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NBA playoffs: who will win the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference? The Celtics and Bucks seem to be the favorites

Six different Eastern Conference teams have held sole control of the No. 1 seed at some point this season. Four of them have had it since the end of January. One of the teams currently tied for first place has never held it for themselves…but the currently seeded No. 9 and No. 12 teams have both done so for significant periods of time. , with weeks to go until the end of the regular season, the race for home-field advantage has taken its craziest turn yet.

The Miami Heat have lost four straight over the past week. Heading into last Monday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, they were heavily favored to finish No. 1. Their fourth straight loss on Sunday gave them a total of 28, one behind Philadelphia. and Milwaukee with 27. Then the Bucks lost Saturday to the Grizzlies and the 76ers lost Sunday to the Suns. Suddenly, all three teams lost 28. So did the Boston Celtics, who themselves lost their 24th game on January 21. They have only lost four times since. Now the four Eastern Conference powers are deadlocked in the losing column. Boston and Miami have seven games left to play. Milwaukee and Philadelphia have eight.

To complicate things further? One of these four teams could be overlooked in the first round…and we don’t know which one. Preseason favorites Brooklyn are currently at No. 9 right now, but will likely find themselves at No. 7 or No. 8 once the game dust settles. Some teams will be much more eager to face them than others. So with the home stretch at hand, let’s dig into each of the four teams currently battling for the top spot. How easy will their paths to home court advantage be and how badly do they even want it?

Boston Celtics

How clear is their path? Most analytical models favor Boston to win the top seed at this point. FiveThirtyEight, for example, ranks the Celtics as the only 52-win team in the Eastern Conference with the Bucks, Sixers and Heat tied at 51 apiece. This pattern responds to how Boston has been playing less than the path ahead of them lately. The Celtics aren’t just 24-4 in their last 28 games. They absolutely decimate their opponents. The NBA has been tracking net score since the 1996-97 season. At this time, the best full-season mark a team has ever reached belongs to the 1996–97 Bulls at plus 11.8. The Celtics have been at plus 16.4 since Jan. 22.

But if they want the No. 1 seed, they are going to have to win it. The Celtics have the third-toughest remaining schedule in the NBA. That includes a home date with the Heat on Wednesday and a trip to Milwaukee April 7 which could decide everything.It is also not known how healthy they will be for these games.Robert Williams III will have his knee scanned on Monday after suffering an injury on Sunday, but the Boston coach, Imo Udoka, said Williams was in “a lot of pain“Without him, Boston’s fearsome defense looks a little more beatable. The Celtics are playing the best basketball in the East, and that might be enough to get them going, but they still probably have the toughest task ahead of them of the four contenders. .

How badly do they want it? Ranking probably doesn’t mean much to Boston, after all. Boston’s absurd net rating during this streak has been even better on the road (plus-17.6), and game-wise they’re better equipped to take on Brooklyn than anyone else in the game. the Eastern Conference. Most teams don’t have a single adequate defenseman for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Boston has several players who can handle both. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have proven themselves up to the task of defending Durant. Marcus Smart and Derrick White are a perfect match for Irving. The Celtics should be fine no matter where they land.

miami heat

How clear is their path? If the Heat can just pull themselves together, they still have a good chance of doing so. Only Philadelphia has an easier top-four schedule in the East, and surprisingly, the Heat are probably healthier than they are. has been all season. Their Wednesday date with Boston is an extremely precarious game for them, but any lingering doubts they might have can be quenched with a home paddle cleanser against the Kings on Monday.

“Of course, we have no idea what’s going on in Miami right now. Tensions seem to be easing after an altercation between Jimmy Butler, Udonis Haslem and Erik Spoelstra. These issues may not be resolved in time. what Miami would need to score Home advantage is there for the taking, but Miami may not be particularly motivated to catch it.

How badly do they want it? A team as proud as the Heat would never admit it, but Miami shouldn’t want to be part of Brooklyn in the first round. they’re going to have in the playoffs They’re hugely dependent on Tyler Herro to help them generate late-game baskets, but as Philadelphia proved last week, the downside is that Herro is an incredibly vulnerable defenseman. Irving and Durant would kick him out of the ground. Jimmy Butler probably can’t match buckets with two scorers like Brooklyn’s, who are about as immune to Miami’s stellar defense as two offensive players can be due to Durant’s size and ball handling of Irving. exactly be easy, but it would be much more acceptable than one with the Nets.

Milwaukee dollars

How clear is their path? Milwaukee’s next roster is almost as tough as Boston’s. They have a clash with the Celtics coming up in April as well as road games in Brooklyn and Philadelphia this week. That gives them the sixth-toughest schedule remaining overall, and with Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton slowly moving back into the rotation, the Bucks could be forgiven for prioritizing updating their roster over games. winners.

Still, the Bucks are 10-3 in their last 13 games, and when they got their three stars, they looked as strong as ever. This trio leads their opponents by nearly 10 points per 100 possessions when he has been on the floor together, and now that the Bucks are getting their depth back, there’s no reason to believe they can’t stay hot if they want to. If they can take care of business at home against Boston in April, they’re likely the favorites at this point to earn the No. 1 seed. They have the highest tier of the four contenders.

How badly do they want it? It’s easy to forget that, but last year’s Bucks really leaned on their home turf to win in the playoffs. Milwaukee lost seven games in the 2021 playoffs. Six were on the road. It’s anecdotal, but it’s the old adage that roleplayers are better. at home should apparently make the field a priority for Milwaukee, especially since their roster is so dependent on role players making 3s around Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even though the Bucks played a compromised version of the Nets a year ago, their victory likely gave them a measure of confidence against Brooklyn that would carry over into a playoff rematch. The Bucks probably want the No. 1 seed as much as any of their competitors. That’s the best possible position. for them to kick off their championship defense.

Philadelphia 76ers

How clear is their path? The 76ers face the Bucks on Monday in what will easily be their biggest remaining game of the regular season. After that? It’s smooth sailing. They have no more games against a top-five seed in either conference after the Bucks, and half of their remaining games will be with the Pistons and Pacers. Predicting ties at this point would be foolish. There are too many iterations of this four-way standoff to get into how everyone compares to each other. But there’s a 7-1 run on the table for the Sixers if they go.

How badly do they want it? They haven’t been there exactly lately. Joel Embiid and James Harden have missed games due to injury management. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s a sensible strategy heading into the playoffs. But it suggests seeding isn’t a top priority for Philadelphia right now. They likely entered last week’s game with the Heat expecting to be defeated only to be surprised when Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton stole a victory under Miami.

The 76ers probably weren’t expecting to lose this game, but winning it wasn’t exactly a positive either. Philadelphia wants nothing to do with the Nets. Forget Irving and Durant’s personal vendetta against Harden and just think of the matchups. . Matisse Thybulle, already more of a team defender than a man-defender, can only cover one of them. Who takes the other? Can Tobias Harris do anything to slow Durant down? Danny Green, in his thirties, would he be able to stay ahead of Irving? Thybulle’s presence on the field does the offense no favors either. It’s not a slam dunk that he plays the starting minutes. In truth, avoiding the Nets probably means more to the 76ers than a high. They have the best road record in the Eastern Conference at 25-12. Matchups matter more than sites to them.

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