With less than two months remaining, the 2013-14 regular season has hit the home stretch. There are a handful of NBA teams who can be considered contenders while every other team is just battling for a playoff spot. In the Eastern conference, the winner could come down to who finishes with home court advantage between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. In the West, four teams have a legitimate shot of winning the conference. Below is a look at the current Eastern Conference matchups if the playoffs started today (games played through 2/26/14).
No. 1 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks
IND leads season series 2-1
Breakdown: The Hawks, led by All-Star Paul Millsap and point guard Jeff Teague, are currently the top ranked assist team in the league (25.2 per game). The Pacers give up the fewest points per game (91.0) and are an elite rebounding team (ranked third). The Hawks don’t have one player over 6’10″ averaging more than 20 minutes a game and have been starting soon-to-be 35-year-old veteran Elton Brand at center. Needless to say, the Pacers would give the Hawks fits in a playoff series between Roy Hibbert, David West, Luis Scola and recently signed Andrew Bynum.
No. 4 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards
WAS leads season series 2-0
Breakdown: This might be the most intriguing first-round matchup, with the Bulls in position to gain home court advantage without Derrick Rose. John Wall has the Wizards back on track for the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season paired with sharpshooter Bradley Beal. Credit Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau for maximizing the play of his team without its superstar in Rose and yet, they’ve been able to remain an elite defensive (second in points allowed).
No. 3 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 6 Charlotte Bobcats
CHA leads season series 3-0
Breakdown: The Raptors have been quietly one of the best defensive teams in the league (fourth in points allowed) led by All-Star DeMar DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry who is having a career-year facing unrestricted free agency this summer. The Bobcats are ranked right behind Toronto in points allowed. Free agent signee Al Jefferson has been the team’s best player, averaging a double-double this season. All three games so far have been decided by five points or less, so a seven-game series would be fun to watch.
No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 7 Brooklyn Nets
BKN leads season series 2-0
Breakdown: Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov put together a veteran squad that is built to make a postseason run after a very disappointing start to the season. Of course, the Heat are in the same position after winning two straight championships and going through the motions at times this season. Both teams are ranked at the bottom of the league in rebounding. If Dwyane Wade plays like Dwyane Wade, the Heat will remain the favorites to win the whole thing.