The playoff race in the east is tight, maybe not as tight or deep as the west, but it is still a very close race. Toronto and Boston most likely have the top two seeds locked up, but seeds three through eight are only decided by 3.5 games. Detroit and Charlotte still have an outside shot of making the playoffs, but it would require a miraculous run. Cleveland, Indiana, Washington, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Miami can all end up anywhere between three and eight. All teams have higher than a 94 percent chance of making it, according to ESPN’s playoff odds, but where they end up is still being decided and tiebreakers will be huge. Here are the x-factors for each team that will go a long way in deciding where their team ends up.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers — Jordan Clarkson
LeBron James has been sensational recently, but that is not enough. Cleveland has lost three of four, and all three losses have been at home. LeBron needs some help, and the person to help is Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson has the role of bench scorer, and he has to be more consistent for the Cavaliers to stay in the three seed. He needs to be Cleveland’s number two option without Kevin Love. Clarkson so far is averaging 13.2 points per game on 49 percent shooting as a Cavalier. Good numbers, but Clarkson needs to be even more aggressive down the stretch to help carry the offense while Lebron rests. His defense also needs to improve.
4. Indiana Pacers — Myles Turner
The Pacers just got impressive back to back road wins at Milwaukee and Washington. Impressive considering they lost to the Mavericks and Hawks before that. Their inconsistency tied to one of their players; Myles Turner. Turner in his third season has been up and down, and injuries have been a factor. Now, he is healthy, and some nights he looks great and on some nights he is a no-show. For example, he followed a 24 point performance with a five-point game at Atlanta. Turner needs to be a factor on both ends for Indiana to reach its potential. The talent is there; he just needs to bring it on a more consistent basis.
5. Washington Wizards — Markieef Morris
The Wizards have done a good job at surviving John Wall’s absence. Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoranksy, and Otto Porter Jr have all stepped up. Markieef Morris after a rough start has been better as of late. He is their x-factor because when he plays well, the Wizards usually win. Morris needs to keep hitting his threes for the Wizards, right now he is hitting 37 percent, but he will still get tested. Without Wall, the Wizards need more scoring and Morris has to be aggressive on a nightly basis. 11 points per game won’t cut it, Morris needs to be in the 15 point and seven rebounds per game range, if the Wizards want home court in the playoffs. Their schedule is brutal down the stretch.
6. Philadelphia 76ers — Dario Saric
The Sixers get themselves in trouble when the offense bogs down, and they start turning the ball over right and left. They need a secondary scorer beside Joel Embidd, and Dario Saric is the guy. He has been looking for his shot more recently, and he needs to be more aggressive down the stretch. Saric is Philadelphia’s best scorer beside Embidd. In his past five games, he has averaged 16.8 points per game on 47 percent shooting. He needs to keep those numbers up. In the playoffs he will have a good matchup as teams clog the paint against Embiid and Ben Simmons, he needs to make shots and keep the defense honest.
7. Milwaukee Bucks — John Henson
Milwaukee has been very inconsistent of late, and so has John Henson. The Bucks struggled with rebounding and Henson’s rebounding has been come and go. Henson needs to be a factor in the paint on a nightly basis for the Bucks to reach their potential. He must stay out of foul trouble while protecting the rim for the Bucks. Seven points, six rebounds and one block per game just isn’t enough. Henson has the ability he just needs to step it up down the stretch.
8. Miami Heat — Justise Winslow
Miami is well coached and scrappy, but some nights that isn’t enough. Their offense is a struggle on most nights, and they need Winslow to be more aggressive. Winslow brings excellent defense and some good passing, but the Heat needs him to score more. He has not been aggressive this season averaging only 1.3 free throw attempts per game. Winslow also needs to take more threes; he is hitting them at an excellent 43 percent. Miami needs Winslow’s defense — if he can bring any offense, the Heat will be a dangerous playoff team. He scored in double figures the past two games, so hopefully, he can keep that going, because the Heat need that if they want to be higher than eight and hold off the Pistons and Hornets for the final playoff spot.