The six teams lined up in the second-through-seventh spots in the Eastern Conference appear to be forming up into two neat groups set to do battle over the final 15 or so games of the regular season, with the teams trying to stay in the top half of the bracket all performing winning and the teams looking towards the bottom all losing Monday.
They did it in three different ways, but the Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, and Brooklyn Nets all won their games Monday. Indiana didn't need much against Cleveland, so Gerald Green's 20 points were enough to lead the way an easy win. New York was battling injuries - Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler were again out - so they turned to a starting lineup featuring Pablo Prigioni, Chris Copeland, and Kenyon Martin, and somehow squeaked out a 90-83 win over a Utah Jazz team needing a win in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in their conference. And Brooklyn romped easily over Detroit in their first of eight road games, leading by as much as 43. That leaves the teams where they were to start Monday: Indiana in second place, New York a game behind, and Brooklyn a game behind them, with the Nets gunning for the Knicks' Atlantic Division lead.
Meanwhile, the fifth, sixth, and seventh seeds all lost. Atlanta was simply blown away by a Dallas team that scored 127 points, while Boston and Chicago lost heartbreakers against teams riding win streaks. The Celtics battled hard against Miami, leading a team with a 22-game win streak on the line by as much as 17, but LeBron James' game-winner kept the Heat's streak rolling and dropped the C's. The Bulls pushed the Nuggets to overtime after trailing by 14, but Andre Iguodala hit a three with less than ten seconds to go in the extra session, and Joakim Noah's apparent game-winning tip-in was ruled offensive goaltending, allowing the Nuggets to win their franchise-best 12th straight. That leaves Atlanta .5 games ahead of Chicago and Boston for the fifth spot.
There's now a two-game gap between Brooklyn and Atlanta, not huge enough to eliminate the possibility of any of the lower-seeded teams from jumping to the top, but big enough to make it difficult this late in the season. It sets up nicely for the postseason, as the team that performs best out of the Pacers, Knicks, and Nets will find the more favorable matchup against the team that performs worst out of the Hawks, Celtics, and Bulls, and vice versa.
Here's a look at the full conference standings:
|New York Knicks||65||39-26||.600|
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