|The Heat and Knicks could be seeing a lot of each other in the next month. (Getty Images)|
Each morning we'll update you on the playoff race in both conferences. Not just who is how many games out of what seed, but what the seedings and matchups mean for each team based on what we've seen. For our complete playoff standings, click here.
Eastern ConferenceWith six games to go, the Bulls' lead over Miami has swollen to 3.5 games. Miami in all likelihood, after getting a signature road win they'd been searching for for two months against New York Sunday, will start shutting down the Big 3 to get them some rest before the playoffs begin. The Bulls on the other hand probably won't, considering their need to get Derrick Rose back into playing shape. The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are pretty well locked in the East.
Indiana has a 2.5 game game lead over the Celtics with six games left and Boston's already begun cycling out rest rotations for the Big 3. The Pacers do have three games remaining against playoff teams in Philadelphia and Chicago, but the Celtics finish with games against New York, Orlando, and Atlanta before closing out against the Bucks. The odds for the Pacers holding onto the No. 3 seed are exceptional.
That would leave Boston, Atlanta, and Orlando jockeying for the 4th, 5th, and 6th seeds. Assuming Boston holds on to the division title, that would assure them the 4th as division winners cannot be seeded lower than 4th. They could still lose homecourt to the Hawks or Magic in that situation, but Boston seems to be cemented at the 4, barring a total collapse and an insane run from Philadelphia. The real question is whether the Hawks and Magic want the Pacers or Celtics.
The Pacers aren't a pushover, tank target by any means, but given druthers, any of those teams would likely rather face the Pacers than Miami or Chicago, or really even each other. Orlando is without Dwight Howard for most if not all of the rest of the way, so their trek gets the most difficult.
That might not be a bad thing for Orlando, as they need to stay as far away from Boston, who has played them enough, with worse versions of their roster, to figure them out in short order. The Magic's most likely, and best chance at advancing lies with a matchup against the Pacers.
For Atlanta, their focus is largely on getting homecourt advantage against Boston. Facing Orlando would be preferable, obviously, given their victory over them last year in the first round. But that's out of their hands. Homecourt is not. It would be fitting for Atlanta and Boston to face off, as the two met in the first round in the first year of the Big 3 in 2008 when the Hawks made a surprising seven-game run against the Celtics.
Idle Philadelphia moved a half game over New York for the seventh seed with the Knicks' loss to Miami Sunday. Outside of a two-game set against Indiana, the Sixers' schedule is favorable if they can stop the bleeding. A game against the Dwight-less Magic, with lottery squads Cleveland, New Jersey and Detoit sprinkled in. If they fall apart again, though, a matchup next Wednesday in Milwaukee could determine the 8th spot.
Milwaukee, two games out of 8th, needs a huge amount of help to get in. Their close loss to the Pacers this weekend may have been the nail in the coffin.
The Knicks' question of first-round opponent is interesting. They've consistently had success against both Miami and Chicago, and yet would be heavy underdogs. Perhaps catching the Bulls with Derrick Rose not yet at full strength would be the best option, rather than a Miami team who managed to beat the Knicks Sunday despite not playing especially well.
|The Thunder and Spurs continue to jockey for the top spot in the West. (Getty Images)|
The Spurs are likely to rest the Big 3 heavily over the next two weeks, but have enough depth to still win those games. The Thunder, on the other hand, face the Clippers, a desperate Suns team clinging to its playoff life, the Lakers in Staples, and a closing game against the Nuggets. OKC likely won't rest its starters before seeds are locked, but have a much harder road to homecourt advantage.
The Thunder hold a one game advantage over the Spurs with six game remaining.
The Lakers find themselves four games back of the second seed despite going 8-2 in their last ten and being on a four-game winning streak. They hold a 1.5 game lead over the Clippers, but hold the tiebreaker over the little brother from across the hall. The Lakers appear to be a lock for the third seed, which works out fine for them. They know they can win in San Antonio. Their big objective should be to avoid the Thunder for as long as possible, and the 2-3 second-round matchup accomplishes that. A slide back to four would have disastrous consequences for L.A..
A first-round matchup with Memphis would at the very least exhaust them given Memphis' relative success over L.A. in recent years, and a second-round series against the Thunder puts the showdown that much sooner with fresher legs for OKC. The Lakers need to maintain their spot at the three, something that is likely, but not assured, with Kobe Bryant out several more games before the playoffs, despite their success without him.
The Clippers' two game hold on Memphis is probably enough to hold, giving them a first-round homecourt advantage. They're going to need every edge they can get. The Clippers would be much better off if they can sneak above the Lakers to face either Dallas, Houston, or Denver. The Clippers might not be favored in a first-round series with Memphis. The bright side is that if they were to escape from the Blue Bears, OKC isn't as daunting an opponent for them as, say, the Lakers or San Antonio.
Memphis is just a game and a half above Dallas for the fifth seed. However, their schedule from here on out is very favorable, with five consecutive lottery teams before an Orlando team on the last game of the season, and four of the six are at home. They do play two more back-to-backs in that stretch. For Memphis, the matchups aren't really a concern though. First-round homecourt advantage is always preferable, but the Grizzlies can hang with the Lakers, can likely beat the Clippers, a fall further than that is unlikely, but even a first-round series with San Antonio wouldn't intimidate Memphis after last year. They're fine either way.
Dallas has never really gotten into a groove this season and is hoping the playoffs bring them together for an even more surprising run than last year's team's. They seem to be in good shape to avoid the Thunder, with a game and a half lead on Houston, who plays Denver again this week. One of those two will wind up in the 8th spot, meaning seventh is the likely, but not definite, worst Dallas can do. San Antonio, the Lakers, or the Clippers? Dallas would face an uphill struggle against any of the three. There's no preferable angling to be done for Dallas.
Denver's win Sunday night over the Rockets put them back in the driver's seat to avoid OKC, which should be their primary concern. But Denver's schedule is pretty brutal. A back-to-back revenge game for the Rockets in Houston, then a showdown with potential first-round opponent the Clippers, who are desperate to get that three seed if for no other reason than to show up the Lakers, a game against playoff-hopes-clinging Phoenix, and then the Magic and OKC to close out before a final night game against Minnesota. Denver's road is tough to avoid OKC. The Spurs aren't much better, but OKC is the one team Denver can likely not even push.
The Rockets aren't in much better shape. The Lakers would be a preferable first-round matchup for the Rockets looking to shock the world and needing a team likely to overlook them. But games against Denver, Dallas, and Miami, with three lottery tankers thrown in doesn't bode well for their chances. The seventh and eighth spots are likely to be down to the wire.
Phoenix and Utah aren't dead yet. The Suns are a game back of the Rockets. Pivotal for the Suns this week is a back-to-back against OKC and the Clippers on Wednesday and Thursday night. Drop both of those games, and that's likely all she wrote. Phoenix doesn't have to win out by any means, but with four games against playoff teams, they have little margin for error.
The Jazz have three things going for them. One, they own the tiebreaker over Houston and Denver should it come down to that. Two, they play Portland twice in their tank mode, and face Phoenix off a two day rest with a chance to knock them out. And three, they don't play any back-to-backs between now and the end of the season. Saturday's loss to Memphis wasn't a backbreaker, but the Jazz are hanging on by their tippy-tip-tip-toes.