The NBA playoffs are right around the corner, and the race to the top in the Eastern Conference standings will seemingly be a wire-to-wire finish.
Among the premier contenders are the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks, who currently are battling for positioning within the top three spots in the standings. It appears that those three will remain the top three for the remainder of the season, although the final order may shift at some capacity.
However, the rest of the standings continue to shift around on a nightly basis, ensuring that the end result will be unpredictable until the final regular season game has been played.
That includes the NBA’s newfound play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots, which is currently a four-team race between the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers, and Washington Wizards.
Somewhere lodged between the top and the bottom are the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks, and the Boston Celtics, a list that has undoubtedly surprised some people. Although there is no telling how the final standings will shake out, here are three potential first-round matchups that fans would love to see in the Eastern Conference.
Eastern Conference NBA Playoffs matchup — Philadelphia 76ers versus New York Knicks
Both the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks have taken surprising leaps compared to last season.
After finishing in sixth place in the East last year, Philadelphia jumped all the way up to first for a large portion of the season with a revamped roster. Big man Joel Embiid had asserted himself as the MVP frontrunner for a large portion of the season before he was sidelined with injury, which resulted in the team sliding in the standings, currently sitting at second with a 40-21 record.
With Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and a new look supporting cast that includes Seth Curry, Danny Green, Shake Milton, and many others, this team could be special. While the health of Embiid and Simmons will ultimately be the deciding factor heading into the postseason, they are equipped to make a deep run towards the NBA Finals alongside the best of them.
Meanwhile, the Knicks are fighting for their first playoff berth since 2013, currently sitting at fourth place in the conference with a 34-28 record. The hire of former Coach of the Year winner Tom Thibodeau has rejuvenated this young New York team, along with a first-time All-Star selection from budding star Julius Randle. A stellar season from sophomore stud RJ Barrett along with the midseason acquisition of former league MVP Derrick Rose are two components that have also given this team a huge lift.
It appears that the Knicks are back after years of struggling, and a first-round set with the 76ers would be a tough opponent to welcome them back into the playoffs. With Philadelphia currently second and New York fourth, the standings would have to shift drastically for these two teams to actually square off straight away, but it is far from impossible.