Breaking the four-team race to the top of the Eastern Conference

The Celtics and Heat meet Wednesday for the last time in the regular season, with the winner taking first place in the conference.

Going into Wednesday’s games, there are 12 days and only 96 games left to play in the 2021-22 regular season. And there is still a lot to decide.

Individually, there are incredibly close races for Kia Most Valuable Player, Kia Rookie of the Year and the league goalscorer title that are tracked daily.

Collectively, so far only three teams have clinched a playoff berth, while five teams have been mathematically eliminated. Four teams have a shot at clinching their playoff berth on an 11-game Wednesday night.

There are teams trying to get into the Play-In tournament (7-10 seeds in each conference), there are teams trying to get out of the Play-In and get a guaranteed playoff spot playoffs (1-6 seeds in each conference), then there are the battles for playoff position, home-court advantage and securing tiebreakers that might be needed on April 10.

That brings us to the four-team race unfolding at the top of the Eastern Conference standings – as Miami, Milwaukee, Boston and Philadelphia are currently only 1.5 games apart with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season. .

Eastern Conference Top 4 – Through Games Played March 29

  1. Miami Heat (48-28)
  2. Milwaukee Bucks (47-28), 0.5 games back
  3. Boston Celtics (47-29), 1.0 games back
  4. Philadelphia 76ers (46-29), 1.5 games back

With teams so tight, even a single game can change the standings. On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Philadelphia 76ers behind Giannis’ Antetokounmpo’s 40 points and play blocking on Joel Embiid in the final seconds. The result of that game not only won the season series (and therefore the head-to-head tiebreaker) for the Bucks over the Sixers, it also moved Milwaukee to second in the East and Philly. on the fourth. If James Harden’s 3-point attempt failed before Embiid’s comeback attempt was blocked, those teams could be knocked down the standings.

We have another one-on-one meeting on Wednesday as the Celtics host the Heat (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). While Boston has already won the season series (and tiebreaker) by winning the first two meetings between the teams this season, the winner of this game will take first place in the East at the end of the evening. Either Miami will win and extend their lead over Boston and idle Milwaukee and Philly, or Boston will win and tie Miami’s record at 48-29 and hold No. 1 via the tiebreaker.

Eastern teams vying for position, clashes

With such a fluid race changing every night, many questions come into play: Which team has the toughest (or easiest) schedule for the rest of the course? How many matches are there between these teams? Which team holds the tiebreakers over the other contenders?

Miami Heat (48-28, won Southeast Division)

Remaining schedule

Wed 30 March in Boston .618
Sat 2 Apr in Chicago .579
Sun 3 Apr in Toronto (NBA TV) .573
Tue 5 Apr against charlotte .513
Fri 8 Apr against Atlanta .507
Sun 10 Apr in Orlando .263

Miami has six games left in the regular season, with just two at home (they are 27-12 at home this season) and four on the road (21-16), including one in a row. Their remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .509, with five of their last six games against opponents over .500, the only exception being the regular season finale against Orlando. Of the four teams in this run, Miami has the second-easiest schedule based on opponent winning percentage.

In terms of tiebreakers, the Heat will lose their season streak to Boston regardless of Wednesday’s result, but the Heat are tied 2-2 with Philadelphia and Milwaukee. As we go head-to-head in tiebreaker scenarios, Miami has two advantages: they’ve already won their division, and they currently have the best conference record of any team in the East.

Milwaukee Bucks (47-28, Central Division leader)

Remaining schedule

Thu 31 March in Brooklyn (TNT) .526
Fri 1 Apr vs Los Angeles Clippers .487
Sun 3 Apr against Dallas .618
Tue 5 Apr in Chicago .579
Thu 7 Apr against Boston (TNT) .618
Fri 8 Apr in Detroit .263
Sun 10 Apr in Cleveland .560

Milwaukee has seven games left in the regular season with three at home (26-12) and four on the road (21-16); they also have back-to-back games, but they’re both split with one game at home and the other on the road. In terms of schedule strength, Milwaukee faces the second toughest schedule of the four teams in the race, with their remaining opponents having a .522 winning percentage. The Bucks have five games left against teams over .500 and only two (Detroit and LA Clippers) under .500.

The Bucks clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker with Philadelphia on Tuesday (winning the season series 2-1), they’re tied with Miami (2-2) and currently trail Boston (1-2) with a final face to face. head game on April 7 which is certainly a game to circle on the calendar. Although the Bucks didn’t clinch the Central Division, they hold a 3.5-game lead over Chicago, in case that tiebreaker is needed at the end of the season. Milwaukee (.617) trails Miami (.652) and Boston (.638) in conference winning percentage.

Boston Celtics (47-29, Atlantic Division leader)

Remaining schedule

Wed 30 March against Miami .632
Fri 1 Apr against Indiana .329
Sun 3 Apr against washington .427
Wed 6 Apr in Chicago .579
Thu 7 Apr in Milwaukee (TNT) .627
Sun 10 Apr in Memphis .697

The Celtics have the toughest schedule of any of the top four teams in the East, as their remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .548 and four of their last six games come against teams that aren’t just superior to 0.500, but greater than 0.600. so far this season. Boston’s remaining schedule is split evenly between home (26-12) and road (21-17) and includes head-to-head matchups with Miami (Wednesday) and Milwaukee (April 7).

Boston has already won the season series with Miami (2-0 entering Wednesday) and can clinch the series with Milwaukee (2-1 lead) when they meet next Thursday; it will be the second night of a back-to-back for Boston. The Celtics split their season with the Sixers (2-2) as the two also remain in contention for the Atlantic Division title, with Boston holding a slim 0.5 game advantage at this point. Boston have been the best team in the East since the schedule changed to 2022 (30-10 since Jan 1) as the chart below illustrates their dramatic rise, but they just received a blow with Robert Williams III who expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a knee injury.

Philadelphia 76ers (46-29)

Remaining schedule

Thu 31 March in Detroit .263
Sat 2 Apr against charlotte .513
Sun 3 Apr in Cleveland .560
Tue 5 Apr in Indiana .329
Thu 7 Apr in Toronto .573
Sat 9 Apr against Indiana .329
Sun 10 Apr against Detroit .263

The Sixers are in an interesting spot after Tuesday night’s loss to the Bucks. They currently sit in fourth place behind the other three contenders, they don’t own a single head-to-head tiebreaker (2-2 vs. Miami, 2-2 vs. Boston, 1-2 vs. Milwaukee) and aren’t not in a good position for any other tiebreaker, as their .600 winning percentage against the East is fourth among the top four teams and they are the only team not to lead a split entering Wednesday.

However, when it comes to schedule strength, Philadelphia has the easiest schedule remaining as their opponents have a combined winning percentage of .404. The Sixers have three games against teams over .500 (Charlotte, Cleveland and Toronto) and four games against teams not only under .500 but all under .400 as they face Detroit and Indiana twice. Philly has two straight games on its schedule and three of its last seven games are at home (21-17) and four on the road (25-12) as they are one of only three teams in the East with more wins on the road and at home (by joining Brooklyn and Toronto).

One more factor in the race

Of course, there’s another question hanging over this particular run and that’s a team that’s currently sitting in eighth place in the conference and will likely have to go through the Play-In Tournament to secure their playoff spot. playoffs – the Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn was considered the title favorite at the start of the season, but a tumultuous season has put them in eighth place at the moment. But with Kevin Durant healthy and Kyrie Irving just cleared to play in home games, this isn’t a typical first-round game for one of the conference’s top teams.

As a reminder on the Play-In, if Brooklyn were to finish the regular season in seventh or eighth place, they would play the game 7-8 with the winner securing the No. 7 playoff spot and a matchup with the No. 2 seeds. If they lose this match 7-8, they will face the winner of the match 9-10, with the winner of this match earning the No. 8 playoff spot and a matchup with the No. 1 seed. A team who finishes the regular season in ninth or 10th place can’t do better than the No. 8 seed. Entering Wednesday, Brooklyn holds a 1.0 game lead over No. 9 Charlotte (the Hornets hold the tiebreaker) and a 1.5 game lead over No. 10 Atlanta (the Nets hold the tiebreaker).

Will any of the top four teams try to avoid a first-round clash with Brooklyn? If a team settles for the No. 3 or No. 4 seed, they would avoid the Nets in the first round, but they would only guarantee themselves home-court advantage for the first round. What is most important?

It will be fascinating to see how this race unfolds over the final 12 days of the regular season, as seeds can change daily, creating potential new matchups as the playoffs draw ever closer.

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