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Super-Early Eastern Conference Playoff Standings: 5-8 Seeds

First I revealed the Western Conference Playoff standings, now its time for the East.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I released my predictions for the Western Conference Playoff standings. You can view the two-part piece here and here.

Now its time for the Eastern Conference Playoff standings. Of course, this a Memphis Grizzlies blog that doesn’t have to concern itself with the East very often, if at all. But since we are in the black hole of the NBA off-season, its only fair to give our NBA minds something relevant to read about.

The Eastern Conference has been a roller coaster of semi-drama and ultimate irrelevancy this Summer. When you are competing with Lebron James day-in and day-out, the odds of becoming less of a headline are a lot higher for all other Eastern teams. But there have been some special cases of flare, namely the signing of Gordon Hayward, and more recently, the Kyrie-IT trade.

With the Eastern Conference weaker, predicting playoff spots is a little more fluid and subject to change. There are also rumors that Boston may not be done building their roster; unsigned free agents could also shake things up.

Without further adieu, here are the team that will not make the 2018 playoffs:

The New York Knicks are so dysfunctional it would take a miracle for them get it together and string together multiple wins in a row. Due east in Brooklyn, things don’t look much better. The Nets may have improved slightly from last season, and health could finally land in their favor, but it won’t be enough. Remember that team in Orlando? Yeah, its still there. I challenge any of you to try and name five players on their roster. It will be a long season for the Magic. The Detroit Pistons could sneak in, but their closing months of games is not great and they will struggle to compete on both ends of the floor consistently.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Does anyone have high hopes for the Pacers? Life got so complicated for them when Paul George decided to take matters into his own hands (or words), and now they are stuck with a middling roster. Atlanta lost Dwight Howard (not that big of a deal) and Paul Millsap (a bigger deal). They cleared a lot of cap space, but didn’t improve their roster much after the losses. And lastly, the mess that we call the Chicago Bulls. Bye bye Jimmy Butler, and probably Dwyane Wade at some point, and what are they left with? Only the second season in 10 years they won’t make the playoffs.

Below are the 5-8 seeds that I predict will make the Eastern Conference Playoffs:

5. Charlotte Hornets

Anchored by Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum, this Hornets team has slowly been making noise the last couple of seasons. They have added Dwight Howard, Mr Rebound-and-maybe-dunk-sometimes, which pushed their roster to a makeshift “Big 3”. But what makes Charlotte a top tier NBA team is the depth of their reserves. Their guards are all interchangeable, the big men complement each other well, and they are all young (Dwight Howard and Marvin Williams are the oldest members, 31 years old). Marcus Paige and Malik Monk could be important contributors off the bench, Michael Carter-Williams can command the point position, and players like Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lamb finally have enough NBA experience to seriously contribute.

The Hornets’ schedule is rhythmic in the way it balances tough and less-tough opponents all the way through April. The final stretch of 15 games includes 10 on the road but against easier competition. This should make for a strong final push at home court advantage, but will ultimately land them in the fifth spot.

6. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have had some great runs in recent history. Coining the phrase “We the North” is one my favorite marketing moves a team has ever done, if only Jon Snow could get his people to acquiesce the slogan.

But somehow the Raptors still seem somewhat irrelevant in NBA hot topics. The core of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry has built strong fan base and accrued a substantial amount of wins, but the roster surrounding them is slowly becoming the opposite of what is needed in today’s NBA. Lowry is now the team’s oldest player, so they have the age factor right, but the young talent on the roster is nothing short of average. DeRozan and Lowry will carry this team like they have done in previous seasons, but the reign of the North won’t be as loud this season.

Schedule wise, the Raptors look to be okay. They play San Antonio, Golden State, and Houston all within the first 13 games, and will have survived a six-game road trip in that same amount of time. Other than that long trip, the rest of their schedule balances out. The final stretch towards to playoffs looks feasible and could benefit Toronto if the race to avoid Cleveland or Boston gets tight.

7. Miami Heat

This prediction may shock some of you.

Since the Lebron departure the Heat are a whopping four games over .500. They have been the definition of average, and that is an accurate reflection of their roster as well. The highest paid player on the roster is Hassan Whiteside and the second highest is Goran Dragic. Those aren’t necessarily the best anchors to build your franchise around, but they are playing in an era that falls in their favor. Since the Eastern Conference is so weak, the Heat are able to somewhat compete with the roster they have managed to salvage. Dion Waiters is their go-to scorer, Justise Winslow is a beast, and Whiteside keeps any and every one out of the paint. So they will make some noise this year.

The month of November contains 11 out of 15 games on the road including one six-game road trip. That month also includes opponents like GSW, CLE, MIN, BOS, and WAS. Tough month. There are a few other long road trips for Miami, but competition evens out. The last six of 10 games in the regular season are played against teams that I predict will not make the playoffs, so that could get the Heat back into playoff mode once again.

8. Philadelphia 76ers

NBA: Summer League-Philadelphia 76ers at Golden State Warriors Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

First, let’s all agree that we want Philly to make the playoffs. It has been a severe struggle for the Sixers - they have only won two more games since 2013 than Golden State won in their record setting 2015 season. They have slowly put together an (injury prone) solid roster of young talent. They now have an outspoken leader in Joel Embiid who looks to be a terror down low if he can stay healthy. Markelle Fultz could be Rookie of the Year, J.J. Reddick got paid way too much (on a one-year deal, though), and Ben Simmons will be back. Things are looking up for Philly, only seven more spots to climb in the standings.

The month of October does not look great, the 76ers could start 0-7 and nobody would be surprised. November doesn’t improve with a full slate of Western Conference opponents. The beauty of the Philly schedule is that February, March, and April will give this team a great chance to solidify their spot in this year’s playoffs. They will barely edge out Detroit for the final position.

All rosters and schedules provided by ESPN NBA.

Check back tomorrow for the 1-4 seeds.