The NBA is set to return in late July after halting its season amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and some teams on the fringe will be battling it out down the stretch in the hoped of securing a playoff spot. The Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, and Washington Wizards are the only teams left in the Eastern Conference that haven’t clinched a playoff berth ahead of the eight regular season games left. There could very well be a play-in series should the ninth and eighth-seeded teams end up being within four games of one another when the regular season concludes, so we break down the most likely outcomes here.
The Magic (-118) have the best odds to claim the eighth and final playoff spot. They’re trailed by the Nets (+100) while the Wizards (+1300) have the worst odds. Accounting for the adjusted schedule and injuries could cause these odds to shift though.
The Nets are currently the seventh seed, with a half game lead on the Nets and six game lead on the Wizards. However, they have an interim head coach and won’t get a boost from Kyrie Irving down the stretch due to a shoulder injury. Kevin Durant has also ruled out returning from the Achilles injury that he’s been rehabbing since last year’s NBA Finals. Brooklyn will face an Orlando team twice that it’s winless against this year, and will also face the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Clippers. The Nets are only half a game ahead of the Magic in the conference standings, so don’t be surprised if they drop back a spot and potentially face the Wizards as part of the play-in to the playoffs.
UPDATE: DeAndre Jordan has tested positive for Covid-19 and will not be joining the team in Orlando. That further hurts their chances of avoiding a playoff with the Wizards.
Orlando is still waiting to see if it’ll get a boost from the return of Jonathan Isaac, who has been dealing with a knee injury since January. Although Orlando doesn’t have a superstar, the return of a quality two-way wing should help the Magic’s chances to sweep Brooklyn. Orlando is 2-1 against the Philadelphia 76ers and 1-0 against the New Orleans Pelicans, so I like their chances to win more games than the Nets and elude a play-in tournament.
The Wizards are six games behind the Nets, but have the best scorer of any team Eastern Conference team fighting to make the playoffs. Bradley Beal is second in the NBA with 30.5 points per game and has been on a tear since the All-Star break. Not getting John Wall back means that Beal will have to carry a tremendous load. I don’t think he’ll be enough to elevate his team’s level of play enough while having to face five teams with above .500 records.
The Nets have the best chance of this trio of making the playoffs. While the Magic could catch them, their well-rounded group led by Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie should be enough to hold off Washington.
Here’s a list of each team’s schedule.
- vs. Orlando Magic on Friday, July 31 (2:30 p.m. ET)
- vs. Washington Wizards on Sunday, August 2 (2:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, August 4 (1:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV)
- vs. Boston Celtics on Wednesday, August 5 (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
- vs. Sacramento Kings on Friday, August 7 (5:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. LA Clippers on Sunday, August 9 (9:00 p.m. ET, NBA TV)
- vs. Orlando Magic on Tuesday, August 11 (1:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, August 13 (TBD, TBD)
- vs. Brooklyn Nets on Friday, July 31 (2:30 p.m. ET)
- vs. Sacramento Kings on Sunday, August 2 (6:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, August 4 (6:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, August 5 (8:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, August 7 (6:30 p.m. ET, TNT)
- vs. Boston Celtics on Sunday, August 9 (5:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, August 11 (1:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, August 13 (TBD, TBD)
- vs. Phoenix Suns on Friday, July 31 (4:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, August 2 (2:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Indiana Pacers on Monday, August 3 (4:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, August 5 (4:00 p.m. ET, NBA TV)
- vs. New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, August 7 (8:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, August 9 (12:30 p.m. ET)
- vs. Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, August 11 (9:00 p.m. ET)
- vs. Boston Celtics on Thursday, August 13 (TBD, TBD)