East NBA playoff picture: Bucks’ No. 2 seed in danger as Celtics come to town

The Celtics are looking to spoil the Bucks’ season before the start of the playoffs.

The final week of the 2023-24 season is upon us, and the NBA playoff picture continues to change each and every night. After every team in the league had a night to relax and kick their feet up, Tuesday brings several key matchups in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, including the highlight battle of the night between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks.

The Celtics find themselves with a league-best record of 62-16. Closing out the final stretch with four straight wins would take the C’s to 66-16 on the year, their most wins since the 2007-08 season. If you are a Boston fan, you remember how that season ended, as that’s the last time the Celtics went on to win the NBA Finals.

Anything less than a championship this year for the Celtics is going to be viewed as a failure, especially after coming so close to winning a title the last two seasons. Boston lost to Golden State in the 2022 NBA Finals, and they were ousted by the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last year. After getting both Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, Boston has been the best team in the East all season. A potential championship is the only thing that will be remembered for what they have accomplished over the last several months.

When they traded for Damian Lillard, the Bucks’ championship aspirations grew. Looking to prove that losing in the first round to the Heat last season was a fluke, the Bucks are currently trending in the wrong direction ahead of the playoffs. Milwaukee has lost four straight games, three of which were to teams that have been eliminated from postseason contention.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing everything he can right now, but the Bucks as a whole have some major problems to figure out if they are to be taken seriously in the postseason. As a matter of fact, this game against Boston is significant because the Bucks could wind up losing the 2-seed in the East if they drop their fifth straight game on Tuesday night.

The No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference is up for grabs entering the final week of the regular season, making this Celtics-Bucks matchup one of the most important on the schedule in terms of the NBA standings. In total, there are six games featuring teams from the East that could shake up the NBA playoff picture, starting with Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers being in action.

Pistons vs. 76ers (7:00 PM ET)

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) and center Joel Embiid (21) talk as they walk off the court at half time against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum.Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

When the 76ers were without Joel Embiid, they looked like a team that was barely going to make the play-in tournament. Since his return, the Sixers have gone 5-0, picking up wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat along the way. Now, Philadelphia is just one game behind the Indiana Pacers for the 6-seed in the conference. The 76ers can realistically climb their way out of the play-in region of the standings and throw a wrench in the NBA playoff picture as one of the better teams in the East stuck in a low-seed spot. Unless they rest all of their starters, it’s hard to see Philly losing this game to the Detroit Pistons.

The 76ers are a full game behind the No. 6 Pacers in the standings and a half-game ahead of the No. 8 Heat.
A win over Detroit moves the 76ers into a tie for the 6-seed if the Pacers lose to Toronto.
A loss to Detroit and a win by the Heat pushes the 76ers down to the 8-seed with two games remaining.
Philadelphia is locked into a play-in spot with a loss AND with wins by Orlando and Indiana.
Miami and Indiana own tiebreakers over Philadelphia.

Pacers vs. Raptors (7:00 PM ET)

The Pacers may just be one of the more fascinating teams to talk about in the Eastern Conference this season. At times, this group has looked like a threat due to their high-powered offense led by Tyrese Haliburton and Pascal Siakam. At the same time, their defense has been horrendous, and the Pacers are susceptible to shooting woes offensively. Indiana has quietly been building up wins, as they have claimed a victory in 11 of their last 15 games. Now, they can build their lead for the 6-seed and avoid the play-in tournament with a win.

Indiana clinches a playoff spot with a win, and a Miami loss , a Philadelphia loss, and an Orlando win.
The Pacers lead the No. 7 Sixers by one game. Indiana trails the No. 5 Cleveland Cavaliers by one game.

A win over Toronto moves the Pacers within a half-game of Cleveland for the 5-seed.
A loss to Toronto and a win by the 76ers moves Indiana into a tie for the 6-seed.
Indiana owns tiebreakers over Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Miami.

Celtics vs. Bucks (7:30 PM ET)

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) goes to the basket between Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) and forward Bobby Portis (9) during the second half at TD Garden.Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
The marquee matchup pertaining to the NBA playoff picture in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday night will be between the Celtics and Bucks in the middle of the night’s schedule. The Celtics, who have won five straight games, tied with the 76ers for the longest active win streak in the league, are looking to add to their win total against a struggling Bucks team, who have lost four straight. Boston is locked into their playoff spot as the No. 1 overall team in the league, but the Bucks have yet to clinch their spot. Another loss may just result in Milwaukee falling in the East standings for the first time all year.

The Celtics own the best record in the league and home-court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs.
The Bucks currently lead the No. 3 Orlando Magic and No. 4 New York Knicks by one game.
A win over Boston snaps Milwaukee’s four-game losing streak, and keeps the Bucks at least one game ahead for the 2-seed with three games left.

A loss to Boston and a win by either Orlando or New York would push Milwaukee into a tie for the 2-seed.
The Bucks own tiebreakers over the Knicks and Cavs.

Heat vs. Hawks (7:30 PM ET)

At this point, it looks extremely likely that the Heat and Atlanta Hawks will have to earn their right to play postseason basketball via the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. Miami recently lost games to the 76ers and Pacers, two teams that they desperately needed to beat in order to try and claim an outright playoff spot. The Hawks reside one game behind the Chicago Bulls for the 9-seed, and Chicago owns the tiebreaker over them. Their only chance of possibly hosting the 9-seed vs. 10-seed game is if they can beat the Heat and see the Bulls lose two games. Anything is possible in the East, but it seems destined for these two teams to meet again next week.

The Heat are a half-game behind the No. 8 Sixers.
The Hawks are one game back of the No. 9 Bulls.
A win against the Hawks and a loss by the 76ers moves the Heat into sole possession of the 7-seed in the East with three games remaining.
A loss to the Hawks and a win by the 76ers essentially means the Heat will be locked into the 8-seed in the East.
A win over the Heat and a loss by the Bulls moves the Hawks into a tie with the Bulls for the 9-seed.

Knicks vs. Bulls (8:00 PM ET)

Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso (6) defends New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) during the first quarter at United Center. David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The Knicks are one of the teams threatening the Bucks for the 2-seed in the NBA playoff picture. Even without Julius Randle, the Knicks have been able to find success in large part due to the contributions of Jalen Brunson, who is in the discussion for this season’s MVP award. New York is once again a gritty two-way squad that plays hard for 48 minutes every single night. Their Achilles heel, though, is their offensive efficiency without Brunson on the court. For some reason, the Chicago Bulls have been a tough opponent for the Knicks. These two teams will play two games over the final week of the season.

New York clinches a playoff spot with a win AND a Miami loss OR with losses by Miami, and Philadelphia and an Orlando win.
The Knicks are currently tied with the Magic for the 3-seed in the East; just one game back of the 2-seed Bucks.
A win against the Bulls, and a Bucks loss, puts the Knicks into a tie for the 2-seed.
A loss to the Bulls puts the Knicks into a tie for the 4-seed with the Cavs.

Magic vs. Rockets (8:00 PM ET)

A game on the road against the Houston Rockets has suddenly become the most important game of the season for the Orlando Magic. Star forward Franz Wagner is dealing with an ankle injury, leading to his uncertain status for this game. If Wagner is unable to go, Paolo Banchero will be heavily leaned on to carry the offensive load for a defensive-minded Magic team. An opportunity to grab the 2-seed has presented itself to the young Magic, which is why a win can go a long way in dethroning the Bucks.

Orlando clinches a playoff spot with a win AND with losses by any two of Miami, Philadelphia, and Indiana.
The Magic are currently tied with the Knicks for the 3-seed in the East; just one game behind Milwaukee for the 2-seed.
A win against the Rockets and a loss by the Bucks moves Orlando into a tie for the 2-seed.
A loss to the Rockets and a win by the Knicks puts Orlando into a tie for the 4-seed with the Cavs.
The Magic own the tiebreaker over the Knicks, Cavs, and Pacers.


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