The NBA playoffs were mostly set before the season finale on April 16. However, the order of a few NBA playoff seeds still had to be decided, as the Eastern Conference alone only had the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 8 seeds set before the final night. But ultimately, the East got its eight playoff teams and their first round match-ups settled, with only two teams switching places.
The slumping Brooklyn Nets were seemingly safe in the fifth slot, but the Washington Wizards caught up to them at the last minute. Thanks to the Wizards beating the Boston Celtics by 118-102, as well as the Nets losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers by a whopping 114-85, Washington moved up to No. 5.
As a result, the Wizards will face the fourth seeded Chicago Bulls, although the Bulls could have gone up to No. 3 themselves. Yet both the Toronto Raptors and the Bulls lost their season finales and kept the No. 3 and No. 4 respective seeds.
Because the Nets dropped down a peg, they will likely have to face the Miami Heat in the second round if they beat the Raptors. The prospect of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett facing the Heat in another postseason series would be juicy, especially since Brooklyn was perfect against Miami this season. Nevertheless, Pierce, Garnett and the Nets' other expensive stars couldn't deliver on high preseason expectations, leaving the odds long for them to do it in the postseason.
The Raptors and Wizards had virtually no preseason expectations, while the Bulls were dismissed after Derrick Rose's latest injury, but they finished higher than the Nets anyway. What's more, the Charlotte Bobcats finished just behind the Nets, despite having one of the worst seasons in NBA history just two years ago. Yet because they couldn't move up from the seventh position on April 16, the Bobcats have to start the NBA playoffs against the Heat.
The Eastern Conference has been derided as a two-team league for most of the season, but even those two teams are limping into the postseason. If the Pacers and Heat can't flip the switch back on after rough endings to their regular season, then who is equipped to actually challenge them for an NBA Finals berth?
The accompanying list breaks down the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams, in the final order they settled on.
Shaky Pacers lead East
Indiana Pacers (56-26, face Atlanta Hawks in first round) Thanks to Evan Turner and the Pacers backing into the top seed, it isn't a given that they'll automatically wake up and cruise over the sub .500 Hawks.
LeBron, Heat limp towards three-peat
Miami Heat (54-28, face Charlotte Bobcats in first round) Thanks to LeBron James and the Heat coughing up a chance for home court, it isn't a given that they'll breeze to a three-peat.
Toronto Raptors (48-34, face Brooklyn Nets in first round) The Raptors only won one playoff series in their history, back when Vince Carter was in Toronto in 2001. But now DeMar DeRozen can equal that legacy for the surprise Atlantic Division champions, against the preseason Atlantic favorites.
Bulls hang around again
Chicago Bulls (48-34, face Washington Wizards in first round) Once again, Joakim Noah helped the Bulls survive without Derrick Rose, leaving them to once again play in the 4-5 Eastern Conference quarterfinal and hope they can scare a top seed later.
Wall's playoff debut
Washington Wizards (44-38, face Chicago Bulls in first round) The Wizards haven't been to the playoffs in some time, but now they will take John Wall to the postseason for the first time, and even moved up a seed at the last minute for good measure.
Nets go backwards into postseason
Brooklyn Nets (44-38, face Toronto Raptors in first round) Paul Pierce goes into the playoffs with a team other than the Boston Celtics for the first time -- yet the Nets were supposed to do more than slump down to the sixth seed.
Bobcats goes from basement to playoffs
Charlotte Bobcats (43-39, face Miami Heat in first round) The Bobcats had the worst winning percentage in NBA history two years ago, yet Al Jefferson has propelled back to their second playoff berth in short order. Will he give them their first postseason victory as well, even against the Heat?
Hawks reach playoffs by default
Atlanta Hawks (38-44, face Indiana Pacers in first round) Paul Millsap and the Hawks became the symbol of a broken NBA playoff system, getting in with 38 wins while the 48-win Phoenix Suns missed the postseason out West. What's more, the Hawks are lucky to face the Pacers at their worst.