inability to put in consistent efforts. The combination of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker should see Boston have an incredible offense, while throwing Marcus Smart into the mix adds the tough defensive edge, however both sides of the ball have been lacking for the Celtics.

Luckily for Boston, three of their remaining seven games come against opponents already eliminated from playoff contention while two of their three games against playoff bound opponents are the two game home series against the Heat. Their destiny is in their own hands, they just need to start piecing it together.

Remaining Fixtures:
@ORL, @CHI, vMIA, vMIA, @CLE, @MIN, @NYK

Charlotte Hornets (31-33)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +25000
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +16000

The Hornets have been a real feel-good story this season, buoyed by exceptional play from rookie sensation, LaMelo Ball. He recently returned from a 21 game absence and his return should give this team a boost with just eight games remaining in their season. However, they are still without Gordon Hayward and without him in the lineup, it is hard to see how they will be able to compete in the postseason.

Their remaining schedule is quite difficult with games against the Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Wizards to round out the season, the latter two on the road as well. They hold just a half game lead over the Pacers in ninth in the East, a vital difference as the seventh and eighth seeds have the double chance under the new play-in rules. Their remaining fixture is equally as hard as Indiana’s but they are currently ahead and they hold the season series over them too, both big positives. 

Remaining Fixtures:
@DET, vCHI, vORL, vNOP, vDEN, vLAC, @NYK, @WAS

Indiana Pacers (30-33)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +19000
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +5500

Another year of mediocrity for the Indiana Pacers. TJ Warren managed just four games this season while they shipped off Victor Oladipo for Caris LeVert, who missed the first 24 games of his time with the team. In saying that, he has played very well since returning to the court and paired nicely with Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, when all three actually play together.

With no timeline for Myles Turner’s return, it is hard to take the Pacers seriously as a team that could cause a scare in the playoffs. Sabonis continues to play at an All Star level, but it isn’t enough with no clear superstar on the team. Two games against Washington could determine which of the sides gets the home court advantage in the 9v10 play-in game, should the sides fall into those seeds.

Remaining Fixtures:
@WAS, vSAC, vATL, vWAS, @CLE, vPHI, vMIL, vLAL, @TOR

Washington Wizards (29-35)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +25000
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +12000

The Washington Wizards have gone 14-7 over their last 21 games and have gone from fighting for lottery balls to being the team no one wants to face in the postseason. Bradley Beal is in a tight contest with Steph Curry to win the scoring title while Russell Westbrook continues to get triple doubles for fun. 

The big difference for Washington has been the emergence of Daniel Gafford since trading for him at the deadline. In the 15 games that Gafford has played, Washington has gone 12-3 and his chemistry with Westbrook in particular has been enjoyable to watch. The Wizards hold a three game advantage over the Raptors and Bulls and with just eight games remaining, that should be more than enough to keep them in the play-in seeds.

Remaining Fixtures:
vIND, @MIL, @TOR, @IND, @ATL, ATL, vCLE, vCHA

Toronto Raptors (27-38)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +25000
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +16000

After a surprise win over the Lakers last night, the Raptors sit just 2.5 games back from the Wizards with only seven games remaining. Toronto are actually lucky to be this close to making the play-in, being ravaged by COVID-19 and injuries all season long, missing key players for length amounts of time and unable to get in a rhythm. 

The issue for Toronto in their quest to sneak into the postseason is that they play the Clippers twice, the Mavs in Dallas and the Wizards, who are the team they are chasing. That game against Washington will essentially determine whether they can steal the 10-seed from them, acting as a double result either way.

Remaining Fixtures:
@LAC, vWAS, vMEM, vLAC, @CHI, @DAL, vIND

Chicago Bulls (26-38)

Odds to win the NBA Championship: +25000
Odds to win the Eastern Conference: +19000

With Zach LaVine being sidelined for the last two weeks, the Bulls have essentially quit on the season and given up any chance of making the play-ins, sitting three games back from Washington.

After trading for Nikola Vucevic at the deadline, expectations were increased for Chicago but they have been disappointing since then and will head to another offseason needing more pieces to be competitive.

Remaining Fixtures:
vPHI, @CHA, vBOS, @DET, vBKN, vTOR, @BKN, vMIL

Eastern Conference Predictions

The Philadelphia 76ers have done enough to sit on top of the standings with two weeks remaining and have an easier schedule than the two chasing after them. Brooklyn is their biggest threat, but playing two less playoff bound teams gives the Sixers the edge and allows them to stay on top.

With a 2.5 game gap between the sides now, it may be too much for the Bucks to overcome, even if they beat the Nets again on Tuesday night. These three teams are clearly a class above everyone else in the conference, but that doesn’t mean that the remaining seeds aren’t important.

Atlanta currently being one game behind the Knicks means nothing when they play three less opponents that are playoff bound, with New York having the hardest remaining schedule of Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls. With that being said, we can easily see a situation where the two sides end up on the same record, with the Knicks having already won the season series and holding on to fourth place. 

That leaves the final confirmed playoff spot up for grabs between the Heat and the Celtics, with the teams facing each other twice, in Boston, down the stretch. With just half a game separating the teams, those two games will essentially determine who finishes sixth and seventh, with the edge going to Boston based on being at home for those two and their remaining strength of schedule.

That then takes us to the final three play-in seeds, currently held by Charlotte, Indiana and Washington, in that order. The Hornets hold a one game advantage over the Pacers, as well as owning the season series, so they should hold on to the eight seed to face the Heat in the 7v8 play-in for the seventh seed in the playoffs. 

That leaves the Pacers and the Wizards. Indiana has a 1.5 game lead over Washington and the sides face each other twice in the final two weeks of the season. All that the Pacers need to do is win one of those games and they essentially lock in ninth place and will host the 9v10 play-in game against the Wizards.  

Check out our final predicted standings below:

Team Record Eastern Conference Odds
Philadelphia 76ers 50-22 +440
Brooklyn Nets 48-24 -110
Milwaukee Bucks 47-25 +350
New York Knicks 40-32 +4200
Atlanta Hawks 40-32 +3600
Boston Celtics 39-33 +1800
Miami Heat 39-33 +1500
Charlotte Hornets 35-37 +16000
Indiana Pacers 35-37 +5500
Washington Wizards 34-38 +12000

Play-In

Round 1:

(8) Charlotte Hornets @ (7) Miami Heat

(10) Washington Wizards @ (9) Indiana Pacers

Round 2:

(10) Washington Wizards @ (8) Charlotte Hornets

First Round

(8) Washington Wizards @ (1) Philadelphia 76ers

(7) Miami Heat @ (2) Brooklyn Nets

(6) Boston Celtics @ (3) Milwaukee Bucks

(5) Atlanta Hawks @ (4) New York Knicks

Second Round

(4) New York Knicks @ (1) Philadelphia 76ers

(3) Milwaukee Bucks @ (2) Brooklyn Nets 

Conference Championships

(2) Brooklyn Nets @ (1) Philadelphia 76ers

Eastern Conference Champions – (1) Philadelphia 76ers (+440)

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*Odds and spreads correct at time of publication, courtesy of FanDuel

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Image by: Artem Lerner

Tim is a keen follower of all American sports, in particular the NBA and NFL. He has followed both sports for over a decade and would happily sit down and watch every game, regardless of who is playing! No matter the sport, whether it be NFL and NBA or even MLB, NHL and UFC, Tim covers it from every angle, keeping up to date with all the news to bring you the most up-to-date information and the best picks and predictions across all sports.