NBA playoff picture: Pacers 1 game clear of Knicks, Bulls fall back to Celtics, Hawks


The Knicks are falling, the Pacers are rising and the Bulls, Celtics and Hawks are clumping together. Welcome to the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The eight NBA playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are effectively set, but the order of their finish is definitely not.

The Miami Heat recorded their 20th consecutive win on Wednesday with a victory over the 76ers, and they moved 9.5 games up on the Indiana Pacers for the top seed, but everything below LeBron James and Co. is up for grabs.

The Pacers helped their cause with a win over the Timberwolves and, thanks to a disappointing loss by the Knicks in Denver, Indiana gained a one-game lead over New York for the No. 2 seed. The Pacers have won seven of their last 10 games and seem to be finding their way, while injuries to Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire have cast a shadow on New York's surprise season.

The Knicks have dropped off considerably since their 21-5 start to the year. After an injury scare with Chandler on Wednesday, Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting is concerned about the team's laissez-faire approach to injury management with its star players:

Listen, I know next to nothing about how NBA organizations function, but this seems way the hell off. Melo just played 56 minutes on a stiff, fluid-filled knee. Why? Because he's afraid of needles? Because he really wanted to play in his return to Denver? And now Tyson has the power to waive an MRI and declare himself ready for the second of a back-to-back just because he's a badass? How is this even remotely acceptable?

Playoff odds algorithms at ESPN and Basketball-Reference peg the Knicks to finish third but, if Anthony and Chandler aren't at 100 percent, the Knicks could slide back, because the Brooklyn Nets are just 1.5 games back in the standings.

The teams projected to start the playoffs on the road are having a more difficult time in the East. The Bulls are still waiting on Derrick Rose, and they lost for the sixth time in 10 games by suffering through a 42-point blowout at the hands of the Sacramento Kings.

The Celtics and Hawks both won, and now Chicago, Boston and Atlanta all share a 35-29 record. The Bulls are the No. 5 seed by virtue of tiebreakers at the moment, but that situation is fluid and any missteps by Tom Thibodeau's team could cause them to slip.

The Milwaukee Bucks are chasing all three teams, but they lost to the Wizards by 13 points and are now 2.5 games behind that trio of mid-teir playoff squads.

Eastern Standings

Miami Heat 63 49-14 .778
Indiana Pacers 64 40-24 .625
New York Knicks 62 38-24 .613
Brooklyn Nets 65 38-27 .585
Chicago Bulls 64 35-29 .547
Boston Celtics 64 35-29 .547
Atlanta Hawks 64 35-29 .547
Milwaukee Bucks 63 32-31 .508
Toronto Raptors 65 25-40 .385
Philadelphia 76ers 64 24-40 .375
Cleveland Cavaliers 64 22-42 .344
Detroit Pistons 67 23-44 .343
Washington Wizards 63 21-42 .333
Orlando Magic 65 18-47 .277
Charlotte Bobcats 64 14-50 .219

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