In this lockout-shortened season, the Eastern Conference is looking like it will end with limited drama. The current eight teams that round out the current Eastern Conference standings are looking like the same eight teams that will represent the Eastern Conference in the 2012 playoffs.
The current standings as of Jan. 12 look like this:
- Chicago Bulls (10-2)
- Miami Heat (8-3)
- Philadelphia 76ers (7-3)
- Indiana Pacers (7-3)
- Orlando Magic (7-3)
- Atlanta Hawks (7-4)
- New York Knicks (6-4)
- Boston Celtics (4-5)
Currently, Boston is not playing up to their level of performance from previous years. Obviously, there is a chance that they may fall completely off the radar and a team like Cleveland (4-5) might make a run similar to what the Pacers did last season, grabbing the eight seed with a losing record.
The most likely scenario, though, is that Boston will get it together enough to, at the very least, get the eight seed heading into the playoffs.
With the shortened season, teams have less opportunities to "make something happen." Teams that are falling into oblivion like the Pistons (2-8), Nets (2-9) and Wizards (1-9) are quickly approaching the point of no return, and we aren't even 20 games into the new year.
Anyone following the Eastern Conference knows Chicago and Miami can be interchangeable at the one and two seeds. The Bulls claimed the spot last year, and they are currently holding that spot even though Miami is on their heels. It will be an interesting race, but don't expect another team to challenge for the one or two this season.
Which team not currently in the top 8 has the best shot at a playoff run?
Three through six will be an interesting race as well. Indiana and Philadelphia are new to the top four playoff picture, and more time is needed to determine if they will hang tough, or if they will eventually fall to the five or six seeds.
Atlanta and New York are two teams who have question marks thus far. New York is off to a mediocre start when compared to expectations, but they are a team with enough talent to raise their claim for a higher position in the Eastern Conference playoffs than their current seven seed. Atlanta has played some good games so far, but they have also played a few duds.
The same can be said for Boston, currently sitting at the eight spot. The main question for all three of these teams isn't can they, it is will they. Philadelphia and Indiana are teams playing like they want it and are after it, but New York and Boston will need to pick it up; otherwise, they will find themselves playing Derrick Rose and the Bulls or LeBron James and the "Big Three" from Miami in the first round of the playoffs, and that isn't a good start to the postseason for anyone.
Outside of the current top eight in the East, do you see a team making a playoff run in 2012 and knocking out one of the current teams? Chime in and let me know your thoughts!