The Celtics have a one-game lead on the Heat in the Eastern Conference standings and rank 20th in ESPN's BPI rankings, two spots ahead of Miami.
But Boston has a lower chance of making the playoffs (42 percent) than the Heat (53 percent) because of its schedule.
The Celtics have the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the East, according to BPI’s SOS rankings. An average team would be expected to win 40.1 percent of their games against Boston’s remaining schedule, and BPI’s game projections do not favor the Celtics in any of their remaining games.
Overall, Boston is expected to win about 1.7 of its final 5 games (34 percent), tied for the fourth-lowest projected win percentage in the NBA.
Meanwhile, Miami has the easiest projected remaining schedule in the NBA. An average team would be expected to win 62.8 percent of their games against Miami’s remaining schedule, and BPI’s game projections give the Heat at least a 45 percent chance to win each of their remaining games.
Overall, Miami is expected to win about 2.9 of its final 5 games (58 percent), the 11th-best projected win percentage in the NBA and 1.2 more projected wins than the Celtics (who currently hold a 1-game lead).
Oklahoma City vs. New Orleans in the West
A similar story can be told when breaking down the race for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. The Thunder are a half-game up on the Pelicans but have a significantly higher chance (76 percent versus 24 percent) to make the playoffs. This is partly because the Thunder rank sixth in BPI, but mostly because of their remaining schedule.
The Pelicans have the third-hardest remaining schedule in the NBA. Four of their final six games are against teams ranked in the top eight of NBA BPI (Clippers, Spurs, Rockets, Grizzlies), including two such games on the road. The Thunder’s remaining schedule ranks 14th and they only face two top-8 teams (Spurs and Trail Blazers) in their final five games.