By Reid McEowen
We are just under a month away from the end of the NBA 2021 regular season and the start of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Some teams have continued to soar and cement their spots in the playoffs, but a few notable teams are struggling to hold their own. Likewise, some unexpected underdogs have slipped their way into the playoff picture. This article will discuss the tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference and highlight three teams that are poised to slide up or down in the seeding.
The Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young and the Hawks have been one of the bigger surprises in the Eastern Conference this year. Compared to last year, the Hawks have been one of the most improved teams. Led by their Allstar and MVP candidate, Trae Young, the Hawks are currently in the fourth seed and have a 29-25 record with just over a month left in the 2021 season. While there is a large gap between the third-seed Milwaukwe and the Hawks, the teams behind the Hawks are nipping at their heels. Seeds four through seven are all within a game of each other and will likely do some shuffling over the next few weeks. However, the Hawks have one of the easier remaining schedules in the Eastern Conference. This week, they will play Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana. Two of these three games are very winnable for the Hawks, but if they can win all three, they will be sitting very nicely in the fourth spot and hoping for home court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The Boston Celtics
The roster changes and the COVID protocols have caused the Celtics to struggle greatly over the past months. While many expected the All-Star duo of Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown to continue their dominance into the second half of 2021, the Celtics have struggled as of late. With their big win against the Nuggets on April 11, the Celtics are two games above .500 and sitting comfortably at the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. They are also only one game separating them from the fourth spot and home court advantage in the playoffs. Boston has three big games on the West Coast as they play the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors. If the Celtics can continue their momentum and grab a few wins this week, I fully expect them to move up the standings. However, if they are unable to beat at least the Blazer and the Warriors, it will be a struggle for the Celtics to move up the standings as the season winds down.
The New York Knicks
Like the Atlanta Hawks, the Knicks are one of the “overachievers” in the Eastern Conference this year. Many expected this young roster, led by Julius Randle, to be near the bottom of the conference, but with a month left in the playoffs, the Knicks are holding on to the eighth seed and are one game ahead of the ninth-seeded Indiana Pacers. However, the remaining schedule for the Knicks is a daunting one. They currently have the fifth hardest remaining schedule and will have to play the Lakers, New Orleans twice, and the Mavericks over the next week. All three of these opponents are looking to make moves in the playoff picture too, and I would imagine every matchup this week will be a battle. However, if the Knicks can finish the remaining season at least .500, I would expect them to finish in the eight seed. However, this does not guarantee them a spot in the playoffs as they will have to play at least one play-in game, but possibly as many as four play-in games to officially make the playoffs and go up against the Eastern Conferences very best.
Edited by Emma Moloney