There's only one playoff battle left alive in the East, as the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls battle to see who will earn the fifth spot, and a slightly favorable playoff matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.
Chicago's easy win Monday night over the Orlando Magic sets up an intriguing final two nights of the season for these two squads: Atlanta's currently a half game up on Chicago, but it's a rather precarious lead, considering the Bulls have the tiebreaker after winning the season series 2-1. The only way it controls its own destiny is if its win both of its remaining games -- Tuesday night against a Toronto Raptors team that's been out of the playoff chase for months, and Wednesday night against a New York Knicks team whose starters won't see very many minutes. It's certainly doable.
For Chicago, there's just one game remaining, a matchup Wednesday night with the Wizards. They'll probably be somewhat happy just to make the playoffs with Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng, and Rip Hamilton all healthy, if not to mention Derrick Rose.
Of course, it's to be debated how much getting the fifth seed as opposed to the sixth seed really means here. It means a matchup against Indiana (49-31) or Brooklyn (48-33). Splitting hairs, seemingly, as both are well outside of the top two spots in the conference. For the Hawks, facing Brooklyn would give them a nice opportunity to knock Joe Johnson's squad out of the playoffs a year after trading him in the offseason, but they went 2-2 against both teams. For Chicago, there seems to be a pretty big matchup difference -- it is 1-3 against the Pacers, but 3-1 against the Nets.
Here's how the standings set up:
|1||z - Miami||65||16||.802||-||Won 7||9-1|
|2||y - New York||53||28||.654||12||Lost 1||8-2|
|3||y - Indiana||49||31||.613||15 ½||Lost 2||6-4|
|4||x - Brooklyn||48||33||.593||17||Won 1||6-4|
|5||x - Atlanta||44||36||.550||20 ½||Won 2||5-5|
|6||x - Chicago||44||37||.543||21||Won 1||5-5|
|7||x - Boston||41||39||.513||23 ½||Won 1||5-5|
|8||x - Milwaukee||37||44||.457||28||Lost 5||2-8|
|Toronto||32||48||.400||32 ½||Won 3||6-4|