While all eight of the Eastern Conference’s playoff seeds may be locked up with just over a week left in the NBA regular season, teams can start looking forward to the postseason—and the top seeds in the East better be on upset alert.
As the conference currently stands, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Milwaukee would be the bottom four seeds in the East if the playoffs started today. Miami, New York, Indiana and Brooklyn sit in the upper half of the seeding.
While the conference standings may change between now and when the postseason starts, those four teams have the potential to make some serious noise in the playoffs.
Of those bottom four teams, the Bulls have the most ability to make a deep postseason run. While Chicago may rank dead last in the league in scoring, averaging just 92.9 points per game, the team is a defensive powerhouse. The Bulls rank third in the league in points allowed per game with 92.4. They also average 43.2 rebounds per game, good for ninth in the league.
The Bulls may also benefit from the return of injured guard Derrick Rose, one of the best players in the league when healthy. The Chicago Tribune reported Sunday that Rose is not ruling out a return to the team during the playoffs. Rose would be an instant spark plug to Chicago’s offense and make the Bulls an even greater upset threat.
The Hawks and Celtics will also not be easy competition for the conference’s top seeds.
Atlanta threatens with a balanced attack, led by center Al Horford and forward Josh Smith in the frontcourt and point guard Jeff Teague running the offense.
The Hawks also pass well—the team ranks second in the league with 24.5 assists per game—which could cause matchup problems for the East’s higher seeds.
Boston is a veteran squad who knows how to win in the postseason. Led by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celt’s playoff experience could pay dividends against higher seeds with less experience like the Knicks and Pacers.
Even the Bucks—who currently sit at the No. 8 seed—could give their opponent trouble. Milwaukee passes and rebounds well, ranking in the top 10 in the league in assists and boards per game.
With speedy guards Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings leading the Bucks offense, look for Milwaukee to round out a strong crop of lower seeds in the Eastern Conference.