Almost every basketball writer in America predicted the NBA’s Eastern Conference incorrectly: high salary, high profile teams such as Knicks and Nets who find themselves at the bottom of standings with dismal records despite inine spending over the offseason, the playoff contending Celtics, and the Rudy Gay-less Raptors who hold the fourth best record in the conference at 15-15. All in all, struggles by expected Eastern Conference powerhouses have opened the door for the Bobcats to make a run at the playoffs. If the season ended today, Charlotte would earn the eight seed in the conference. The Bobcats are just percentage points ahead of the looming Celtics but just a half-a-game behind the sixth seeded Pistons. Despite the interminable wildcards and variables of the conference, here’s what The Charlotte Sports Blog can make of the Bobcat’s playoff chances and expectations:
The Elite: Miami and Indiana
The Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the conference as it’s almost certain that the two teams will finish atop the standings come the end of the season. Surprisingly, four of the six losses for the Pacers this season have come against other Eastern Conference teams including a road loss to Miami. Likewise, six of the eight Heat losses have also come against Eastern Conference teams including surprising home losses to Boston and Detroit. Although intensity picks up in the playoffs, the both teams’ struggles against the East show that the two aren’t invincible and could be proned to a couple of playoff losses.
The Surviving: Atlanta, Toronto, and Washington
The Hawks, Raptors, and Wizards all currently find themselves within three games of each other in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta appears to be the best out of the three, siting four games over the .500 mark. The Hawks have yet to beat any of the NBA’s elite, but have consistently defeated enough inferior teams to hold the conference’s third best record.
Toronto, who have played well of late, currently have a record of 15-15 with impressive wins against Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Indiana. If Toronto continues their extraordinary play, watch for them to challenge Atlanta for the three spot in the conference.
Finally, Washington rounds out the group just one game under .500 with a 14-15 record. With a fair share of injuries to star players, the Wizards have yet to find consistency on a game-to-game basis, but John Wall’s spectacular play have kept the team afloat thus far.
The Struggling: Detroit, Chicago, and Charlotte
The Bulls have consistently been hindered by injuries to star players such as Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, and Luol Deng (just to name a few), but somehow have managed to play well enough with reserves to find themselves in the seventh spot in the conference. Once Chicago starts to get healthier, the Bulls can be a dangerous team and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I have no idea what to think of the Detroit Pistons. The team has beaten the likes of Indiana and Miami on the road, but have blown multiple four quarter leads thus far including double-digit advantages against Los Angeles, Charlotte, and Washington. If head-coach Maurice Cheeks (who was a terrible hire for Detroit) can figure out a way for this poorly assembled and dysfunctional lineup to play with any sort of unity and coherence, the Pistons can be a solid Eastern Conference team. Detroit has too much talent to miss the playoffs, but enough to contend for a four through seven seed in the Eastern Conference. Don’t expect Detroit to be a consistent team, as they might knock off one of the NBA’s elite one night, and the next blow a double-digit lead to a team well under .500.
Finally, your Charlotte Bobcats currently sit in eighth slot in the conference with a 14-20 record. The Bobcats have struggled of late as they have lost five in a row and six out of their last seven, but will finish a tough five game road streak against an inconsistent Kings team in Sacramento.
In my opinion, the Bobcats clearly have what it takes to be a playoff team in this year’s struggling Eastern Conference with good coaching, apparent defensive effort, and bench talent. If Charlotte can continue to play well at home, the Bobcats should contend for a playoff spot. Look for Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker to continue to grow as teammates, MKG’s return to improve Charlotte’s defense, and for some Bobcat basketball come next summer.
Lead Hornets Writer: Jonathon Hoppe