Predictions, Eastern Conference

Last night’s games illustrated why it’s difficult to predict results, particularly in the Eastern Conference. Three tankers, Sacramento, Boston and Philadelphia, all won against teams trying to make the playoffs. Orlando, down two starters, pushed the Bulls to triple overtime. But predicting the future is essential to decision making so as the trade deadline looms, how will the Eastern Conference end up?

Despite the seeming hopelessness of defeating Indiana and Miami in a seven game series and the endless excitement over Wiggins, Parker and Embiid, seven teams are fighting for the last four playoff spots. The first four spots are going to Indiana, Miami, Atlanta and Toronto. Milwaukee, Orlando, Philadelphia and (probably) Boston are racing to the bottom. So Washington, Chicago, Brooklyn, Detroit, New York, Cleveland and Charlotte, separated by only 5 games in the standings, will battle for the playoffs. To fans, it will look more like a slog, but such is the state of the Eastern Conference.

Here's the current state of affairs:

Record as of January 16, 2014
Team Wins Losses Differential
Washington 18 19 -0.9
Chicago 18 19 -0.5
Detroit 16 22 -3.1
Brooklyn 15 22 -4.4
Charlotte 16 24 -3.2
New York 15 23 -2.8
Cleveland 14 25 -5.7

John Hollinger’s Playoff Odds look a little different:

Projected Playoff
Team Wins Losses Odds
Washington 42 40 94.6
Chicago 38 44 80.0
New York 37 45 71.0
Brooklyn 35 47 50.8
Detroit 33 49 35.0
Charlotte 31 51 25.3
Boston 31 51 23.9
Cleveland 30 52 16.5

Washington – Prediction: 5th seed

Washington looks almost safe here. Absent a John Wall injury, this team makes the playoffs because in the East, flirting with .500 is enough. Their position is somewhat precarious because they are so dependent on their starting lineup and thus extra susceptible to injury. Improving the team will be difficult since they already have traded away their 2014 pick and they are only 1.5M away from the luxury tax line.

Chicago – Prediction: 6th seed

Hollinger’s seeding doesn’t take into account changes to personnel because of trade and injury. The Deng trade seemed to indicate a desire of management to tank, but the players have responded with better basketball. An important factor is the return of Jimmy Butler whose 13 missed games also factored into team’s poor play after Rose went down again. Unlike most of the teams on the list, the Bulls play defense so they hold their position despite losing Deng. This team has two dangers. Not only are they similarly dependent on a small group of players, but it’s not nearly so clear that management wants to make the playoffs. However, given that the team picked up Augustin when it would have been easy to justify playing Teague to give him experience while improving the team’s draft pick, there is some action packing up their recent words with Noah. Bulls Prediction II: In a time when teams are hoarding draft picks, management keeps everyone, even Hinrich.

Detroit – Prediction: 11th place

The Pistons are one of the league’s biggest disappointments. GM Joe Dumars is rumored to be on the hot seat with a mandate to make the playoffs or else. But the team doesn’t defend and its individual talents don’t mesh. It also sent its pick to Charlotte with top-8 protection. Few teams have as big an incentive to tank. Pistons Prediction II: Dumars trades Josh Smith to shakeup the team or just to weaken it, but it’s too late for Maurice Cheeks to fix the defense.

Brooklyn – Prediction: 7th seed

An old, slow and boring team in 2013, 2014 has been another story for Brooklyn. Were wins against Oklahoma City, Golden State and Miami a mirage? Yes and no. They aren’t going to be beating contenders regularly, but despite the adversity and injuries, they’ll stop losing to so many bad teams. While Jason Kidd is an inexperienced coach, he’ll only improve as the season goes on. More importantly, Brooklyn just has so many proud veterans out to prove they’re not done yet. Even if it’s not what they originally hoped for, Garnett and Pierce will relish the chance to take on LeBron and Wade in the playoffs. Nets Prediction II: Brooklyn takes two playoff games against Miami before bowing out of the playoffs.

Charlotte – Prediction 10th place

Charlotte has crashed back to earth after a good start. The best players on this team are just noticeably worse than the best players on the other teams. Kemba Walker is good, but he’s not a star player. Charlotte finishes ahead of Detroit because they have less incentive to be bad since their pick is a greater protection. They aren’t exciting enough to did further.

New York – Prediction 8th seed

New York has been a circus this season. They don’t know what to do with J.R. Smith. They have almost no way to improve their team. This is not a good team. But they do have Carmelo Anthony and while he’s not LeBron, Durant or even Paul George, he’s still pretty good. Ultimately, the Knicks fall here because someone has to finish 8th. Knicks Prediction II: NY sports writers will attribute the results of the season to how the Knicks handled the J.R. Smith situation.

Cleveland – Prediction 9th place

Ownership and management clearly want to win. Yet the players don’t want to defend or pass. Will Luol change that? Not enough. Will the team trade a pick for another player? Yes. But it won’t be enough. This team won 24 games last season. They whiffed on the #1 pick and added Deng, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark. That’s not a ten-win improvement. Cavaliers Prediction II: Dion Waiters is traded at the deadline or during the draft.

Who do you think is making the playoffs?

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