Kit Shepard | August 16th, 2018
Although few would dispute that the Eastern Conference is weaker than its Western equivalent in the NBA, there will undoubtedly be an entertaining battle for those final spots in the playoffs out East. Consequently, the schedule is of major importance for these teams hovering around the eighth seed, as the degree of difficulty in their games could make or break their entire season.
As previously with the West, and again using Vegas’ predicted over/under win totals, here is a breakdown of the schedule for the Eastern Conference teams likely to be on the very edge of the postseason.
Vegas over/under win total: 41.5 (7th in the East)
The Good News: Aside from a matchup with the Wizards on October 18th, the Heats’ opening 10 games include no opponents projected by Vegas to reach the postseason in the coming campaign. Among these games are encounters with the Hawks and Kings, who are predicted to finish dead last in the East and West respectively, allowing Miami to get on a roll from the opening tip.
The Bad News: The five-game road trip to the West Coast just before the All-Star break could be Miami’s toughest stretch of the year. With the eager anticipation that the start of the season brought a world away, and the ultimate goal of the playoffs barely visible, early February is typically the most mentally challenging time for NBA players. Road games against the Warriors and the Nuggets, who were a combined 60-22 at home last season, will in particular test the Heat’s ability to overcome midseason doldrums.
Verdict: Miami must capitalize on a kind start to the season to allow room for error once the schedule becomes more difficult.
Vegas over/under win total: 37.5 (8th)
The Good News: Like the Heat, the Pistons have a great opportunity to start the season positively, since seven of their opening 12 games are against teams predicted to miss the playoffs. Their first couple of games emphasize this, with the visit of the Nets before a trip to Chicago to face the Bulls giving Detroit the ideal platform to begin their campaign strongly under new coach Dwane Casey. With their 13th game on the road against the Raptors, who fired Casey after last season’s second-round playoff exit despite him winning 2018 Coach of the Year, the Pistons’ aforementioned opening stretch should allow them to build momentum ahead of an intriguing clash.
The Bad News: While the NBA continues to reduce the number of back-to-backs, 10 of Detroit’s 13 games that fall on the second night of a back-to-back are on the road. The limited turnaround between travel and games ensures the Pistons will have minimal time to recover, which is especially bad news for star forward Blake Griffin, who has missed over one-third of games over the past three seasons due to various injuries.
Verdict: Handling players’ fitness in the face of several demanding back-to-backs will be a key focus in Detroit.
Vegas over/under win total: 35.5 (9th)
The Good News: LeBron James is no longer in the Eastern Conference, meaning the Hornets will only have to face the King twice at most next season, rather than the three or four games a season they endured against him while he was with the Cavaliers and Heat. James’ record against Charlotte stands at 42-6, giving him the highest winning percentage of any active player against a single team (considering the Hornets are owned by Michael Jordan, this really is not that surprising). With LeBron out West, the damage he can do to the Hornets’ playoff hopes is halved, as are his opportunities to cement his legacy in front of his all-time nemesis.
The Bad News: There will not face many tanking teams in the last month of the season. From March 3rd to April 5th, the Hornets play 16 games, with 15 of those against franchises who made the playoffs last season. This daunting stretch includes trips to Golden State to play the Warriors juggernaut, as well as visits to Utah and Houston, locations where they have lost their last 11 and 13 matchups respectively. As for that one game against a team that did not make the postseason last year? It is on the road, against LeBron’s Lakers. Read the above paragraph again for a reminder of why that is very bad news.
Verdict: The Hornets will have to rack up the majority of their wins in the earlier parts of the season to stand a chance of returning to the playoffs.
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