The Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Bobcats, and Chicago Bulls playoff fates are likely to be determined by the end of March. It is one week of important games that will set the tone for playoff seeding and determine the franchise who will be without a chair when the music stops on April 14.
The Milwaukee Bucks (39-30) have all but run away from the field and secured fifth place in the East with their stellar play since the All-Star break. They are 9-1 over their past 10 games and four loses ahead of the pack.
A thank you card to the Bulls is in the mail.
But four teams continue to fight for the last three playoff spots and the next four or five games will likely determine where they finish.
The Miami Heat (37-34) should finish in sixth. Their closing schedule is beyond soft even if they blow the next three games against the Bulls, Bucks, and Raptors.
The Heat’s final eight games are against: Detroit twice (23-47), Philadelphia twice (24-47), Indiana (24-46), Minnesota (14-57), New York (25-45), and New Jersey (7-63).
If the Heat miss the playoffs, paper bags will have to be issued to their fans and the “Where will Wade play next season?” fears will seem all that more real.
The Bulls, Bobcats, and Raptors will each end March with eight games remaining.
The Charlotte Bobcats' (35-34) biggest test left in March is the home contest against the Raptors. And the Raptors and Bobcats have split their games this season so this could literally be the tiebreaker for seventh place.
In addition to Toronto, the Bobcats play: Washington twice (21-47), Minnesota (14-57), and, Philadelphia (24-47) before the end of the month. Winning all five games will likely secure a seventh place finish for the Bobcats.
After March, the Bobcats face a challenging schedule but they can still guarantee a playoff spot by taking care of business against the Bulls, whom they face twice. Fortunately, the Bulls saw fit to send Tyrus Thomas to Charlotte so the Bobcats now have the depth at power forward the Bulls once had.
Whether the Toronto Raptors (35-34) can secure seventh spot and put a scare into Miami for sixth will come down to taking care of business in the last week of March as well.
The Raptors have the toughest schedule remaining in March facing Utah and Denver at home; then Miami and Charlotte back-to-back on the road; followed by a home game against the Clippers.
If the Raptors can win the majority of their games remaining in March, the final contest against the Bulls may not factor into the playoff equation. Alternatively, a Raptors collapse opens the door for the Bulls to steal the final playoff spot.
The Chicago Bulls (33-37) put their playoff lives on life support by losing 10 games in a row. Now on a two game mini-winning streak, the Bulls must win at least three of their four remaining games in March to keep their playoff hopes alive.
In April, the Bulls face Charlotte twice, Milwaukee, and, Toronto. A strong finish in March might make these games meaningful but the Bulls will still have to play Cleveland and Boston making their margin for error razor-thin.
At least the Bulls can say that their playoff fate is in their own hands. But those same hands traded away Thomas and Salmons and may have guaranteed them a ninth place finish.
An exciting week is in store.