for those interested in how the bottom half of the east draw is going to finish up, all i can say is, the schedule tells the tale.
in general, you can get a rough sense of whether and how much a team will move in the standings by looking at the schedule and counting the number of teams they have to play with better records (or, just better teams – use your own judgment) than them. then do the same for the other teams vying for that playoff seeding. if they’re close, don’t count on too much movement, unless the teams are dead even in the standings. if there’s a big disparity in strength of schedule, maybe things are going to change. this doesn’t mean they’ll beat every “inferior” team and lose to every “superior” team (for example, just tonight indiana beat utah, philly topped atlanta, and, as i write this, the lakers are getting their heads handed to them by durant and the boys), but it’s a good rule of thumb.
in general, if you look at most teams, you’ll find that their remaining schedule differs by one or two “tough” games from those of their other contestants with ten to twelve games remaining.
not so for the heat. for them, it looks like a cakewalk from here. in the remaining ten games on their schedule, they have only a single game left against a team with a better record. that would be the bucks, who the heat meet in milwaukee tonight. after that, it’s a wasteland, with “tests” coming from toronto, detroit, indiana, minny, philly, detroit again, the juggernaut that is the ny knicks, philly again, and finishing up, at home, with the mighty nets. true, six of the ten are on the road, but come on.
compare that to what the team in front of them, the aforementioned bucks, have to face. after miami, they get: memphis, the clippers, cleveland (at cleveland), charlotte, phoenix, a possibly desperate (or possibly out-of-it) chicago bulls, then breathers against new jersey and philly, and then a nice triplet against boston, atlanta, and boston again, which should be especially fun as both boston and atlanta will be battling for playoff positioning. so, even if we assume the bucks can take care of business against charlotte and memphis (neither one a pushover), and we write off the clips, bulls, philly and nets, that still leaves five games against top teams.
the story is similar with toronto. the traps will be facing denver, cleveland, boston and atlanta, in addition to miami, charlotte and that maybe-hungry-maybe-not chicago squad. meanwhile, charlotte has a schedule more similar to that of the heat. the bobcats toughest contests other than a game at home against atlanta are homers against toronto and milwaukee, roadies in new orleans and houston (who will play you tough always, anywhere, no matter what), and a couple against chicago.
so, given the strength of schedule, i don’t see even the surprising bucks holding on to that 5th place seed, despite the fact that right now they’re a full three games in the loss column ahead of miami and charlotte. not to say they can’t hold on, just to say i don’t think they will. that said, there is this caveat. i haven’t seen them play lately, and if josh smith is right, they’re playing great ball.
so, my prognostication: miami fifth, milwaukee sixth, then charlotte and toronto last, with chicago still on the outside looking in…of course, charlotte might also be able to hop over milwaukee if they can win every game they “should” and don’t have a brain fart at the end. with a larry brown team, it could go either way…great preparation, but too much stress. that said, this charlotte team may be the perfect group of guys for larry brown…neither wallace nor jackson is liable to get too wound up by larry’s angst, and they set the tone.
anyhow, it should be interesting…not, of course, that i think any of the four can get to the second round, with the possible exception of a puncher’s chance going to whoever draws the celts.