By Shane Phillips @ShaneRantSports on March 13, 2014
As the country prepares to turn into compulsive gamblers and television addicts over March Madness, the NBA is coming down the home stretch of their 2013-14 season. Each team has roughly 16 games or so left to play, and some of the playoff spots are still up for grabs. Here is my prediction on how the Eastern Conference will finish and what teams will occupy the eight playoff spots.
The New York Knicks might look dead in the water, but they still have a relatively decent shot at the playoffs. Now that the franchise has a new direction with Phil Jackson, I expect the Knicks to get their act together. Basically everyone from the coaches to the players are going through a tryout for Jackson. Everyone will want to impress the Zen Master, so New York will sneak by the Atlanta Hawks for the eight spot.
Al Jefferson has finally begun to show some consistency and star play, but like the rest of the team, Jefferson has little playoff experience. The center has only appeared in 11 postseason games in his near-decade long career. That being said, the Charlotte Bobcats will make the playoffs in the seventh spot as the organization begins to gain real traction. It can only get better once the Hornets logo returns.
Even though the Brooklyn Nets have beaten the Miami Heat twice this season, their inconsistent play and injuries make me cautious of this team. The signing of Jason Collins has been nothing but a feel-good story which has given the Nets a boost, but they will falter again before the season's end. That is why I award them the sixth Eastern Conference playoff spot -- much better than where they were three months ago.
The Washington Wizards are a combination of youth and experience. With players like John Wall, Trevor Ariza and Nene, the Wizards have seen a long awaited revival. Their schedule has a bunch of winnable games, but they must win their final match-up with Brooklyn. I like Washington because what do they have to lose? Finally, Wall will make in to the postseason and in the fifth position.
Here might be the surprise of the NBA season. The Toronto Raptors have come out of nowhere, gained no attention and currently occupy third place. Their youth and teamwork is fantastic, but they won't be able to hold on to the third spot. Before the season ends, they will slip to fourth, but that is still great for a team that was rumored to be tanking earlier in the season.
Now on the second straight season without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls have learned to cope rather well. Led by emerging captain Joakim Noah, the Bulls have used their hard-nose play to win. They might not be pretty to watch, but their energy and enthusiasm sure is entertaining. They have a hard stretch coming up, but the end of their season is rather easy. A late-season run will earn third place for the Bulls.
The Indiana Pacers have stumbled and fumbled over the last two weeks, but Andrew Bynum has made his debut and it was rather promising. Of course you would expect me to give the Pacers the East, but I think Bynum will cause some chemistry issues. After leading the conference all year, Indiana will have to settle as the runner-up.
With the season winding down and two meetings with the Pacers left, you have to be prepared for a Miami Heat run. This is the time Miami begins to flex its muscles, and with Dwyane Wade looking healthy, South Beach might just be ready to party. The Heat have yet to produce a long streak, so they must be overdue. That is why Miami will be crowned the king of the East.
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