The 2016 NBA Playoffs are inching closer and closer, which means that the serious contenders are separating themselves from the rest of the pack. The Eastern Conference currently has the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors locked into the top two spots, but from there, it’s a huge cluster from No. 3 to No. 8, and possibly even all the way through No. 10.
As for the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are running away with the top two seeds, the Oklahoma City Thunder seemed locked into No. 3, the Los Angeles Clippers are No. 4, and then the real fun begins. It will be quite a run to the finish line, so let’s take a look at where we believe the teams will wind up after 82 games are complete, as well as how that may leave the first-round matchups. We’ll kick things off with the East.
Eastern Conference projected playoff seeds
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Toronto Raptors
- Atlanta Hawks
- Charlotte Hornets
- Miami Heat
- Boston Celtics
- Indiana Pacers
- Detroit Pistons
Currently, the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls are both 2.5 games behind the No. 8 spot, and unfortunately, we don’t believe either team will be able to pull off the late-season push and grab that last spot. Either team is capable of doing it, but the Wizards are simply playing mediocre basketball right now, while the Bulls have lost four games straight at the time of this article.
As for the actual seedings, you’ll notice that the Celtics continue their fall all the way to No. 6, which isn’t really anything against them, but more about how strong the Hawks, Heat, and Hornets have looked throughout the season. It will be hard for Boston to hold off those three and get anywhere above that No. 6 seed.
The Hornets make the jump over the Heat as well, as Charlotte has two games against the Philadelphia 76ers, and then games against the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Wizards, those Celtics, and the Orlando Magic. Their toughest matchups will be back-to-back games against the Cavaliers and Raptors.
Western Conference projected playoff seeds
- Golden State Warriors
- San Antonio Spurs
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Utah Jazz
- Houston Rockets
First off, let’s begin by stating that both the Rockets and Dallas Mavericks look like teams that don’t even want the No. 8 spot. Over the past 10 games, the two combined went 7-13. In the end, we have to give the nod to James Harden, simply because he’s one of the best players in the NBA. The Rockets won’t do much in the playoffs, but they’ll find a way to get in.
As for the only real shakeup in the West, the Trail Blazers will make a shocking push to get to the No. 5 spot, surpassing the Grizzlies, who are currently 2.5 games ahead of them. The Grizzlies are just dealing with too many injuries at this point to hold on, while the Blazers have won two straight right now. It’s a tough call, but either way, it’s likely that all of the teams with home court are going to get the job done and win their first-round series in the 2016 NBA Playoffs.
Unfortunately, the top four teams in the West are just too spread out to make any crazy predictions. The Warriors are 4.5 ahead of the Spurs, who are 10 games ahead of the Thunder, who are 5.5 games ahead of the Clippers. Even the Clippers are a full 5.5 games out in front of the Grizzlies right now. The top of the West seems pretty much locked in place, and each team is deserving of where they land.
Follow Jeff Smith on Twitter @JSM8ith