A Diamond in the East’s 5-8 Seeds?

Title: A Diamond in the East’s 5-8 Seeds?
Date: April 3, 2008
Original Source: Hoops Addict
Synopsis: This Hoops Addict article took a look at the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, analyzing if there were any potential upsets looming. Like all of my HA articles, the links have been lost due to a server transfer, but the text was backed up.

Alright basketball pundits, we get the message. The Western Conference is far superior to the Eastern Conference overall, but the East may have the best two teams.
We’ve heard that sentiment plenty lately. We’ve also heard to no end just how exciting and competitive the West’s playoff race is. Don’t get me wrong, I love that playoff race and had trouble ungluing my eyes from the West side of the standings to write this column. It’s that good ‘out there.’

But what about in the East? It sure is a top heavy conference, right? Boston, Detroit, Orlando, and Cleveland are the only teams more than a game above .500, and are widely assumed to be dominant over the paltry remains in the East.

But is this true? A look at the East standings right now tells us a few things.

For one, four teams will be heading into the playoffs well rested and ready. The other four will probably head in exhausted after a wild battle for…the 5th seed? The middle of the Eastern Conference pack is tight and exciting, just like the entire West. And don’t fool yourself, this battle matters, too.

All four of the ‘other’ East teams can be considered dangerous in the playoffs. None of them could beat Detroit or Boston, that’s a given, and none of them have a great chance at containing LeBron or Dwight Howard for seven games. That said, though, let’s take a look at the four teams scrapping it out for playoff seeding and see which has the best chance of getting the coveted 5th or 6th seed and upsetting Orlando or Cleveland in a first round series.

A few things reveal themselves here. Foremost, we can probably count the Hawks out. Even though they have the 8th seed in control, they are a far cry from 7th at this point and do not match up well with the Celtics (but who does, right?). Additionally, the other three teams are remarkably even.

Philadelphia has really turned it on of late, going 20-7 since February 5, when the team announced Andre Miller would not be traded. A great team dynamic has emerged as Miller took on a leadership role, Iguodala began to flourish, and young players like Thad Young and Sweet Lou Williams developed at a rapid pace.

Washington has managed to stay afloat all season despite serious injury adversity. Gilbert Arenas has missed almost the entire year and Caron Butler, their unsung leader and maybe the most improved player in the league over the past three years, has battled injury troubles all year. Still, the Wiz are a game over .500 and Arenas made a surprise return last night. They may have trouble re-meshing, but they have seven games to do it and it would be tough to argue that you’d rather head into a playoff series without a healthy Agent Zero than with him.

Toronto has struggled since the All Star break but managed to stay marginally above .500. The Raptors also have a year of playoff experience under their belt and have been held back by injuries this year, too.

The three teams seem pretty even but, again, it will come down to who can grab the 5th and 6th seed, not necessarily who the best team is. The Raptors have to be the favorite with a terrible set of opponents on tap – only one winning team, and it is a Pistons team that will likely be trying to get their starters a modicum of rest for a long playoff run. The Raptors seriously need to use this time to find themselves again and would be better suited finishing 6th (Chris Bosh destroys the Magic and Orlando is a poor perimeter defending team), but 5th seems a possibility.

Philadelphia has the next easiest schedule, an even .500 that is artificially high with games against Detroit and Cleveland teams that may be in a holding pattern at that time. The Sixers are the hottest of these three teams and could push for the 5th seed, though they would have a distinct rebounding advantage over any team except Cleveland.

Washington, as said, has Gilbert back now, and this probably hurts their chances of getting the 5th seed as the team gets used to Arenas again. The Wizards hold the tie-breaker in this three-way and have the additional motivation of a rivalry with Cleveland, though no team could possibly want to face an…angry…LeBron James.

So how do things look, overall? I like the order to finish Toronto-Philly-Washington. This basically eliminates Washington from the playoffs – they’re good, but not Detroit Basketball good. It delivers a tough match-up for the Raptors against LeBron James and co., and Toronto would have to shoot the lights out for seven games to stand a real chance. Philly would then get Orlando, a match-up they may like. Iguodala can handle one of Rashard Lewis or Hedo Turkoglu on defense and the 76ers rank ahead of the Magic in rebounding rate and defensive efficiency, though they trail offensively.

My prediction, though? The East side of the playoff bracket will be just as good as the West come round 2, with the top four seeds moving on. Thought you should know that the others do have a chance, though.

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