NBA Power Rankings: Examining the rest of the East playoff picture

Publish date:

The Heat's captivating run has deservedly stolen our attention, but there's a playoff race going on among the East's minions that's as compelling as it is close.

Only 7½ games separate the Pacers, the East's No. 2 seed, and the Bucks, the No. 8 seed. Bunched in between are the Knicks, Nets, Hawks, Bulls and Celtics in a tightly contested race. On top of that race are Indiana, New York and Brooklyn, who are separated by just two games and are playing for the coveted No. 2 position, which guarantees home-court advantage in the first two rounds and not seeing the Heat until the Eastern Conference finals.

Below them, only 3½ games separate the bottom four playoff teams. Milwaukee holds a virtually insurmountable 8½-game lead on Philadelphia for the final spot, but it can't rest if it wants to avoid Miami in the first round. The Celtics, who are in the much sunnier No. 7 slot, lead the Bucks by two games.

To make matters more interesting, the No. 2 through No. 7 seeds all seem to be playing about the same right now. No team has gone better than 6-4 in its last 10 games and no team has done worse than 4-6. With about 15 games remaining in the regular season, each game is critical. But with so much parity in the conference after Miami, it's nearly impossible to project where the tight-knit group will finish.

One thing is for certain: No one wants to play the Heat, who lead the Power Rankings for the sixth consecutive week.

(Note: All statistics and records arethrough March 21.)