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Playoff picture far from clear

The last days of the regular season are for resting up, setting rotations and preparing scouting reports for future first-round opponents, right? Not if resting players could cost you home-court advantage -- an important factor considering teams with that edge have won 74.5 percent of playoff series since the 16-team format began in 1984 -- and the only thing you know about your first-round opponent is that you, well, have one.

With the playoffs less than a week away, much is still at stake. Let's examine all the possibilities, starting with the Eastern Conference (listed in order of current seeding; all records are through Monday).

Best case: The Cavs (61-20) have secured the top spot and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, so Wednesday's finale at Atlanta doesn't mean much. Shaquille O'Neal has been cleared to play after missing six weeks with a thumb injury. Coach Mike Brown might want to shake the rust off the 38-year-old center for a few minutes. Guard Delonte West scored 21 points against Orlando on Sunday, but because he hasn't shot the ball particularly well recently (6-of-25 in the three games before Sunday), Brown might want to extend West's minutes to build his confidence going into the playoffs.

All eyes in Cleveland, though, will be on the fight for the No. 8 seed. The Cavs split four games with the Bulls (including last week's LeBron James-less 109-108 defeat in Chicago) and are 3-1 against Toronto this season. You know the Cavs will be pulling hard for the reeling Raptors to sneak in, especially considering Chris Bosh's recent injury and Hedo Turkoglu's inconsistent play.

Worst case: Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. There's been a curiously stiff blowback from some over James' decision to sit out the last three games. But after watching Chris Bosh's face split from an errant elbow and Andrew Bogut's arm bend in ways God didn't intend, any minutes for LeBron against an Atlanta team that could have something to play for is an unnecessary risk.

Best case: While the Magic already know they are the No. 2 seed and will face Charlotte in the first round, they still have something to gain. The Magic (58-23) lead the Lakers (56-24) by 1½ games for the league's second-best record, and L.A. owns the tiebreaker. Orlando still needs a victory (in Wednesday's season finale against Philadelphia) or a loss by the Lakers (against Sacramento on Tuesday or the Clippers on Wednesday) to claim the second overall seed and home-court advantage in a possible NBA Finals matchup. That's big, considering Orlando is more than capable of shooting the Cavs out of the playoffs and making a second straight appearance in the Finals.

Worst case: The Magic lost last year's Finals after dropping the first two games in L.A.; they would prefer not to find themselves in that situation again.

Best case: The Hawks (52-29), 1½ games ahead of the Celtics (50-30), desperately want to lock up the No. 3 seed and swap a probable first-round matchup with white-hot Miami for a shot at the banged-up Bucks. Problem is, despite a 4-0 record against Boston, Atlanta might need to win on Wednesday to get it. Thanks to an inane rule that gives the tiebreaker to the division winner, if the Celtics win out and Atlanta falls to Cleveland, Boston probably gets the Bucks and a potential second-round matchup with Orlando. The Hawks? They get Dwyane Wade and an improved Heat defense and, if they survive, a likely second-round date with the Cavs.

Worst case: That No. 4 seed likely offers a rocky road, one Atlanta would prefer not to take.

Best case: The Celtics have been singing the same tune for months about how they expect to be able to flip the switch in the playoffs. In the meantime, they have dropped home games to the likes of New Jersey, Memphis, Houston and, most recently, Washington. The Celtics need wins, not just to try to pick up the No. 3 seed but to build some momentum.

Worst case: Losing its final two games, at Chicago on Tuesday and against Milwaukee on Wednesday, would slot Boston at No. 4, and send it tumbling into the playoffs as losers of seven of 10. Not sure if there is a switch to fix that.

Best case: The Heat (46-35) can clinch the fifth seed for the second straight season with a victory against visiting New Jersey on Wednesday or a Milwaukee loss at Boston on the same day. (The Bucks, who are one game behind Miami, hold the tiebreaker.) With coach Erik Spoelstra saying he won't sit any of his healthy starters against the Nets, Miami should cruise into the playoffs winners of 12 of its last 13.

Worst case:Jermaine O'Neal sat out Monday's win over Philadelphia with a sprained ankle, and Spoelstra told reporters that Wade and sixth man Udonis Haslem were "banged up." The last thing Miami needs is for Wade or O'Neal to aggravate a nagging injury before the playoffs.

Best case: Bogut pulling an Adam Banks at practice tomorrow doesn't count, does it? All things considered, the Bucks would be better off with a first-round matchup with the Celtics, but that would happen only if Milwaukee wins at Boston and New Jersey defeats Miami. Win or lose, getting more comfortable playing with some small lineups -- a Carlos Delfino-Luc Mbah a Moute-Ersan Ilyasova frontcourt could pose a lot of problems for defenses -- would help.

Worst case:Kurt Thomas, 37, has picked up most of Bogut's minutes. The Bucks cannot afford to lose him, nor do they want to exhaust him in the season finale, not with Dan Gadzuric and Primoz Brezec playing behind him.

Best case: Miami's win Monday removed any shot at the No. 6 seed, which could be a blessing. True, it locks the seventh-seeded Bobcats (44-37) into a showdown with Orlando, but it gives them a chance to rest All-Star Gerald Wallace -- the NBA leader in minutes played -- in Wednesday's season finale against Chicago. Theo Ratliff, 36, who has logged some heavy minutes since joining the Bobcats, could probably use a breather, too.

Worst case:Larry Brown, however, says he plans to play his starters against the Bulls, who are in a dogfight for the No. 8 seed. Brown says he wants to protect the integrity of the game; he had better hope that integrity doesn't come at a price.

Best case: Umm, making the playoffs? Chicago controls its own destiny: It clinches the No. 8 spot with victories against Boston (on Tuesday) and at Charlotte (on Wednesday). But if the Bulls falter in either game and the Raptors handle the Knicks at home on Wednesday, Toronto makes the playoffs by virtue of holding the tiebreaker. That makes Tuesday's Celtics-Bulls game critical for both teams.

Worst case: Umm, not making the playoffs? Toronto needs the berth more, if for no other reason than to make one final impression on Bosh before he becomes a free agent.

Click below for a look at the Western Conference playoff picture ...

Best case: The No. 1 team in the West, which will meet Oklahoma City in the first round, needs victories in its final two games and a loss by Orlando to win the No. 2 overall playoff seed. The Lakers will attempt to accomplish that without Kobe Bryant (finger) and Andrew Bynum (Achilles tendon).

Worst case: That Bryant continues to struggle when the playoffs begin (he's shooting 30 percent from the field in his last three games) and Bynum either isn't ready to return or not able to make an impact after a monthlong layoff.

Best case: Dallas can finish no worse than third, and it can wrap up the second seed if Denver wins at Phoenix on Tuesday, Utah loses one of its final two or the Mavs defeat San Antonio on Wednesday. Here's something to consider: The Jazz are the only team that can seize the No. 2 seed from Dallas. In that scenario, the Mavs would surrender home-court advantage in the second round but likely set up a first-round matchup with injury-ravaged Portland.

Worst case: Dallas needs Shawn Marion (who returned Monday after missing three games with a strained left oblique muscle) and Caron Butler (who skipped Monday's game with a strained right hip) healthy for the playoffs.

Best case: The Nuggets (53-28) can't climb up to No. 2, but they control the race for the third seed. A win Tuesday at Phoenix -- where they have dropped 10 in a row -- would lock it up. Kenyon Martin is slowly working himself back into the lineup after missing 18 games with a knee injury, so getting him some more reps would help. Meanwhile, doctors said Monday that coach George Karl would not be able to return for the first round of the playoffs, but could be back if the Nuggets advance to the second round.

Worst case: There is a doomsday scenario: If the Nuggets loss to Phoenix and Utah wins its final two games, Denver would fall all the way to No. 5. That would put the Nuggets on the road in the first round and set up a potential second-round clash with the Lakers -- a matchup Denver would like to delay another round.

Best case: The Jazz (52-28) are still clinging to slim hopes for the No. 2 seed, though they need to win out, have Denver lose to Phoenix and have Dallas lose to San Antonio. With victories against Golden State and Phoenix, Utah would finish no lower than fourth.

Worst case: Like everyone else, the Jazz are hoping to avoid the Lakers in the second round. But they could also wind up without home court in the first round with a combination of losses and a Denver win against Phoenix. That would be particularly discouraging when you consider that Utah is a .500 road team.

Best case: The Suns close the season against their two biggest seeding rivals, Denver and Utah. Win both, and they are the No. 3 seed with a likely favorable matchup against Portland.

Worst case: Losing both would put the Suns at No. 5, unenviable because of the loss of home court (where the Suns are 31-9) and the potential matchup with the Lakers in the second round.

Best case: A home victory against the Warriors on Wednesday wraps up the No. 6 seed for Portland (50-31), but a bigger win would be positive news on Brandon Roy, who could miss the playoffs after tearing his meniscus against the Lakers on Sunday. Roy is, obviously, indispensable to the Blazers' postseason hopes. A speedy recovery -- Roy says he won't test the knee until the day before Portland's first playoff game -- would be an incalculable boost. Of the potential playoff foes, the Blazers would prefer Phoenix after winning two of three in the regular season.

Worst case: The Blazers don't want to see Utah. The Jazz dropped Portland four times in the regular season.

Best case: The Spurs (50-31) can rise to No. 6 with a win at Dallas and a Portland loss, but the often-repeated phrase in San Antonio is "get healthy." They got Tony Parker back last week after a monthlong absence, and George Hill returned Monday following a four-game stint on the inactive list. Manu Ginobili's balky back is always a day-to-day concern, but San Antonio could finish the season as healthy as it has been in months.

Worst case: Like the Blazers, the Spurs have also lost all four to Utah, with Carlos Boozer (25.8 points, 11.3 rebounds on 56.2 percent shooting) torching San Antonio. The Spurs would like to avoid Utah, too.

Best case: Back-to-back losses to Golden State and Portland doomed them to a series with the Lakers, who won three of four meetings. Wednesday's game against Memphis is meaningless, but the Thunder, who have given up a combined 223 points in the last two games after surrendering 140 in an OT loss to Utah last week, need to rediscover their D.

Worst case: A loss to the Grizzlies, especially if Oklahoma City's defense continues to struggle, would be no way to go into a matchup against the defending champion Lakers.

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