With a little over a month remaining in the NBA regular season, the race for the final seeds in each conference is heating up. With the newly installed play-in tournament, more teams are vying for a playoff spot than ever, as teams as low as the ten seed can find a way to sneak into the NBA Finals.
This article will cover the four teams in the eastern conference currently in position to make the play-in tournament, and my rankings of the four teams.
A play-in team from a year ago, the Charlotte Hornets are looking to avenge their 2021 loss against the Indiana Pacers. One of the younger teams in the NBA, Charlotte relies on heavy contributions from second-year player and all-star Lamelo Ball, along with leading scorer Miles Bridges.
Despite a hot start to the season, Charlotte has lost 11 of their last 14 games, and now sit at two games below .500 and the ninth seed in the eastern conference. The team does not feature a 20 point per game scorer, any elite defenders, or a sufficient big man.
For those reasons, I highly doubt the Hornets can make any noise this playoffs. Overall, the team is just too young and lacks superstar-level talent.
A year ago, Atlanta was a top five seed in the east and on their way to a eastern conference finals appearance. Fast forward to today, they are the ten seed, and fighting to just make the play-in.
While Trae Young continues to be one of the league’s brightest young superstars, his supporting cast has failed to provide much help. Only one other player on the team even averages over 15 points a game (John Collins).
What makes this fall from grace most puzzling is the fact that the roster has not changed much. For that reason, it is tough for me to give up on Atlanta’s playoff chances at this point, however, it appears as if this season will be a wash for the young Atlanta squad.
The Toronto Raptors have been able to put together a quick and impressive rebuild following a championship back in 2019. Despite losing Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard since then, the team has been able to stay afloat thanks to new, young talent and veterans from the 2019 team.
Fred VanVleet has flourished since taking over the starting point guard role, averaging 21.4 points per game on his way to his first all-star appearance. Alongside VanVleet, Pascal Siakam is playing his best basketball since the 2019 finals, and leading the team in PER and rebounds.
While contributions from veterans have been essential, one can also credit Toronto’s success this season to its young core, which includes Gary Trent Jr. and rookie Scottie Barnes. Both have been great all-around players, especially Barnes, who is in the conversation for rookie of the year.
As the current seventh seed, Toronto has a great chance to get past the play-in games and into the playoffs. However, that will probably be the extent of their playoff run.
Who would have thought the Brooklyn Nets would be on pace to be in the play-in games. While it is mainly due to the availability of their best players, being a seven or eight seed come playoff time can hinder their chances of making a deep playoff run.
Kyrie Irving’s ability to only play away games along with Kevin Durant’s recent injury has led to Brooklyn tanking in the rankings, which include an 11 game losing streak at one point. Newly acquired Ben Simmons will be a key defensive piece for the squad, and will hopefully be a third star alongside Durant and Irving.
While there is no doubt in my mind that Brooklyn will make the playoffs, the off-court distractions are beginning to add up. On a pure talent level, this is the best team in the NBA, however it does not seem likely that the Nets will put it all together and play to their potential.
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