The Thursday night game that will get the lion's share of attention as a clash of Eastern titans will be the Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls (8 p.m. ET, TNT). That's fair: the No. 1 seed in the East is still in play, and Miami needs a win on Thursday to make its assault.
With a win, L.A. can even up its record with that of the Lakers in the quest for the Pacific crown and the No. 3 seed in the West. That No. 3 seed likely comes with a first-round match-up against the Dallas Mavericks or Denver Nuggets, worthy foes that are nonetheless far less frightening than the Memphis Grizzlies, who sit solidly in No. 5. The second-round impact is less obvious because the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs continue to battle for No. 1; you can't expect to put off a meeting with the Thunder for as long as possible by winning the No. 3 seed. You just don't know when they will come up.
But the first-round difference matters, and that's why the war for No. 3 continues.
Phoenix has a different war to fight: one for survival. The Suns fell to the mighty Thunder on Wednesday, allowing the Utah Jazz to take a turn in the No. 8 seed. The Suns are a half-game back with one fewer game played, and still have to worry about the Houston Rockets, who have lost five straight games but sit even up with Phoenix. A win here will be difficult, but crucial as the Rockets draw the inferior (but suddenly tough) New Orleans Hornets.
If the Rockets can't beat the Hornets (8 p.m.), it's time to break out the cabbage and weep.