The NBA’s 2020-21 regular season will come to an end on March 16 and teams are jockeying for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets are the top dogs, but the Milwaukee Bucks are in third and could make things interesting with a strong run down the stretch. Let’s go over the chances for each frontrunner to finish in first.
The Sixers (43-21) got jumped by the Nets last week but have reclaimed the top spot since then. They lead Brooklyn by 0.5 a game and have an extremely easy schedule ahead of them. Philadelphia will face the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, and Miami Heat before finishing the regular season with two straight games against the Orlando Magic. The Heat are the only team in that group with a winning record. Philly has a clean bill of health, so the Nets will likely have to be close to perfect to catch them.
Brooklyn (43-22) still isn’t sure when James Harden will return from the hamstring injury that’s kept him sidelined and has a few tough games on tap. Brooklyn will finish the week with games against the third-place Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks, and Denver Nuggets. Their next four games will be against the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, and Cleveland Cavaliers. Brooklyn’s final two games seem easy enough, but Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and Nikola Jokic won’t roll over. Playing three straight road games against tough opponents will make things hard on the Nets, even if they do finish the season with a three-game home stint. The 76ers might have have to slip up once or twice as a major favorite for Brooklyn to creep back into first.
The Bucks (40-24) are 3.0 games back of the Sixers. Milwaukee’s starting lineup got healthy just in time for the playoffs and a couple of role players are dealing with minor ailments. The Bucks will run it back against Brooklyn on Tuesday after edging them out by three points over the weekend, and their schedule will ease up after that. The Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, and Chicago Bulls are up next. Like the Sixers, the Bucks won’t face many contenders down the stretch. However, they might have to win out to catch Philly.
Who will finish in first?
Pick: The Sixers have the best shot to finish as the No. 1 seed. Their clean bill of health and ideal schedule gives them a slight edge over the Nets, who shouldn’t be counted out just yet. The Bucks should be out of the picture though.